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RBS and Kin + Carta

Our Heroes Journey to Agility Continues

  • 05 June 2020
  • Business Strategy Leadership Culture Digital Growth Agile Strategy

Jenny Wood - Head of Performance & Business Management describes the path RBS is taking to line up behind customers and create organizational agility.

She explains that, we have, at RBS, been on a journey – a journey to better learning and agility. Our heroes journey is never ending and continues as the challenges and world around us changes and we adapt and learn. Great stories have the same elements, challenges, allies, change and learning. We all have our favorite stories – Princess Bride, Star Wars, The Iliad, Fight Club – the list goes on. The heroes on our RBS journey are our people.

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Will: Hey everyone, and welcome to fwd20 the age resilience and welcome to our next talk which is called our heroes' journey to agility continues. I'm very pleased to say we've got Jenny Wood with us, the Head of Performance and Business Management at RBS. We're over the moon to have Jenny here today and she's going to be talking through the journey that RBS and many other organisations go through on their way to organisational agility. The talk itself is going to be about 20 to 25 minutes and we'll leave a little bit of time for questions at the end. The theme of today is resilience and we're in a time where the words crisis, unprecedented, loss seem to be everywhere. But trying to see through that and work through that the only way you can really do that as an organisation and be resilient is by working together as one and adapting to emerging needs quickly. That's something that many organisations struggle with, but there is a path there and hopefully our talk today will help light up that path a little bit and give you some inspiration for your journey. I'm going to hand over now to Jenny. Jenny, thank you for joining us and over to you.

Jenny: Fantastic and thanks Will for having me here today. I think you are absolutely right resilience and agility are two things that are intertwined and part of resilience is building in your ability to adapt, to change and to understand and to face some of the challenges that you've got.

(02:44)

Jenny: Many of you may know RBS. We are a bank of brands and we have a number of different brands that you'll see us in the market. We offer a wide range of products and services to personal, commercial and logical for institutional customers through a number of brands. With over 290 years of history, we've got around 19 million customers and about 7,000 employees. So we are a large bank with much institutional knowledge, heritage and pride in what we do. As a bank, we have a purpose and our purpose is to champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive. It's something that particularly in times like this, we are working to live by because it's so important for us as an organisation and for the communities that we're a part of. So what do I do? I'm a technologist by training. I've spent time in a number of diverse roles across different businesses and my role at RBS is the Head of Performance and Business Management for our services team, the shared services teams that we have. So that means my team and I, which is a relatively small team, work to enable a 16,000 person business across eight countries to deliver technology, payments, property, data and any shared services to our frontline colleagues for their customers, because delivering to customers and colleagues is what's most important to us. I also had the privilege of leading our ways of working program. For us, this is a cultural journey, it's something that we recognised early on that any one approach won't deliver us what's needed. It's not just about DevOps, or Scrum. It's about creating a culture where the right approach is used to do the right work and this is fulfilled with our purpose and the work we're doing to embed learning across the organisation. We've been on this journey for a number of years in different ways and so I'll talk with some perspective using examples across the entire journey that we've been on, not just the latest rounds through iterations but I'll take you through the story today. I’ll hopefully do so with a lens that might make you consider your own stories in a slightly different light and in a way that sometimes when you get to those hard times, the times you need your resilience, when the mountain seems just that little bit too hard to climb, the things that you can look for to help pull yourself through.

(05:07)

Many of us know that in every good story, there's a few common ingredients. There's a main character, there's an ordinary world where things are normal and sometimes something happens in a journey, there's a call to adventure. There are mentors and buddies, and difficulties and eventually, some form of victory or transformation. There's some form of reward at the end of it that may be good, or it may just be something you learn from. You may not be surprised to know that that is not random. Many of our favorite stories follow a pattern of events and our story is actually not that different. So this sequence is actually called the heroes' journey and was popularised by a gentleman called Joseph Campbell. What I'm going to tell you about today is our RBS journey, because it has many of the same elements and some of the same ingredients and when we talk about resilience, when we talk about learning, these things are the things that help us do that. The title is plural 'cause there are many heroes in our journey, many players, many characters, and it's about their stories of challenging success, that have created the organisation that we are today and the ones that we know that we want to be in the future. And I'll share just a few. I originally did a version of this at DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2019. And then the world was very different, through I left almost immediately after that to travel to Australia, through China, and through the South Pacific and today that's something that's unimaginable, through COVID-19, our world shifted, both personally and professionally. This conference format and the way we're having this conversation is a great example of our need to adapt to change to think differently about the way we share information and what's needed. But with that our horizons have shifted and what we thought was a need for our customers and colleagues to get information and access to capability at speed has grown even more. We've been asked to do things that we never would have dreamed of being able to deliver four months or five months ago. So it reminds us that we're living in a world that's going to change around us unexpectedly and that we need to be able to adapt and change when it does.


