Swisscom Directories AG faced the challenge of transforming already agile- with classically organized company parts to a large whole new agile organization. The transformation team went different path, namely a participative agile transformation with several large group events. The journey reached its first peak as the employees formed their own teams through self-selection. In this serie of blog posts we'd like to share the challenges we faced, our experiences and the results of our joint work in the agile transformation team at Swisscom Directories AG.

Initial position

In mid-2015 , after the acquisition of search.ch and the previous mergers with LTV and E-Media, localsearch (Swisscom Directories AG) had a very heterogeneous culture, organization and system landscape. From an economical point of view everything was fine. But on the innovation side, the accumulated professional, technical and organizational "legacy" has become more and more noticeable. Engineering has always been agile, so we had the necessary armaments internally. Now it was necessary to find a way of transferring this positive aspects to other parts of the organization, while at the same time decreasing the "legacy" significantly.

Ignition with 3 pilots

At the end of 2015, a pilot program was started, where the first three x-functional pilot teams were put together aligned to the value stream of localsearch. These were staffed with the necessary expertise, from all the necessary departments. The fact that all the competencies and expertise were now available in each team resulted in significant success for the users, customers and management. Among other things, it is thanks to innovations from the three pilot teams, that localsearch 2016 registered the best financial year.

Big Room Events with Self-Selection are an incredibly effective tool, we will continue to do so.
— Patrick Bays, Head of Products & Platforms, Member of the Executive Board

Two of the x-functional teams (localsearch called it "Saga") worked very closely together. They started to periodically held first Big Room Plannings (BRP), where all stakeholders (users, Developer, etc.) were included and that resulted in a common alignment and commitment.

Source: Localsearch, 2017

Well, suddenly all the participants were clear about the upcoming goals from first hand. Competing goals were a thing of the past. Furthermore, decisions could now be taken very quickly, among others, e.g. to replace old products, simplify them, solve technical challenges, etc. The BRPs also had a very positive effect on the social integration of all parties involved. The sagas and their stakeholders grew together more and more.

The employees, who were not part of this pilot program, remained in their original feature- / component- / expert- teams. The pilot made sense and was easy to manage. However, existing, more hierarchical structures and processes became more and more a challenge for the empowered, quasi-autonomous pilot teams.

There is not THE framework or organization model, you need to find your own way
— Marc Pittner, CDO localsearch, Member of the Executive Board

Scaling of the successful model

By the end of 2016, localsearch had made major changes to the management and the pilot program got a new urgency. A transformation team was established from representatives of all departements and levels of the organization. It was our job to condense the successful elements as quickly as possible, derive a localsearch model for the process organization and apply it to further organizational units. The basic elements of the model were identified quickly, namely:

  • Saga: x-functional, empowered team with a mission based on the value stream of localsearch
  • Guild: community of practice of similar expertise, empowered to develop these together, including hiring, etc.

Both elements have already been successfully practiced in the pilot organization for more than 12 months and were scalable to a larger organization easily.

Classical transformation, NO thanks!

With the new management, the  line organization was also brought into focus and an organizational change in a classical sense began. In the transformation team, we very quickly agreed that a classic transformation approach (top-down only) was NO option. This was no longer compatible with the existing values n the teams that already were agile. But what was the alternative? - Then the new model, as well as the new line organization should be implemented as quickly as possible. We chose a good Swiss compromise, a top-down / bottom-up approach. Certain conditions were given top-down, but the bottom-up implementation got a large margin. In concrete terms, the transformation team planned a new participative approach via self-selection, which should involve all stakeholders directly. We expected a much higher acceptance and a more sustainable solution with this approach. In addition, it was easier and quicker to involve all employees directly within 3 days, so they heard everything from first-hand, then elaborate in a lot of point-to-point meetings.

A participative approach forms the basement for a sustainable agile transformation and allows a kickstart of the journey
— Mirko Kleiner, co-founder flowdays / lead Agile Coach at localsearch

Participative transformation yes, but how?

Well, how do you carry out a participative transformation with more than 100 people by simply changing everything (strategy, organization / process organization)? - Everyone wanted to be involved and liked to decided himself too. Afterwards, a 3-step process of 3 day events emerged:

  • * Day 1: Challenging of the new model with an outlook on the strategic themes 2017
  • * Day 2: Forming of the guild / saga teams via self-selection
  • * Day 3: Strategic alignment of the sagas, with a bottom-up commitment

The kickstart of the participatory agile transformation lasted from late autumn in 2016 to early February 2017. In retrospective, the three big room events could also be done in a significantly higher pace without the delay due to the Christmas holidays. The continuous improvement of the organization, or the agile transformation itself continues to this day.

Descale first! - Otherwise, the current problems will be scaled
— flowdays

Learnings

  • Organizations are often very heterogeneous and influenced by their past, for example, regarding their culture, ways of working and thinking. In order to change things, you have to appreciate all this and create a joint vision together. A x-functional transformation team with representatives / Leaders of all areas and hierarchical levels is an adequate vehicle to approach this.
  • To gain experience with pilots and experiments helped to overcome internal hurdles and to build confidence with success stories.
  • A model must be simple and should be free from existing structures and framework conditions. Descale first - Otherwise, you only scale up the current problems!
  • To risk something and learn from potential failures will develop the organization faster, then doing nothing. Therefor you need the buy-in of the top management.


In the next episode

In the next blog post we report on the preparation and the implementation of the 1st participative event where the new model was challenged with all stakeholders and an outlook on the strategic topics for the 2017 was given.

>> Forward to the next article of the story: Self-selection @ Scale - Introducing & Challenging the new model (Episode 2)

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