Guest blog: Taking an Agile approach to digital transformation

This article was first published in Society Matters magazine.

By Darrell Jaggers, Chief Transformation Officer, British Columbia Canada-based First West Credit Union (FWCU), Kate Moore, Ways of Working Delivery Lead at Nationwide Building Society and Steph Alston, Agile Coach at Skipton Building Society. 


The large numbers of technology firms and fintechs exhibiting at the Building Societies Conference this year demonstrated how seriously the sector is taking digital transformation.

How firms manage big and continuous change is also a key challenge and was the topic of one of the  final breakout sessions on the second day of Conference.

Darrell Jaggers, Chief Transformation Officer at British Columbia Canada-based First West Credit Union (FWCU), packed out the Seminar Theatre with a case-study presentation on how his organisation used agile leadership to deliver digital transformation.

Agile as a concept, came out of a meeting of software developers in America in 2001, who were frustrated at corporate culture and standard ways of bringing products to market. Agile frameworks are specific approaches to planning, managing, and executing work that incorporate elements of continuous planning, testing, integration,  and other forms of continuous development, with the aim of delivering value to customers quickly and frequently. Many firms use agile frameworks to innovate and deliver change within departments. However, they also often maintain within leadership teams traditional hierarchical structures of "command and control”, which limit the benefit you can achieve compared to holistic cultural change.

By contrast, FWCU took an organisation-wide approach to agile, with front-line, leadership and even its office space reconfigured around the principles of agile.

“Agile should be a verb, not a noun”, Darrell told attendees at the Conference, with FWCU rated by consultancy McKinsey as a top decile organisation across the globe using its Organizational Health Index (OHI) in which agile plays a key role.

His presentation was also a discussion between Kate Moore, Ways of Working Delivery Lead at Nationwide Building Society and Steph Alston, Agile Coach at Skipton Building Society, who joined Darrell on stage to ask him questions and share their own experiences of applying agile principles within  their respective organisations.

The session reflected meetings that have been taking place over the last year between FWCU, Nationwide, Skipton, Principality and Cumberland Building Societies, to share experiences about enterprise agility and work on specific challenges firms are facing.

What have been the main benefits for FWCU shifting to agile working?


Darrell: Since the beginning of FWCU’s agile journey, we have seen major shifts in transparency, flexibility and speed of delivery. Visualisation practices in enterprise planning and prioritisation have brought previously invisible work to light. This transparency helps us better understand where capacity is being allocated and strengthens alignment with company priorities.

Transparency of work has enabled us to develop a true understanding of the work driving FWCU forward and that may need to be paused so we can take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Finally, transparency and flexibility has accelerated delivery speed. Rather than planning, investing in and committing to numerous siloed initiatives, we are re-organising teams around priority work to ensure we are delivering faster and more frequently. These benefits have been on full display as part of FWCU’s plans to expand and operate across Canada, becoming a federally regulated credit union.

When the Canadian federal regulator (OSFI) asked us to advance our federal readiness plans it came just days after completing quarterly planning. Despite this, in less than four weeks we enacted an organisation-wide shift toward federal readiness work, were able to reorganise, and re-cast our plan. This would never have been possible in a pre-agile world.

Through cross-functional collaboration, we can more effectively tackle complex bodies of work. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (a federal body charged with a consumer protection mandate) has actually noted this approach for the cohesion, collaboration and transparency it creates in how we work.

What can building societies and credit unions learn from FWCU's example of agile leadership?


Steph: That we need to address this from an enterprise wide perspective, it is not just about delivering projects. Agile is about culture and how people interact and behave. For organisations to thrive in the future we need to attract and retain talent, leaders can support this by shifting their mind set to ‘how can I serve you?’

Kate: The pace of change has never been as fast as it is now - and it will never be this slow again. In order to adapt for the future a new type of leadership muscle needs to be built that creates environments for colleagues to  thrive.

Leaders can disproportionally impact (either positively or negatively) the ability to transform your organisation. For leaders that have spent a whole career operating a certain way this can be scary and there is much unlearning to do. However, you can’t outsource a cultural transformation, it must come from within and be bought into at all levels of the organisation.

How do you address challenges or resistance from stakeholders when introducing agile practices in a digital transformation initiative?


Darrell: Early adopters and champions are eager to adopt different ways of working. They like the allure of something new, exciting and challenging – they are our transformational thinkers. Other people rely more heavily on social proof. When resistors to change see the evidence of a way of working that is better for both them personally and the organisation, they come around to the new way of working.

Steph: You can remove resistance to change when you get stakeholders deeply involved in your agile practices and show sustainable audience-specific benefits with real evidence. For example, customers receiving products they want more frequently, HR team members seeing improvements in employee experience scores or financial professionals measuring higher Return on Investment (ROI) on your finite resources.

Is there a size limit for firms looking to apply agile?


Steph: No. Size does not matter! What is crucial to acknowledge, however, is that adding more agile teams will not make you more agile. To reap the benefits, organisations must embrace enterprise agility and embed an agile  mind-set, principles and practices in non-delivery teams.Using agile to become agile will unlock the ability to scale regardless of your company size.

Kate: Understanding what outcome you want to achieve is key in order to tailor your approach to your context. start small, prove out some early hypothesis and keep moving forward from there, creating momentum for change. Being agile is not the goal. However, having more agility in your organisation can help you achieve your   business goals. There is no endpoint for enterprise agility, rather an ambition to improve continuously.

More information

A working group for building societies and credit unions is open to all BSA members - if interested, please contact robert.thickett@bsa.org.uk