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

What do the installers say?

Have you talked about your product with the installation teams? 

We recently bought a new washing machine. After a few days, we were terribly disappointed with its performance and exchanged it for another machine. When the installer arrived, he said, "Oh yes, we replace a lot of these. I would never recommend anything from this manufacturer."

Many firms measure Net Promoter Score, based on how your customers respond to the question "Would you recommend this to a friend?" Those who give you a 9 or 10 are known as "promoters." Those who give you less than 8 are "detractors." 

I wonder how many firms ask this question of their installation and support personnel. 

In addition to customers, most product managers chat up the product with sales people and developers. You should also get insights from customers support and progressional services folks.

Inspiration: If human beings don't keep exercising their lips...

If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, their brains start working.—Douglas Adams, author, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Why do we have such trouble with silence?

A caesura is a long pause. The term is mostly used in music and poetry but I first learned about it as a “technique” in sales methodology training. The idea is that extroverts are so uncomfortable with silence that they rush to speak before the other party has finished thinking.

Sales people and other extroverts need to get comfortable with silence. They need to slow down and let the client process information.

Product managers do too.

There are lots of great sources for product ideas but interviews and observations are clearly the preferred method. With observation, you see with your eyes those things that clients won’t mention but drive them crazy.

The key in observation research is to watch (and not talk). You’re not trying to persuade or cajole. You’re trying to see what they do; you’re trying to understand their workflow. Your goal is to understand and describe the persona and their journey based on your observations.

Want to earn credibility with a client? Have the nerve to listen. Perhaps Will Rogers said it best: Never miss a good chance to shut up.

Inspiration: The only thing worse than training employees and losing them...

The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.—Zig Ziglar

I once had a person working for me who claimed she didn't need any additional training due to her 20 years of experience. One of my colleagues remarked, "She actually has one year of experience, repeated 19 times."

What are you doing to stay current?

I spent 15 years at Pragmatic Marketing teaching product management techniques and the last two coaching product management teams. And often, this is the first professional skills training the team has ever received. That's a real shame.

The rules of marketing have changed; so have the rules of development and sales. Are you (and your people) keeping up?

Every week I speak to people who are trying to adapt agile methods to their products or are trying to adopt David Meerman Scott's "New Rules." These new techniques are powerful! But how do you apply them to your business situation?

Training and coaching may be the answer for you and your team.

According to my friends in HR, the typical annual allocation for on-going professional development is 3% of the employee's salary. Does that align with your training and coaching plans? If not, why not?

There are four types of expertise needed for most product management teams. Learn more in my free ebook, Product Management Expertise.

Interviewing clients: a field guide, part 3

She analyzes synergies, or synergizes analogies... or some such thing.—Edward Norton (as "Father Brian Finn"), Keeping the Faith.

Alas, most of us have fairly rudimentary tools. Try to get some help from someone with data mining experience but let’s see what we can do without assistance. Nobody knows the data as well as you do so you’ll definitely find things that others will not. Let’s get started!

Interviewing clients: a field guide is a three-part series, including:

If interviewing is both an art and a science, analyzing what you’ve learned is almost completely an art. You’ll review the text of what you’ve heard and look for patterns in the information.

Part 3: Analyzing what you’ve learned

The customer is a rear-view mirror, not a guide to the future.—George Colony, Forrester Research

Listen for patterns. The key to getting insights from what you’ve heard is to look for the patterns. Before using any of the techniques below, review your notes and transcriptions, and perhaps listen to the recordings again. Discuss your impressions with your interview buddy. What areas are you hearing again and again? Are you hearing problems or recommended solutions? What are the root causes of what you’re hearing?

Tag clouds. One super-easy technique to get you started is word clouds (also known as tag clouds). Go to www.Wordle.com and paste all the transcriptions into a cloud and see what words jump out at you. I used part 1 of this series on interviewing to make this word cloud:

tag cloud

tag cloud

The size of the word indicates its frequency. In this case, we’ll want to look more closely at phrases that include the words clients, customers, market, information, and management.

