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New Podcast Episode! Ways of Working at ABSA with Nick Manterfield

Listen to the ways of working changes that ABSA has gone through as told by Nick Manterfield, CIO of Corporate Bank and Group Payments.

It’s the Age of Digital and we’re all living in it. Sooner Safer Happier is a podcast orchestrated to help you on your unique journey to improving ways of working.

Hosted by Jon Smart, business agility practitioner, thought leader, coach, and author of Sooner Safer Happier. Jon is also the founder of the Enterprise Agility Leaders Network. Follow the podcast as Smart delves into conversation with business professionals and provides advice for a Ways of Working transformational journey.

Listen now to be at the front of change and ahead of the competition.


Jon Smart: Hi my name's Jon Smart. Welcome to the next episode of The Sooner Safer Happier podcast and this is in this podcast we are speaking to people, practitioners, and leaders who are leading on improving ways of working at large companies and I'm delighted to be joined by Nick Manterfield at ABSA. Hi Nick 

Nick Manterfield: Jon, hello how are you it's a real pleasure to be here this afternoon.

Jon Smart: I'm good than thank you, thanks Nick thanks for coming along and having a chat and sharing your learnings and your insights. So first of all Nick would you would you like to just introduce yourself. You know tell us a bit about your role and your background 

Nick Manterfield: Sure yeah absolutely yes so Nick Manterfield based in South Africa been here for about 15 years as Jon said. I work for a full service financial services company called ABSA based in Johannesburg. You know we have a presence in about 15 countries across Africa we have rep offices in the US and the UK so you know and I guess we do like full service banking all the way down from you know sort of retail individual banking through business SME business all the way up to corporate investment banking you know which is I guess where I spent most of my career and certainly my time working at ABSA. I've been at Absa about  15 and a half years now I think in various roles always in the corporate investment bank you know first started in sort more in the trading space working with FX technology you know rolled out some new trading systems into our African businesses and then and then kind of sort of move more across to the corporate side of the bank so yeah I currently look after technology for the corporate bank which actually includes risk and finance technology and I actually look after payments technology for the group as well which kind of is a in fact both are kind of sort of pan african so we run you know we run a single technology stack across you know across all our countries for corporate investment banking and for payments. So yeah that's kind of that's kind of my background and what I'm doing at the moment yeah it's lots of fun. 

Jon Smart: Great nice one and in terms of ways of working Nick in terms of agile, lean, waterfall, you know what's your over the course of your career what's your experiences with different ways of working?

Nick Manterfield: Jon I think we've had you know we've had exposure to probably every flavour I can imagine over my career. I mean I guess I started work you know started work you know actually in London in a bank in London before I moved to South Africa you know I guess ways of work were quite different then so I had plenty of exposure to plenty of exposure to sort of waterfall more traditional ways of work and I think you know I think it's and it and I think it's taken quite a long time for you know Banks and big sort of regulated organisations to really you know begin to think about transforming their ways of work. So you know and I think we all know that it's happened you know like probably more around the technology teams as we've brought people in from other industries you know scrum is adopted and we have kind of agility in the middle around the development cycle but not end to end and I think that's you know that's really where you know I'm trying to trying to trying to focus now is really look at that end to end agility. You know I think we've tried we've tried we've tried lots of models I mean I think our introduction to sort of agile at scale we did we did touch safe briefly six or seven years ago and we took bits that we thought made sense for us at the time you know many teams still do PI planning really nice way for you know technology and business to connect on a quarterly basis and talk about what's important. Some teams don't do it they feel like they're really clear about what they've got to get done and they don't feel the need of spending three days talking about it they just want to get on with the work and that's also fine. You know we've experimented with the Spotify model very briefly it didn't go well we dropped it in it was abandoned very very quickly you know I've had some teams pull things from you know the base camp stuff actually there's some really nice stuff in there so some teams have taken things like shaping from base camp you know where you take sort of you know sort of more a more Senior Team a quarter ahead and you try and shape work to a certain degree before it kind of feeds into the next cycle so you know we've experimented with shaping and I really like Hill charts I don't know if you've ever seen Hill charts in any of the base camp stuff but I just love the way they represent where work is in such a simple visual way so I think we've experimented yeah we've experimented a lot I would say the last couple of years you know all our work is or most of our work is focused around really the kanban models I mean I think I think we've landed there over many many iterations just because the method feels very evolutionary you know it's it's kind of you know all our teams are at different levels and at different stages and you know that philosophy with the kanban stuff is just you know start from where you are and try and improve something what's slowing you down introduce a change see what happens measure what happens you know and start to make changes up the curve. So yeah I mean we're kind of we're probably spending more of our focus around kanban you know starting to look at the kanban maturity model that David Anderson's developed trying to get that working at scale across different value streams trying to figure out how we report up you know make make information that's CFDs you know scatter charts you know make sense at scale across teams and so yeah lot lots of lots of different things that we've experimented with and it's been a real journey.

