Agile ways of working are enabling a focused collaboration of experts from different units of the bank to co-create innovative solutions together with client facing teams or ideally, directly together with our clients with the goal to create value. The Head IT at Julius Baer Andreas Fahrni discusses the benefits of “going agile” and how IT is applying the new agile way of working in order to unlock the full value potential.
What will be the biggest benefits to Julius Baer of adopting agile practices?
Andreas Fahrni: “We want to create products and services that bring even more value to our clients. Through agile, we can do this faster and with a greater impact – ideally even by co-creating solutions together with our clients. Agile will also help Julius Baer to compete successfully in an international market by increasing our change efficiency and enabling us to prioritise changes more effectively. It should also empower our people to unlock their own creativity, giving our brightest minds more opportunities to shape the solutions we offer to our clients."
What role is IT playing in Julius Baer’s agile journey?
“In fact, IT is playing two important roles in our agile journey. First, in a close partnership with our business who owns the bank’s products and services, we are the home base for talents with strong expertise in architecting, designing, delivering and operating technology solutions. As such, I consider our organisation as a strategic partner to our business units with the purpose of jointly delivering technology solutions that provide value for the bank, our stakeholders and for our clients. Secondly, IT provides the technology foundation as an enabler for an efficient software delivery process based on standardization, automation and based on a state of the art development cloud infrastructure.”
What impact are agile practices having on the way IT works?
“The impact is significant for IT because the agile way of working also heavily influences our processes, governance, people and our leadership culture. If we want to deliver new technology-based products and services, we as an IT organisation need to ’walk the talk’ and work increasingly in an agile mode within IT for our own products as well. As a result, we started to redesign our approach on how we develop and operate systems (DevOps), how we build automated quality checks into the development process and how we develop talents and highly specialised skills into so-called Center of Excellences (CoEs). Finally, yet importantly, agile only works if also the leadership team empowers the teams to prioritise their own book of work within the given strategic targets and the given capacity constraints. It is truly amazing what we were already able to achieve in a very short time.“
What is the biggest challenge?
“It is essential that the entire technology delivery process remains as lean as possible but still controlled to avoid unnecessary costs and risks. Amongst other things, this means that important guardrails and KPIs have to be implemented, which not only cover the efficiency and effectiveness of the development process but as well technology risks, architecture debts, security deficits and operational resilience.
We can overcome these challenges by rigorously applying concepts such as “Test Driven Development”, “DevOps” and a “shift left” of the quality responsibility to the development team. On top, automating everything that can be automated is key for success”.
Any lessons you learned since introducing agile working practices beyond IT?
“I would say that three lessons were important for us. First, the importance of a strong business ownership for the product and the technology solution by a so-called Product Owner (PO) cannot be underestimated and is essential for an effective agile transformation. Going agile is not an “IT thing”, but rather a goal, that is supported by the whole bank, letting business and IT collaborate as partners.
Second, focus is key. An agile release train is like a highly focused speedboat similar to a task force but with a clear goal to create continuous impact along with the regularly reviewed business objectives. Multitasking between different projects and communicating through hundreds of pages of specification documents must be replaced by on the spot communication, interaction and decision-making.
Third, capacity based thinking and rigorous prioritization of the feature backlog assigned to the team is key. Managers need to learn to ask the team how many features they can deliver and not constantly ask for more. This can only work if there is trust in the quality and efficiency of the team. Hence, building strong teams is an important task for any agile leader.”
I’m happy to see that ’going agile’ at Julius Baer is not an ’IT thing’ but rather a goal which is supported by the whole bank, letting business and IT collaborate as partners.
What have been the highlights for you of working agile?
“One thing for sure is the visibly improved and close collaboration between business and IT. Technology is a key differentiation factor for a bank. Hence, combined teams with a strong business and technology experience working agile can truly shape the bank’s business transformation and move into the next innovation cycle.”