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Nitor celebrates ten years of agile partnerships with customers

Published in Agile

Written by

Rami Sirkiä
Managing director, Lean-agile transformations & SAFe Fellow

Rami Sirkiä has MSc in Management Accounting and has bridged the finance function and software development function when he implemented a planning and financial system that complied with Scaled Agile SW development. Now he is helping companies to succeed in enterprise level agility.

Article

June 29, 2023 · 8 min read time

Continuous learning and cooperation are at the heart of agile. At Nitor's Agile branch, we have been fortunate to share our ten-year journey with exceptional customers and employees, with whom we have grown and learned. What are the cornerstones of invaluable partnerships? What skills are essential for individuals who want to advance agile transformations in their organisations? In this article, Nitor’s Managing Director in Lean-agile transformations Rami Sirkiä shares our key learnings from the past ten years and insight for organisations now adopting an agile way of working.

Tackling our customers' business challenges with an extensive toolkit has always been the essence of our work. Since the beginning, Nitor's agile services were built around skilled individuals who form a pool of experts and learn from each other to create sustainable organisations and together with our customers make an impact in the world. Our work is founded on agile principles of cooperation, continuous learning, and constant renewal. We cherish deep partnerships with our customers, who have helped us grow and expand our expertise. 

Ten years ago, systems thinking and lean-agile principles were not yet accepted as proven methods for achieving a better flow of work, increased value creation, and better business results. Only software-intensive industries were adopting and experimenting with these methodologies - telecommunications, banking, and insurance were significant early adopters because their business was largely built around computers and software. Many of us still remember the personal banking booklet made of paper, and though it may feel nostalgic, we all probably agree that it has been impressive to see how software development has transformed how we handle our finances. 

Today, from telecommunications to forest industry or mechanical engineering, lean and agile have become globally accepted and trusted ways of working. In addition, all industries now share a growing need for connecting all functions of the company and increasing cooperation. Continuous collaboration between IT and business has become of utmost importance, and people are embracing the opportunity to make room for this crucial collaboration.

When more and more cooperation inside organisations takes place, we see vast leaps of success not only in software companies but in companies that deal with embedded software or pure hardware solutions. 

For example, we've seen how Wärtsilä, whose products are large motor engines, balanced their work with SAFe or how YIT, one of Finland's largest construction companies, transformed their silo-based organisation with agile practices. We've also been fortunate to be a part of the Finnish national television Yle's agile journey for many years when they adopted agile methods for most of their 3000-people organisation.

But what have we learned during our ten-year journey? We've seen ups and downs and, most importantly, learned a lot from our customers and employees.

1. Extensive change happens with focus on one thing at a time

A flow-state is essential when we want to deliver extensive work efficiently. When we achieve good flow, we have high focus and a feeling of enjoyment of what we do. We are not self-conscious, which allows us to focus on something larger than ourselves. People who have worked with their hands, e.g., carpenters, know how important it is to create the feeling of flow to work. When we work with something tangible, it is easier to rule out distractions and achieve a flow-state.  

Today's expert work, however, is founded on thinking, and distractions are more readily present. A flow state is more challenging to achieve, even though it would be valuable in advancing any extensive change program. In big organisations, we are used to thinking that extensive changes can take 6-12 months to complete. This belief comes from how organisations have traditionally worked: as a change requires time, we must start it early enough. And, as we are working on many things at the same time, we end up starting various large projects simultaneously. Result? Everyone's backlog is packed, but very little happens regarding these projects. There is little flow in personal work and how the joint backlog progresses, making people feel exhausted.

However, when the pandemic hit, we saw how quickly significant changes can be made when everyone focuses on one thing at a time. For example, this sudden 'force majeur' brought a quick and radical change to the operating model of organisations, and one of our customers introduced Microsoft Teams to their whole organisation in one month, when before the pandemic, the project was given a year to complete. 

2. Strong partnerships strengthen the customer's independence

We want to build relationships with our customers where they are not dependent on us. One of our guiding principles has been to help our customers do the work and deal with challenges themselves so they strengthen their basis for success and do not end up dependent on anyone on the outside. 

