A CEO’S PERSPECTIVE ON AGILE

 DBS Bank CEO Piyush Gupta

DBS Bank CEO Piyush Gupta

I recently attended and spoke at the inaugural internal Agile conference by DBS Bank in Singapore, which to my surprise opened with comments by the CEO Piyush Gupta. The term “comments’’ fails to describe Piyush’s exceptional articulation of how Agile connects to the bank’s strategy. He covered three major topics - agility, Agile and the way forward for DBS.

“Agile with a little a”

DBS wins awards and justifiably claims the titles “Asian bank of choice“ and “best bank in Asia.” Interestingly, the five year journey to the industry leading position started with the executive team focusing on values, then the “plumbing” of the bank or how work gets done. The end of the journey is a nimble, “Goldilocks-sized” bank - not too big and not too small, that is agile with a little a. Decisions happen quickly, service groups resolve issues fast and DBS measures innovations in days or weeks. As a result, the bank has a foundation to tackle future challenges such as a wider set of competitors, extremely high customer expectations for performance and great experiences, and customers that “need banking, not a bank.” He sees an existing product delivery framework incapable of delivering at a competitive speed to create “moments of joy” for customers.

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“Agile with a big a”

Piyush started this segment of his talk briefly describing the problem with traditional software development. People create written specifications, which are often wrong or captured incorrectly. Then other people design and develop a solution. Then a new group of people test the solution and find problems that have to be fixed by the developers. Then the product goes live and is often not what the customer needs or no longer viable in the market. 

Interestingly, Piyush identified “limitations of the human brain” as the problem. He channeled Jeff Patton’s comments in User Story Mapping by stating that we are incapable of sufficiently capturing the sum total of the requirements for a new product on paper. The person recording the requirements probably misses 30% of the information and the person stating the requirements probably hasn’t even realized another 30% of what they need.

Agile gets out of this conundrum through small teams working daily with the business in short cycles to see the outcomes along the way. The teams rely on conversation instead of paper. As a result, customers see new products quicker. DBS tests and learns faster from more frequent customer interaction. To get there, the bank needs to “fix the kitchen to get the right meal to the right customer at the right time.”

Agile in a large bank raises concerns of chaos. How do 20 teams “own the thing?” How can we ensure security? How will we manage defects while developing new products? What is the change management process? Then Piyush got a laugh from the audience. “Agile doesn’t mean a Bohemian, hippie-like attitude to managing core banking systems.” He set goals for rigor in DevOps, test automation, daily regression tests and disciplined, parallel processes - Agile to build new solutions and DevOps to deploy them.

The Way Forward

While DBS is well positioned in Asia, Piyush sees a long way to go compared to Silicon Valley and other Asian companies like Alibaba. Apple Pay threatens all big banks. Apple builds faster and better than the banks. DBS must “operate like those guys” at Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

“The road ahead is longer than the road behind.” DBS needs to quickly figure out how to effectively develop solutions across multiple Asian countries; how to reimagine jobs, roles and skills; and leverage human-centered design to always keep the customer in mind.

 A DBS conference attendee during a session

A DBS conference attendee during a session

Piyush beautifully described how the lines between application development, business people and product managers are and must keep blurring. Silos must go away as DBS integrates digital customer experiences, new technology and new approaches to delivery. “Agile with a big a” is not just about technology, he said. Ultimately, every project must leverage Agile for DBS to compete.

He certainly kicked off the two day event on a high note. I have participated in several, similar conferences and had not seen such a senior executive begin the conference let alone speak about the connection of Agile to strategic challenges with conviction and clarity. Piyush’s words led to a deeper, richer and focused experience for the attendees and the six international speakers. As we closed the conference with an interactive exercise for attendees to reflect on what they discovered and remaining “puzzles” followed by an informal panel session to discuss a few of the puzzles, I felt confident and optimistic about the prospects for the DBS Agile journey. I met great people who want to be Agile and they have an exceptional leader who knows what that means for DBS. 

 conference speaker laura richardson

conference speaker laura richardson

 from l to r: DBS conference organizer howard lim, dbs conference organizer soh wai zee, speaker russell healy, valtech coordinator elin wai, speaker laura richardson, speaker xavier renaudin, valtech MANAGING DIRECTOR HENRI PETITET, SPEAKER JASON TANNER

from l to r: DBS conference organizer howard lim, dbs conference organizer soh wai zee, speaker russell healy, valtech coordinator elin wai, speaker laura richardson, speaker xavier renaudin, valtech MANAGING DIRECTOR HENRI PETITET, SPEAKER JASON TANNER

 MY DBS "speaker buddy" and friend freddie yeo. he did a great job making sure i got everywhere i needed to be on time and shared all sorts of new cuisine!

MY DBS "speaker buddy" and friend freddie yeo. he did a great job making sure i got everywhere i needed to be on time and shared all sorts of new cuisine!

 singapore skyline from the top of the marina bay sands resort where we adjourned to celebrate the end of a fabulous event

singapore skyline from the top of the marina bay sands resort where we adjourned to celebrate the end of a fabulous event

Getting Product Off the Shelf - The Launch Plan

We’re currently supporting a startup client who plans to launch the first GA version of their product in 60 days. While everyone continues to work hard toward a successful release, they lack a comprehensive launch plan, which led to this post about the strategy and tactics of planning a launch.