(07:24)

So when I joined RBS in 2016, we've been doing a lot of work to transform. RBS has been transforming over the last 10 to 12 years in a massive way. But the way that we saw change and the way we saw delivery, was still a very big organisational approach. The ordinary world is where things are as they should be, maybe they've been there for a while. Life is relatively predictable; you think you know the future and you think you've got certainty. If you follow the path, A plus B is going to get you C and made our favorite characters and stories have an ordinary world in common. If you think about Harry Potter, he was living in the cupboard under the stairs and it certainly wasn't pleasant. It wasn't the most amazing place, but it was predictable. The same in Ling King, Simba was playing in the pride lands as heir to the throne with the protection of his father. For RBS, we'd seen significant change. But our change was done in our ordinary world where we had big projects, we planned budgets in years, not months, and we planned those budgets annually, we moved through the stages of idea to plan, to design, to build, to test and finally to production, that the time to delivery was slower than we wanted it to be. We had functionality towers, and the relationship between technology and the business was sometimes strained. We talked often about technology, and the business and other parts of the organisation and that was the ordinary world. It was the world that many people had grown up in but we knew the world around us was changing at pace and our customers expected new solutions faster. Our ordinary world wasn't giving us the results that we needed and everyone wanted to change. It wasn't just a conversation that someone over here on the left wanted to change, everyone knew that we needed to change and so we knew we needed to do something different. So that’s exactly what we did, and we started to make some changes. And after a little white this new ordinary world would emerge. Then COVID-19 appeared in the world and changed groundless. So we've started our journey again, for bigger and better and different to respond to the different set of challenges. I'm going to mix both the journeys together in this presentation. As without the foundation and learning that we've put in place, we wouldn't have been able to react in the way that we have as an organisation over the last three months. The foundation from agile transformations is the foundation of our learnings from 2008.

(09:53)

So call to change, call to adventure, you've seen the image of Neo given the choice of red pill the blue pill, find out the truth or go on living in the old world pretending it was a reality. So we had a choice to make. The first thing we did was we started with a diagnosis phase, what actually is happening? Why is it taking us so long? What is causing us the impediments? We had the noise, we knew what people were telling us. But we needed to actually understand what was going on so that we could work out what we truly needed to improve and so we can map our change process. Idea to value delivery was about 12 months, and took five meters of process map for us to actually map it out. We realised that there were too many handoffs, too many people checking the work without helping the teams that were doing the work and the focus was actually in the wrong direction. It wasn't a focus of, yes, let's get this out. It was a focus of how do we make sure that we've managed every risk, how do we make sure that we've managed every step along the way, how we make sure that everyone's checked and double checked to make sure that we're doing the right things? It really just wasn't going to be good enough.

(11:04)

So the next phase in the heroes' journey is your mentors. A mentor is essential in what you're doing. You can't just embark on a massive change without having people there to support you, or having people to guide or to challenge you. If you think about a great example of a powerful mentor and stories you may have seen as Mr. Miyagi, Karate Kid. It's a great story that adventure, defeat, learning, adaption and ultimately accomplishment and through the way, Daniel has his mentor, Mr. Miyagi guiding him and supporting him. So for us we had a hugely powerful set of mentors, they changed as we went through our journey, but they were the ones who supported us, who helped challenge our thinking and helped make sure that the organisation and ourselves were aligned in what we were doing. So our change director, our director of investment, championed the change at the highest level, he was passionate about making a difference and helping our teams focus on the things that were important. As CIO at the time, he's no longer with us and we actually now have a number of CDIOs embedded in the business, that our CIO, at the time was highly supportive and a key sponsor of the change. He'd worked this way before he understood some of the risks, but he knew the incremental benefit that you could get and the trade off between changing the way that technology changing operations worked and the cost of not taking that step. We also wanted to lead this journey internally, from within the company and that was key because what we wanted to do was actually have our people learn and change and adapt, rather than somebody give us a new process. This meant that we actually needed to bring in experts to help our people understand what the potential was and we used books, we used podcasts, we used learning sessions. We even ran our own agile fest where we had internal and external speakers talking but it was about bringing people to us so that our people could lead the change, rather than having someone come in and tell us what needed to be different within us. The reason we did that is because this is about cultural change. It's about truly embedding and learning organisational views, so that you can continue to grow. It wasn’t about replacing one process with another process and we were very keen not to do that. That frustrated our teams to no end, because they just wanted to know what the answer was. We would say, well, what questions are you asking?

