ArticleSeptember 8, 2022 · 5 min read time
A long career at Nokia offered Rauno Kosamo a career path centered around servant leadership. These years provided valuable learnings on the agile operating model and its benefits. Through trial and error, he discovered what works in scaled agile – and what does not. As a Lean-Agile Coach at Nitor, Rauno shares everything he has learned about the agile way of working with his customers. The goal is to help organisations make a sustainable transformation into agile.
Agile frameworks benefit the whole when applied to the organisation’s need
Most agile frameworks share a common set of values and principles based on lean and agile thinking. However, any existing model must be adjusted to the organisation’s needs when implementing these frameworks.
“During Nokia’s MeeGo project, some teams utilised the Scrum framework without adjusting it to meet the needs of multiple teams working to fulfill the customer’s needs. As a result, the teams using Scrum were isolated from the rest of the organisation, leading to challenges in integrating the customer’s needs,” Rauno Kosamo remembers.
As Scrum, also scaled lean-agile models work best when adjusted to the existing organisational culture, history, architecture, or simply the way of working that has been prevalent before.
Rauno was involved in the development of the SAFe framework, which is one of the lean-agile models. He has applied learnings from SAFe at both Nitor and Nokia. When implementing different frameworks, it is essential to know the background of the tool and the reasons why it should be used: how it can create value for both the customer and the organisation.
“The most important thing is to adjust the chosen frameworks into value creation for the customer. Using a tool does not always work - it’s important to adjust it according to individual needs.”
Understanding the state of product development enables one to focus on what is essential
One of the most prominent benefits organisations gain from an agile way of working is transparency, which allows all parties to understand the current state of product development clearly. Transparency in itself can mean many things, but in agile, it is often related to the value creation of a product or service, its current state, and prioritisation of the upcoming features.
“In daily work, transparency can mean how a product or service is developed, or how the value created for the customer is understood, prioritised, produced, and delivered. Collecting and processing feedback and learning from it also helps in maintaining organisational transparency,” Rauno describes.
During his time at Nokia, Rauno saw the consequences of lacking transparency at the portfolio level. Product owners were extremely busy and ended up competing with each other on whose feature would progress next. At the same time, the quality of the features suffered as the product owners had too much simultaneous work to be done.
The solution was to build visibility to the portfolio level by making all ongoing work visible in the work management tool Jira. Considering the current capacity, it became clear that there were way too many features under work. There was enough work to be done for three years.
“We solved the issue by concentrating on the 10 % of work that creates the most value for the customer, and the rest was taken out of sight. This way, the product owners could focus only on the next upcoming features. Quality and speed increased significantly. Also, prioritisation became easier as we focused our efforts on what was most important.”
Transparency as a part of servant leadership
Transparency is an integral part of how servant leadership works. Figuring out what kinds of competencies and ways of working are needed in the future, for example, is a great example of transparency. Finding out the answers with the entire team allows everyone involved to know what is to come. This, in turn, enables the entire organisation to have common goals, and, according to Rauno, the servant leader's role is vital to achieving them:
“In an agile way of working, decisions are based on collected data. This makes fear and game-playing disappear, and resources become fully available for the tasks at hand. It becomes possible to look at things as they are and make necessary changes to reach the set goals.”
An agile transformation often begins from the bottom-up but also requires top-down movement. Otherwise, there is a risk for the middle management to get caught up between a rock and a hard place, which could easily be avoided by including everyone in the transformation. The role of middle-management evolves into being someone who enables effortless work for the performing teams. This servant leader serves most of all the common good and focuses on developing the team. Servant leadership and transparency enable continuous learning in the organisation.
A competent and inspiring work community is more than the sum of its employees
Simplifying things and being agile is also present in Rauno’s private life. For years, when his children were small, Rauno was involved in junior football, where the agile way of working and transparency brought considerable improvements to how the club ran things. Holding a retrospective twice per year allowed the members to work together on how to best advance the activities for juniors in the club. Transparency, applying what had been learned, and working together made growth possible for the club.
“In these retrospectives, we concluded that we need more experience in training. In the next season, we succeeded in finding a training manager for the juniors who supported and advised the trainers. Another example of the improvements was the realisation that there was a demand for 3-6-year-old kids to start playing football. We launched Princess and Knight football, where the younger kids could be together and play,” Rauno tells.
Even though Rauno’s years at Nokia were filled with exciting assignments, only later on, he realised how extensive knowledge of agile these years gave him. For Rauno, becoming a Nitorean was definitely the right choice as being able to learn something new each day is something he values highly. The diversity among Nitoreans makes the organisational culture very rich. Everyone has their area of expertise, and people can learn from each other together.
“The core principles of agile can be seen every day at Nitor. Continuous learning is possible in a culture where knowledge is shared freely, and failure is seen as part of learning.”