However, often these relationships become long-lasting partnerships where we both learn from each other. A treasured part of these partnerships is that they resemble friendships and allow both parties to be vulnerable with each other. The key to these valued relationships lies in an unconditional willingness to impact the world, which both parties share. 

Our part is to strengthen the customer's internal knowledge base through training, workshops, and consulting so they can control their operations completely. We can accelerate the change but will not replace their internal knowledge.

3. Agile practices also benefit younger companies that are scaling up their business 

It’s not that long ago that we thought that only large companies with a history benefit from our expertise. However, recently we have noticed that also younger companies who are growing rapidly benefit from introducing structure with agile practices. When an enterprise grows and achieves economies of scale, complexity sets in. 

In this phase of rapid growth, there is a risk for the complexity outweighing the benefits achieved by the economies of scale. The organisation may adopt a more traditional, hierarchical business model if the portfolio becomes too large. The pendulum can also easily swing the other way, and the business can become overwhelming with too little structure. 

At Nitor Agile branch, we create tools that enlarge thinking and solve problems of complexity.  We’ve learned that organising around value flows brings back simplicity yet allows the organisation to continue to grow at a rapid pace with enough stability.

4. A change agent needs five critical skills when advancing agile transformations

For someone who wants to advance agile transformations in organisations, we've identified five critical skills that are essential in this work:

  1. Methodology: knowledge of lean, agile, and systems thinking with related tools and techniques. 

  2. A consultative approach: how to listen, find patterns, analyse, and use facilitation

  3. Change management: It is valuable to understand how organisational change works. Having a vision, effectively communicating it, knowing what to do first (e.g., portfolio- or team-level), and being familiar with practices of an agile transformation are the cornerstones of being able to drive agile transformations successfully. 

  4. Context of a corporation: understanding large enterprises' challenges and how change happens in small pieces is essential when working with agile transformations.

  5. Passion: Advancing agile transformations is very rewarding but hard work. When an individual is passionate about it, it will be very fulfilling!

5. Big changes are a series of small, personal changes

Change seldom happens all at once. And, even more importantly, change can never be forced. Whether we work with a smaller company or a large enterprise, the principle is always the same: sustainable change happens in small steps when people in that organisation want to change. 

Behind every transformation are multiple personal choices to change and adopt new ways of working. So, what leads to a transformation where people want to be part of it and drive the change themselves? 

First of all, we need to talk about the change not so much from the viewpoint of productivity or financial gain but emphasise the benefits to the people. 

Secondly, it is important that people feel heard as the change happens for them. When people’s concerns and needs are heard, appropriate support can be offered. 

Thirdly, making things happen one small piece at a time is essential. This way, the change will not become overwhelming, and positive feedback can spread within the organisation to pave the way for the transition to spread further. 

Looking ahead: Learning creates renewal 

During the past ten years, Nitor's Agile branch has grown from just a few people to about 20. Through growth and renewal, we can serve our customers more comprehensively and give our employees more growth opportunities. 

Throughout the years, the same values still hold. For our employees, we want to offer a secure platform where people can work with what they are most passionate about. As a result, passionate, diverse individuals form a pool of experts who solve customer problems together. 

Product leadership and agile governance are areas of work that are increasingly interesting for us. With product leadership, we aim to define and understand value creation with modern tools like design thinking, prototyping, and A/B testing. 

Agile governance, in turn, focuses on creating more flow, as silos are often the major obstacle to achieving flow. Agile governance helps top management shift their thinking towards a structured, stable, yet fast-moving, agile organisation where it is easier to react to changing demands and needs swiftly. 

Ten years have passed and this time has offered us invaluable learnings and growth. We look forward to many more years and inspiring partnerships. If you are interested in joining our journey, get in touch with our agile coaches so we can start new discussions together. 

Written by

Rami Sirkiä
Managing director, Lean-agile transformations & SAFe Fellow

Rami Sirkiä has MSc in Management Accounting and has bridged the finance function and software development function when he implemented a planning and financial system that complied with Scaled Agile SW development. Now he is helping companies to succeed in enterprise level agility.

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