(13:32)

So before I go any further, let me just recap on what we set out to do. I've talked about it being a cultural journey, we set out to create agility in RBS. We've now actually driven that even further and beyond the dreams that we even had when we started these conversations back in 2017. Our new CEO Allison Rose has led with an inspiring purpose, which I talked about earlier, an underpinning strategy to embed learning into everything that we do. So I talk frequently about the work, and we actually had to define work because for some people work was really simple; it was just the functional delivery that I had to do. We actually had to define work as the thing the customer used, which was safe, secure, resilient and something that embodied something that you can maintain. So not only did we define work, but we also had to define what being in the work was. So doing the work and watching the work and so we had these conversations with our teams about how you get closer to the work and how you get into the work, so that you can truly understand how you can help deliver the outcome. We talked a lot about three stages of our journey. So organizing our work. So how do we think about the way workflows start at the customer? And what's the straightest line of work without handoffs, that we can use to deliver an outcome back to the customer? We thought about the way that we needed to grow our skills and the way we needed to think about shared capability. All of that was around work, then what we did was we actually organised our people behind the work. Then we worked on how we can speed up the pace of delivery because if you work on speeding up the pace of delivery, before you understand what the right workers are, or how to organise your people, then you're actually not going to speed up the right work. So we managed to plan our work in progress as a team.

(15:00)

We thought we'd do this domain by domain, take it slow. We'll test and learn and then we'll iterate and then we'll grow and it'll get bigger. At the same time, we thought that without skill so we told everyone else, just wait for us. Don't do anything big, but learn agile, learn the techniques, do some training, think about how you plan your work, think about how you plan outcomes, and then suddenly we just couldn't wait. So what we had thought would be a nice slow burn as to how we transformed the organisation suddenly became much bigger and we had to repoint the way we did it, we had to think differently. It meant that we had to rely more on the leaders of the teams to lead the change, which was actually perfect and deliver the outcomes thereafter than the central team defining and rolling out what needed to happen on top of it.

(16:28)

So if we go to the next slide, unlike Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter or the Luck Dragon Falkor in The Neverending Story, every journey has its tests, its allies and its enemies. The challenge was scale which meant we just couldn't do this in the business without investment so we did need to bring in help. So to do that, we actually needed some money. Everyone knows that story. Now, normally, you'd sort of try and get money for this type of work, not something you're likely to get. We were very lucky and our CEO and our executive saw the benefit of doing what we were talking about doing because it was about value and the way we deliver to our customers. I actually never talked about agile and DevOps and those types of things. We talked about agility, organisational agility. So we didn't actually get endorsement for the money the first time we went up, which was a bit heart wrenching. But the reason we didn't get endorsement was because they thought we were improving too small. We were talking about technology, we were talking about the things we thought we could control. They actually wanted us to go bigger, they wanted us to go customer and franchise. That was a bit daunting but it meant that we actually ended up in a far better place and organisation. So the other thing that we did very early on, was we didn't just engage the people doing the work. We engaged HR, our audit and our risk colleagues on the journey. We help them understand what this might mean for them because there's no point asking a team to go faster when the ecosystem around them isn't structured to help them go faster. As all that happens is they bang their heads up against the organisation. So we tried to talk about how we changed investment, got rejected the first time, we're actually now just cracking through some of the things that we'd wanted to do on investment, which I'm really quite pleased about. We actually rolled out our learning and agile leadership across the organisation. We had some regular large events. We actually made sure that we had critical allies from outside the areas that needed to change on board and so we kicked off a campaign and I talked earlier about agile fest as a part of that. So it wasn't all plain sailing, we had pockets of the organisation saying, we already do that, we already do this, we don't need to align to the way the company wants to do it, or we don't need to actually have any more training. So you hit those and then you sort of work out whether it's worth fighting that battle or whether you showcase the amazing things other people are doing and then come back to it. Frequently, what ended up happening is once they got overtaken by our teams they came back for another conversation, we very much wanted this to be a pull conversation, not a push conversation. The other thing is that our leadership appointments took longer than expected. So once we've organised the work, it took us a bit longer to organise our people behind the work than we expected. So we learned a lot through that process.

