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Maarit Laanti, The Pioneer of Enterprise Agile: Three critical learnings on agile

Published in People, Agile

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August 15, 2022 · 5 min read time

Maarit Laanti has worked at the core of agile since the creation of the Agile Manifesto. Her knowledge of agility comes primarily from her years at Nokia, and in this article, we dive into the three key learnings she has gained on agile ways of working. Listening to intuition and trusting life have guided Maarit through the years. As a result, Maarit has become an undeniable pioneer in the field of agile in Finland.

// Maarit Laanti is the first Nordic SAFe Fellow. It is the most prestigious distinction that can be awarded to individuals who have exhibited the highest levels of thought leadership and transformational expertise in implementing the Scaled Agile Framework. //

As an explorer toward a new kind of destination

The experience from multiple large, complex development projects has shown Maarit how know-how, feedback, communication, and transparency form the cornerstones of a successful project. 

When working at Nokia, the first project Maarit was involved in had only three developers. The team first used the product themselves to see how it functions in practice. The project proved to be the best possible start for the upcoming journey to the core of agile, as she had the opportunity to see firsthand the development of a product from the beginning until eventually receiving feedback from users.

Running a time zone crossing project successfully in a big organisation was a key lesson.

Maarit saw firsthand the challenges of a large organisation and learned which factors guarantee the success of a large-scale development project while staying on schedule. The experience was essential when thinking about future agile transformations.

“Transparency, open communication, self-management, and trust are the most important things in any successful project.” -Maarit Laanti

Another crucial stage in Maarit's career was her time in the United States during her Nokia years.

In particular, adopting English as a fluent working language made international cooperation possible. This, in turn, ultimately led to receiving the SAFe Fellow recognition. During these years, Maarit wanted to gain a thorough understanding of how a company could manufacture a large number of mobile phones in a short time. 

“I felt it was important to find a new, productive way of working.”

Initially, Maarit found the agile way of working and incremental development with Alistair Cockburn. She got so excited about the matter that she started to run her development project incrementally when she returned to Finland. 

“Through practice, I got the experience of how productive incremental development is. Initially, I saw it as a better way of doing things, but its positive impact on the financial result surprised me. This also led to starting my dissertation on the topic.”

The third key learning was scaling agile ways of working on a large scale.

It was started first in Nokia’s smartphone unit and later within regular mobile phones. The results were good. The first agile release train was implemented in 2007, leading to Nokia’s first N8 touch screen phone launch. Simultaneously, Maarit created new knowledge of the topic through her dissertation. 

“I started my research on scaled agility in 2000 because I wanted to understand the topic and be able to explain it. The theme was so wide and new that it was difficult to research. At the same time, however, I found it so important that I did not want to leave the research unfinished. I have had the chance to create new knowledge as there was nearly no prior research on this topic. It has proven to be very rewarding to see how much organisations have benefitted from these new ways of working.” 

Working in these transformations also allowed her to meet the best gurus of the time and exchange ideas on making product development as efficient as possible.

“A major factor, when creating a new way of working to Nokia, was the leadership’s courage to let us try new things in practice and create new ways of working even when there were no set recipes for success.”

An enabler focuses on producing customer value and creates the conditions for success

Three primary benefits organisations and individuals gain from agile are a more productive way of working, increased quality, and a better work environment. 

“Solving practical challenges is very rewarding in my work. Finding solutions that work and improve work practices and create more happiness for people is one of the greatest things in my work.”

At Nitor, Maarit can bring her experience for the customers' use. The most important thing is to enable a sustainable transformation for the customer, where the organisation can lead the change themselves and not become dependent on an outside consultant.

“I like to teach and get excited about running our courses because no course is the same twice. Knowledge progresses all the time, and the participants take the know-how further. Learning occurs not only at the individual level but also at the organisational and societal level.”

Prioritisation, listening to intuition and trusting life

Even though having meaningful work is vital to Maarit, it is also essential to have enough energy for one’s family and spare time. Maarit found some guiding principles early in her career to ensure this balance. Following these guidelines have saved her from burning out during hectic years. 

Learning to notice the early signs of stress have been crucial for Maarit - she noticed that when a feeling of inadequacy creeps in, it is time to take some time to recover. Spending time at sea, classical music, and handicrafts are important to her in balancing work and personal life. Having a spiritual dimension in life also helps Maarit in coping with stress. 

Possessing a trust in life does not mean simply floating through it without an end goal. If anything, it means giving everything to the task at hand at each given moment. 

“I’ve always done the things that I felt were important at any given time. I’ve followed my intuition and trusted that I will find the right steps in the future.”

Maarit’s sense of direction is also supported by her habit of writing down the most important task for each day already the night before – something she learned during her college years. Completing just one assignment every day gives the satisfaction of getting things done. Maarit also has always had a note visible that states, “Prioritise!”. 

She recommends anyone to try out these tips and experiment with increasing their reading speed, something Maarit has found invaluable herself.

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