achieving efficiency & flexibility with agile

The payments industry is rapidly developing and changing. From cards to smartphones, payments are always finding a new “host” for processing the transaction. Coping in such industry and staying ahead of change, when it is the only constant, never comes easy.

Different management methodologies have been used not just in our company but every company with predominant a IT sector where flexibility and efficiency are the main priorities and one seems to stand out especially when it comes to mastering change – Agile.

First of All What is Agile?

Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster with issues.

More precisely, it refers to methodologies of software development based on the concept of iterative production, where requirements and solutions grow through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

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The value of Agile's growth is that it helps teams produce value more efficiently, with better effectiveness and predictability, and greater ability to adapt to change.

Within Agile, there are even more methodologies like Scrum and Kanban, all of which have an overarching Agile philosophy but, from the standpoint of implementation, they all have a unique mix of practices, strategies, and terminology.

Until recently, this methodology has been mostly connected to software development because Agile’s initial advocates and the authors of Agile Manifesto were all software developers. Even the constituting document was called the Manifesto for Agile Software Development of 2001. 

Fast forward to 10 years later, the Agile methodology has permeated all types and parts of organization, so now there is for example Agile in human resources and Agile in marketing agencies.

However, Agile is actually difficult to explain in words because first of all it is a mindset where, as the Manifesto says, individuals and interactions are more valuable than tools and processes. 

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It can sometimes be difficult to grasp Agile in a large corporation because it is not something that can be implemented quickly. This way of operating an organization redefines the exact notion of corporation, at least the one known for the past few decades.

While corporations are usually very inflexible and follow a strict business model and strategy, Agile on the other hand can be compared to a living, growing organism that constantly adapts and changes to explore new opportunities and in that way bring more value to the customer

For all of these values that Agile brings, Nets Group, and the units within it, have decided to switch to Agile methodologies and specifically a framework for business agility called Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). Our aim is to become more flexible and efficient, as well as to be able to constantly grow and adapt to the changing industry and the transformative ecosystem of fintechs. In this way, we can deliver our existing clients and new ones the best possible service.

Moving away from the established structure requires changing the underlying mindset and accepting the new one. We are currently undergoing an internal structural change in which people are organized into product streams in order to be able to react swiftly to product changes and developments. 

Here's what our product stream leaders had to say about the transformation and application of Agile principles:

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Luka Ferl, Head of Development, is leading the Processing Stream and he gave us insight of the application of Agile and SAFe as well as the value this brings to the processing stream:

How big is the transformation?

The transformation process that we are undertaking is encompassing a large part of our engineering staff and organizational units. In total, in this transformation, over 200 of our employees are involved across Project Management, Product Management, Development, Testing and Application Management.

What can you tell us about the implementation of SAFe within our business unit?

We have started on this journey with a kick start from our colleagues in Nordics who had already implemented SAFe for the past year. 

Using their guidance and accumulated experience we have formed value streams that will enable us to speed up the flow of value towards our customers. The three value streams, Processing Services, Account Management Services, and Risk Management Services then formed a total of 24 teams enabling them to support a wide range of services grouped in product groups.

On this basis we started to extend the implementation to our specific needs, retaining the fundamentals of SAFe with additional roles as Test Managers, Release Managers and Service Stability Leads to provide a high quality delivery experience for the teams and our clients.

What will Agile bring to your value stream?

When we get it right our biggest aspiration is to have an organization and culture that will enable everyone to do the best work possible. To have a high degree of transparency and understanding between customers and us, as well a continuous learning and sharing experience.

Ultimately, this would reflect in us having a better understanding of the needs of the market and responding to those needs with greater flexibility and quality.

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Danijel Balun, Team Leader, Product Management, is in charge of the Account Management product stream, and here's how they are applying Agile principles to their teams:

What principles of Agile method are you using in Account Management Services?

On the level of the stream, we are using the SAFe (Scaled Agile) methodology which enables us to have a continuous delivery and continuous exploration and improvement of new and existing products. 

The main principle is that the whole stream/team is included; therefore, every member of the team has a part in product delivery. There is no hierarchy but every team member role has a set of responsibilities and it has to ensure quality of work before passing it to the next member of the delivery train.

The heart of whole process is PI planning where every stream member is included in planning and has a say in shaping a future delivery product.

By using the DevOPS approach, we are ensuring that every product team build is maintained by that same team to enable continuous improvement and enable us to apply the principles of Design Thinking in the near future.

In which areas will these principles have the best effect, especially as seen from our client’s perspective or even that of their end-clients?

In every part of delivery, I would say. However, this will especially have the best effect on product quality and product values. By including every team member to contribute with his knowledge and experience, the quality of the product exponentially grows (“It takes a village to raise a child”). Also, by increasing product quality, we are delivering appropriate value to our customers because with continuous delivery we are supporting their business goals. 

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The third value stream is related to Risk Management and Digital, and we asked Jelena Kolega, Head of New Solution Design, what she thought were the best values of switching to Agile:

How will this make prioritization easier to our people?

Prioritization is something that causes headaches to many product managers. When it comes to prioritization, there are several stakeholders in that process. On the one hand, you have clients waiting with their requests which are crucial for them for many reasons.

Then you have regulatory implementations required by card schemes (specific for card processing related products) and, last but not least, you (as product manager) have your product’s roadmap - list of functionalities, product increments/enhancements that you’d like to develop. Where to start and how to prioritize?

I’m not sure that Agile and SAFe as a methodology will make prioritization easier. 

This methodology and working-in-sprints principles will raise awareness in teams and product managers about developments that are going as planned and those that are not going as planned. That will encourage teams and product managers to stop projects which are not going as planned (early enough) and re-prioritize tasks, for the benefit of all: clients, regulators, and the product itself.

How will this benefit our clients?

This new way of working should result in better planning of product development activities.  Ultimately, that means that our clients will have accurate and timely information on when they can expect their requests to be implemented (resolved) and/or when new product will be in production. That will enable them to plan and budget their activities and future investments.     

What is the future of Agile?

The Agile methodology is not only limited to software development and it can potentially revolutionize and change the corporate mindset. However, not all Agile methodologies are applicable to every organization and it takes expert judgment to decide what should be applied where.

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For this reason, we asked Morten Ankjær, Agile Coach from Deloitte, for his opinion on the challenges of implementing Agile and the future of Agile in fintech organizations:

What are the challenges of implementing Agile in large corporations vs. in small organization?

In smaller organisations or entrepreneurial networks, it is often easy to establish an overview of ongoing projects and tasks and we can easily pull teams together and get alignment on the vision and direction. In large organisations work and people are often distributed to organisational silos, sometimes even at different locations.

The size and organisational boundaries impede our ability to get alignment and transparency in activities and to sort out dependencies amongst teams. So, when implementing agile in a larger organisation, we need a system that can provide the network and operational procedures that provide speed and innovation of the entrepreneurial network while leveraging the benefits and stability of a large organisation.

Is the formal structure of Agile such as Scaled Agile Framework maybe more applicable to larger corporations?

Scaled Agile Framework is in offset designed for delivering large solutions with teams of teams and it provides the tools, processes, guides and principles for establishing a dual operating system that brings the entrepreneurial network to larger organisations creating better value sooner, safer and happier.

What is the future of Agile in fintech organizations?

The future is agile as more and more of the organisation embeds agile thinking and value to additional parts of the organization. Improving the ability to rapidly respond to both internal and external threats and opportunities allows us to seize competitive advantage and market share by organising now and into the future​, operating and delivering value and behaving, learning and evolving to maximize human performance​.