(19:28)

With every journey, there's an abyss. And so if anyone has seen Tom Hanks in Castaway, it's a great example where after setback after setback, he keeps going, trying new ways, and then eventually, reaches the point where he decided he just wasn't going to go any further. Then suddenly, he finds a way he reaches a turning point and realises he's just got to find a way. For us I talked a little bit about it earlier, the abyss came when we had a team, we had a view of what we needed to spend. We knew what we needed to do and we had Brian from the leadership of the team that we were going to take on the journey with us and that we were going to work alongside. Then the organisation said, no, we want to do it bigger so what we had to do was we actually had to slow down, we had to stop, we had to replan, we actually had to let someone else lead and that was really interesting. Then we had to align and learn together. I'd hear things like “we've already done this work, why can't they just believe us” and “If we could just do what we wanted to do as that would work for what they're trying to achieve.” But what we learned was the learning together, the slow down, the alignment was worth it because when you came out the other side, you actually accelerated further. In many cases, this is probably for me the biggest learning around resilience and agility, which is to see those walls to see those challenges as an opportunity to pause and unlearn and relearn and then accelerate forward. So we've ended up in a vastly different place than we ever could have imagined, because of the fact that we took that pause. But it was hard, it was so hard for the team to do that.

(21:15)

So transformation, once the dark abyss starts to clear, our heroes find that things have changed and the Wizard of Oz lion gains his courage to mend his heart, the Scarecrow his brain. We also saw things that started to change, we reached a point where the momentum and support for working differently was so significant, that even if we stopped driving it centrally, even if I stopped having those conversations, if the CEO stopped having those conversations, it was just going to keep going. Because people saw the value. People saw the opportunity, and they wanted it, not that we were telling them that it needed to happen. So we started law, embedding agility into the business, we launched our Business Agility COE within HR so that as a business, we have an end to end view of what agility means to us, what needs to be core and common, and what everyone can do differently. We started seeing our functional areas using agile techniques to plan and manage their work. I was proudly taken on a walk with work with payments, operations teams, our audit teams, our risk teams and they showed how they're using KANBAN to manage their work. The change had started for us.

(22:22)

Finally, after a lot of hard work successes and setbacks, in a story they always turn a corner. You're on the edge of your seat. So for Tom Hanks, he makes it back home. In fact, he has to start on a new journey in a new ordinary world for Simba, he heads back to the pride lands as king. For us there was a pivotal point where suddenly we looked at things and all the hard work was worth it. This is the point where the business started just taking the lead and we were no longer asking, taking the lead and coaching as the business started taking the lead and they started adapting and using the different processes to do what they needed to do. And then the formal changes started to flow, we started to see things as our Centres of Excellence launched by themselves, our domains started working and planning together. We started seeing people working, then speeding up the work and to understand what needed to be different. As we've continued our journey and going through the leap again, due to COVID-19. We've seen not just new learning, but amazing focus and results. So we've focused on our decision making, we've moved faster than we ever thought we could, we've expanded the groups that we've had involved in those sorts of decisions, and we're seeing even greater agility. So we've rapidly rolled out new products in weeks just for customers under COVID-19 everything from mortgage holidays, sea bills, business bills and the commercial lending bills. Our journey for our mortgage payments holiday was designed and launched in 48 hours and we've continued to automate and reduce the need for physical documents to drive automation, some of which we never thought three months ago would be the top of our priority list. But we've adapted and we've changed, and you keep seeing us increase automation. I had a great email the other day from my credit risk team, they said that they had done work that previously would have taken three months in four weeks based on true focus and delivering under the ways of working, that they'd work to deliver. Our pace of delivery has increased, but so too, we've maintained our system stability, our current one and current two incidents are down 36% in the same period, we've maintained our focus, those sorts of things adjust the balance.