Maiden launch of Shuttle Atlantis. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Step 1: Set meaningful goals that unify effort across the entire company. Overall sales, new customer acquisition, product usage and other goals enable functional groups to plan specific actions.

Step 2: Determine the launch strategy, then identify the tactics and deliverables. A step-by-step checklist executed without a strategy could lead to wasted time and energy. At a minimum, identify who you’re targeting and why, how and when you will reach them and what you’ll need to be successful. Think of this as the mission statement and the goals as the intent.

Step 3: Nail the tactics. Now is the time to leverage a prioritized launch backlog in support of the goals and strategy. Consider the following backlog ideas listed by category. Note: You may need to decompose some of these big items into smaller items to be prioritized, completed and validated in short iterations.

Public Relations

  • Analyst collateral
  • Analyst briefings
  • Press briefings
  • Press release

Beta Program

  • Recruit beta customers
  • Execute beta program
  • Gather beta customer quotes

Collateral

  • Messaging
  • Datasheet
  • Brochure
  • Online demo video
  • Demo scenarios and scripts
  • White paper
  • FAQs
  • Competitor comparison

Web Marketing

  • Web site
  • Google, Yahoo, Bing ad programs
  • SEO
  • Social media plan and execution

Advertising

  • Print
  • Direct mail
  • Radio/TV
  • VAR/Channel

Customer

  • Existing customer notification/marketing
  • Training for existing customers
  • Update training for new customers
  • Release notes
  • User documentation
  • Administrator documentation

Internal 

  • Sales information sheet
  • Sales training
  • Sales presentation
  • Product pricing
  • Internal FAQs
  • Support training

Events

  • Industry events
  • In-person events
  • Webinars

Channel

  • Channel training
  • VAR demo purchase program
  • SPIF
  • Marketing programs

While this post provides broad guidance to plan a launch, a future post will dive much deeper into a whole product bill of materials.

A Structure for Product Management Knowledge and Skills Acquisition

In the last two Certified Scrum Product Owner courses that I taught, people have asked, “What’s next?” A beautiful question indeed. My answer included a path to Certified Scrum Professional that Carlton Nettleton and I have developed, a series of advanced courses that Applied Frameworks offers, and the Scaled Agile Product Management course that we offer.

Let’s go much deeper in how people in the role of Product Owner and people in the software Product Management profession should think about levels of training and knowledge acquisition. I thank Luke Hohmann for the following structure that he attributes to Meiler Page-Jones.

1.     Innocent. You have not been exposed to a given area of knowledge and are unaware of its existence. In other words, you have absolutely no plans associated with the topic in your cognitive library, your preexisting set of solutions and experiences.

2.     Aware. You have been exposed to an area of knowledge (such as a new technique to organize your product backlog), perhaps by reading an article, and can see its relevance, but have not yet applied or used it. Your cognitive library may have one or two plans regarding the body of knowledge. These plans are rudimentary at best. You are still unable to use it for any useful purpose.

3.     Apprentice. You have had some formal training in the structures, processes, and outcomes associated with a topic, perhaps through a two or three day workshop. You have begun the task of creating and storing plans in your cognitive library. At this stage of learning, structures tend to be viewed as absolute, not to be violated. You can produce simple outcomes for well-defined problems, but require the assistance of more expert individuals to solve ill-defined or new problems.

4.     Practitioner. You are able to accomplish moderately difficult tasks without assistance. Your cognitive library is fairly well developed, but you must still rely on experts to accomplish very complex tasks.

5.     Journeyman. You regularly use the body of knowledge in your work, and begin to question and/or modify structures to suit your needs. At this stage your cognitive library is reasonably large. You begin to apply existing plans in novel ways. Individuals at levels 2 through 4 seek your guidance.

6.     Master. You have mastered the body of knowledge, and can effectively apply it in many different situations. Your cognitive library is quite well developed. It contains plans enabling you to solve well-known problems quickly and easily. You are adept at applying plans in novel ways. You can easily adapt or invent appropriate structures to aid in problem solving.

7.     Expert. With substantial expertise, you move beyond the master stage by extending the collective body of knowledge through lectures, writing articles and/or books, or applying the knowledge in new problem domains. The difference between a master and an expert is subtle, but important. Both possess extensive cognitive libraries, but the expert works at externalizing their library in a form suitable for use by others.

All of us at Applied Frameworks focus on how to assist you on your journey to the Expert level of product management in each of the frameworks you need to succeed and excel at your job.

We will help you assess where you are now and your path to the next level.  We absolutely value your input and specific feedback as we work through our minimum viable product to create a service that delivers value.

Quick Video for Keep Austin Agile 2015

I uploaded my first video to YouTube about a fundamental coaching model. I made the video to support my submission for the 2015 Keep Austin Agile conference. The organizers wisely required a video this year as part of the submission process - A great idea to get a sense of who they intend to invite to speak at their event.

This 9 minute video provides a foundation for new Agile coaches and Scrum Masters to sort through everything going on in their environment to get to action and reflection.

Thanks to my friend and fellow coach Shawn Lowe for helping me shoot this informal video. As always I would appreciate your feedback.