Highlighters. Freshman seminars in some colleges teach a method for using highlighters that I’ve adapted for “data mining.” Scan through your transcripts and use four colors to note information:

  • Yellow: general insight
  • Green: positives
  • Red: negatives
  • Blue: competitive information

Sometimes one comment is enough to cause you to take action. For example, “I got a 404 page when I clicked on the link.” You don’t need any more instances of this situation to go fix the link. But usually you’ll need three or four—or ten—requests before you should propose an action. If one person says your monthly support costs are too high, that’s interesting. If ten more say it, it’s worth exploring further. Maybe you should consider multiple levels of support. Or expand the online support area to include clients-helping-clients. Or maybe your premium support really is too expensive for a significant portion of your clients.

You have a hypothesis now: “support may be too expensive.” Interviews are great for identifying issues but not very good at quantifying them. You’ll want to conduct a survey of a few hundred clients to see how many want to continue at premium and how many would entertain a less expensive option.

Communicating what you’ve learned

A ‘slideument’ is a cross between a slide deck and a document.—Garr Reynolds, author, Presentation Zen

I’ve found that marketing people are not very good at marketing themselves or their information. In general, they present data and assume that others can draw their own conclusions. But not everyone can look at a blueprint and see the finished building.

Who needs the information you’ve discovered? And what action should they take? You’ll need to think of how your audience processes information and what form is most persuasive, particularly when you’re asking them to change their point of view.

I once shared the results of a survey for a new product concept. And the results were not very good. In fact, they were really bad. On average our customers gave us a very poor grade on every aspect of the product. My VP of Development wanted to see the individual responses. When I shared them, I watched in surprise as he mined the data in real time. It was like watching Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation as he scanned volumes of information. His eyes flicked across the screen and you could almost hear his mental gears thrashing. And he reached a differenet conclusion. “Yes, the overall responses are bad but the newer responses are better.” (Do you know the joke about the little boy who wanted a horse. “There’s a pony in here somewhere!”)

I’ve found that technical teams want to see the raw data so they can draw their own conclusions while marketing people prefer key insights that provide guidance on the personas and positioning and messaging. Sales people don’t trust data as much as their own intuition, so they want to hear stories about individual clients, in the clients' words.

And perhaps the biggest challenge for product managers and marketers is “speaking truth to power.” When speaking to the leadership team, particularly when the conclusions aren’t favorable, we tend to soften it with generalities. Executives want a summary of your conclusions and specific recommendations to address the issues you’ve discovered.

When presenting your information, the medium needs to align with the message. Use a Word document when you need to provide detail. Tell a story about an interview that best represents your conclusions —with the name of the person, their company information, and quotes from the interview. Always end your discussion with a conclusion and a recommendation but feel free then to open up the session for alternative conclusions and recommendations.

PowerPoint is a fine tool to get you started but it isn’t the right tool for every audience. Use a report when there’s lots of information to consume. Use a presentation to share summary information. Tell a story to bring the data to life.

Final tips

Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback, and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.—Steven D. Levitt, economist, author of Freakonomics

Now you’re ready to begin but before you contact a client, do some “deliberate practice.”

Start with a role-play with someone in sales or customer support. You’ll want to try out your opening, and get practice asking questions and probing for answers. Then get feedback from your colleague about what you could improve. You’ll notice some things that you need to tighten up or revise. If nothing else, this role-play will build your confidence.

Next, interview a friendly client. Someone you know personally or at least someone who has a positive relationship with your company. Be honest about what you’re doing. “I’m interviewing clients and I’d like to start with someone who will be nice to me.”

After a few practice interviews, you’re ready to start calling more people. The more recent their experience with your company, the easier they’ll be to reach; and they’ll also provide more valuable information. Who better to tell you what you do right and wrong with your product than someone who recently chose to buy? Or someone who chose not to buy? Recent wins and recent losses are the best sources for insightful interviews.

More resources

Just Do It.—Nike

If you’d like more help with interviewing, I can coach you and your team, so get in touch with me.

Adele Revella’s Buyer Persona Institute offers a wonderful class on interviewing buyers to understand their buying process. See the Buyer Persona Master Class at http://www.buyerpersona.com/buyer-persona-masterclass-i

If you prefer to read, I recommend Kristin Zhivago’s Roadmap to Revenue with a step-by-step approach to conducting customer interviews.

Want to outsource it? My pals at Primary Intelligence and Eigenworks offer win/loss and customer experience services. Learn more at http://www.eigenworks.com and http://www.primary-intel.com

Do you have a story about a customer interview? Add a comment to this blog post and share your experience.