(24:43)

We are learning how to do this. We haven't cracked everything that there is to solve and the teams will tell me we still have handoffs, we still have impediments to work. We still haven't quite cracked the way we do investment in a way that supports them to have confidence in persistent teams, that it is very different. So the journey continues. The thing is that we know it's a journey. We know that each and every person on the journey with us has a voice to say what else needs to happen differently. What we take from the heroes' journey is that fundamental change always follows a journey. It involves lots of difficulty, challenges, allies and rethinking, that when we frame it in this way, it helps us to understand what our people might be experiencing as we ask them to change their behaviours and thinking. If you can view your colleagues as your heroes, you're all pushing in the same direction. You all want to be on this journey, but maybe at different stages, it becomes a joint adventure into unknown territory where together you can look for allies, watch your foes and overcome challenges. Ultimately, you reach an action for change, and everyone goes through that journey. So we know that there's no end to this journey, otherwise, we didn't get to the outcome. Our people and our leaders will start new adventures and continue learning and that was what we wanted. They're all creating a new ordinary world, and that will continue to change and be different. So thank you for listening today. Will do we have any questions?

Will: Yes, I think we've got a few. So we got a question from David here. It says, what was the hardest part in getting leaders to unlearn and let go of what had been their core beliefs for so long?

Jenny: It actually comes down to trust and it comes back to experience. In some ways, it comes down to telling the stories of other leaders that have seen these things work that comes down to small steps. You can't just say to somebody who's been taught to lead and manage in a particular way that that's wrong, because it's not as they've been quite successful in their lives. What you need to do is you need to show them that there are things that can be different. We actually used some simulations, to have them experience what that different might look like outside their business, so they could then take that mindset back into their business.

Will: Great, thank you. Obviously in an organisation the size of RBS, the pace of transformation is not uniform across the whole organisation. So what is your advice for people dealing with that, and particularly the people that maybe feel left behind as things evolve and change?

Jenny: Yeah, I think the challenge is to give people enough tools to know that they're improving. If you think about what a learning organisation is, a learning organization is one that reflects it understands what needs to be different and it changes what needs to be different and things change at different pace. Our big structural regulatory programs that were underway for two or three years are unlikely to have turned dramatically in the work that they're doing. But there are pieces of tooling that they can use to improve their mindsets they can use to reflect and improve. What we did was we actually put the emphasis on reflection and improvement, as opposed to everyone must reach level four on your agile maturity index by tomorrow. One of the things I've been adamant on and I still am adamant on, although sometimes I lose the battle but we don't count scrum teams, because that's actually not the outcome. The outcome is that we get time to value faster, and we do it in a safe, secure, stable way for our customers. I don't care what methodology you use, provided you've got the reflection and learning about what could be better built into it.

Will: Great and when you showed us that process map, I think particularly early on in the journey, there must be a level of uncertainty around what is better, when it will return and the level of investment is hugely unpredictable in those early stages. How did you handle those early conversations, particularly when it comes to planning and budgeting and everything else.

Jenny: So some of these journeys are journeys of faith. We actually found a measure that gave us a productivity measure that was something tangible to measure that was the number of people doing work versus the number of people watching work for our projects. If we could get more people actually in the work doing the work, then we were making a shift in the delivery efficiency of our teams. So we focused on that as the metric to show that we were making a difference. There are positives and negatives around that as the single metric. We also tracked things like cycle time and some of the dora metrics that come through but in reality it was about do we have more people doing work, and are they doing the right work? That gave us the permission to do things at a more granular level that you might otherwise have to business case, in individual areas, if we had to business case changing that by better process, not a hope in hell, you just couldn't do it, the outcomes are too uncertain. In reality, you actually don't know whether that's what's slowing your work down. It might look like it's slowing us down but it might not be the thing that's slowing the work down. What we can tell you over the last three months is speed of decision making is a is a big factor.

Will: Perfect, I think we are at the end of the time. That just leaves me to say massive thanks to you Jenny, and thanks everyone who joins. I'm going to put up a slide which kind of gives you a pointer to how to continue the conversation. Massive thanks again Jenny that was a great talk.

Jenny: Thank you.

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