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"We must involve, experiment and find our way forward"

Stefan Davill

“We don’t employ smart people to then tell them exactly how they should do their job. Delegation and self-leadership are key building blocks in the agile change journey,” so says Stefan Davill, responsible for the agile transition at SEB.

So what does SEB want to achieve with the transition to agile working methods?

“It’s about facing and preparing for change as a bank. Here the corona year 2020 is a good example of how important it is to be able to swiftly adjust to handle new conditions,” he says.

The goal is to be able to act more flexibly, quickly produce new solutions and services that create value for customers and for the bank. To succeed with this, requires changes in the way we plan, prioritise and implement development initiatives.

The major challenge is not what we want to achieve but what we do in practical terms in order to get there.  

“It’s easy to sit in a meeting and agree about the situation we want and then leave the meeting and carry out the work individually based on what best suits your department. Traditionally all companies are organised vertically but all value to customers is delivered horizontally, across organisational borders.”

Getting to grips with this requires cross-functional collaboration in a virtual organisation. So this means that every person who is needed to deliver a solution forms a common delivery team, regardless of whether they belong to a business division, an IT department, an administrative support function, a legal function or a marketing unit.

“Then we cannot do like before when we ran huge projects and believed in advance that we had all the answers to what customers want, what it will cost and how long it will take. Then this was sent as an order to the IT department: ‘please deliver’.”

Now it’s about involving everyone concerned at an early stage, working together, finding our way forward, experimenting.

“This means that old structures must be broken down and new ones created. But, they should be set in sand, not in stone. The virtual organisation must be flexible so that it can change and adapt the delivery teams on the basis of what is best in each individual case.”

Agile working methods are also based on delegated decision making.

“This involves moving away from a traditional hierarchical decision making where the person at the top of the pyramid is considered to have detailed knowledge of everything to be done and achieved and who then orders this from those lower down in the organisation. This creates passive employees.  

“Instead this is about indicating a clear direction and a desired course but then leaving a large part of implementation responsibility to those who are capable and know most. This means that we must develop close to users and have a mandate to be able to change and adapt services on the basis of feedback.”

How far has the agile transition reached at SEB?

“We have come quite a long way as regards changes that can be decided with the stroke of a pen. We have taken ambitious decisions related to organisation, responsibility and roles. The next phase of the transition is about changing how we work and this is the big challenge. Here we have made considerable progress within some areas but have a long way to go within others. You could say that we follow the weight chart to use a simile from early childhood.”.

Can you see any results?

“Yes, we have had feedback from all parts of the organisation that collaboration and understanding of each other’s agendas have risen sharply which creates conditions for better and faster deliveries to customers and users. In the past year we have also doubled the number of value-creating deliveries. This is partly because we have broken down deliveries into smaller components and become better at following up – so a clear step in the right direction that provides positive energy going forward!”