Jon Smart: I love the fact that you've kind of ended up gravitating to the principles of the kanban method as in pursue evolutionary improvement honour the current roles and responsibilities and pursue evolutionary improvement because I guess that's going at the pace of unlearning that's going at the pace of change with the right incentives in place and I think then my reflection is as well you then get I think you get tell me tell me if you're saying this Nick I think you get more internal ownership in people because people feel like they're driving the change 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah I couldn't agree more you know I think I think these these models and you know I'm I'm I say I'm a little bit wary of the scale agile framework although we used us we used it six or seven years ago and there were really good things in there and it's a really good you know body of knowledge to be able to look at but you know just installing a way of work I think you know like can can lead to some of the side effects that you're highlighting when where you don't get the level of ownership and you know I think it's so important for teams to grow and mature in a way and at a pace that works for them given where they are and and both in ways of working and with their technology because you know if you don't do that then the adoption is you know is I think is is not at the same level and people are just in different places at different times you know when you're building something you know I don't know you might need to organise around microservices and then it matures and things come together and you change and you organise around features that cut across microservices or something like that and each team is on their own journey and I think that you know the kanban framework really you know allows that but also you know there is a maturity model and those need to be treated with caution I feel like KM stuff is a bit different but you know there's a path to growth and you know the other thing I really love about the kanban approach is that it feels like there's just real science and data that's telling you if you're improving or not you know I mean I for me that was something that I scratched my head around quite a lot you know a few years ago prevalent methodology was scrum you know everyone was talking story points velocity it feels a little bit abstract and the thing that the thing that I was always asking well this is this is great but how do we know we're getting better it didn't feel like more story points or higher velocity was necessarily an improvement of us getting better and it felt like you know a small cycle in the end to end value chain and that's where I think that's what you know it's really changed with kanban that we're looking at end to end cycle time and lead time we're looking at throughput and there's real science behind it so we've you know we've plugged a we've plugged a tool called Nave that we that we found into our into our workflow tools Jira and DevOps and you know it pulls out a lot of data, draws a lot of charts, and we get scatter charts we get CFD charts and all you know many many of the teams are now using that and you know it feels like there's real measurable improvement you know coming out now and and yeah feels like we on a good journey with that one and we found some great people to work with as well so 

Jon Smart: I'd love to come back to that topic around data, visualising data because it is the feedback loop it's obviously critical and before we come back to that Nick what are your top five learnings. So if you were to if you were if you're you're like elevator pitch you know after your career to date and all of your learnings around how we do what we do what would you say are your top five learnings? 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah Jon I mean there's a there's a lot in there let me try let me try and distil them. You know I've talked about the first one a little bit and I think it's so important to allow the shape of your teams and your on your organisation to change and adapt at a pace that makes sense you know to where they are right now so they'll change based on where they are and their ways of working where on their tech their technology maturity is that things are going to adapt at a different pace so trying to just say cool everyone looks like this next week or everyone looks like this in my experience really doesn't work well and and for me this this process of it's really a process of learning right it's creating that process of learning individually in all the teams is the only real way that you actually start to mature and start to learn this is what for me this is what agile maturity, agile transformation, digital transformation is that all the teams you know individually adapt and learn what this is about and you can't achieve that you know with with I I don't believe by installing a framework and just renaming a load of roles it doesn't work you don't go through that learning cycle it's lost so I think that's the first point. I think there's a second there's a second learning which has been quite profound for me over the last years and and again it was really inspired probably by reading Mik’s book on you know on on Project to Product but we've made that shift you know I feel you know we've moved from talking about projects that you know start and start in January and end in December and we disband all the team and all the funding's taken away and then we try and restart everything in January in you know the following January we've moved away from that and we're talking about we're talk about products which really exist inside value stream so we think of our business in terms of core value streams so in the corporate Bank it might be cash management, trade finance maybe FX we've obviously got the trading pieces in the investment bank and inside those value streams we have products and they're long lived we invest in them every year and then and then I guess underpinning products you know we have a corset of platforms that cut across products so that's also part of our model so you know Mik talks about Project to Product for me it's about project to product and platforms and these platforms are so important to help us make our our products go faster you know and I think that's a big shift for us and and for me you know we're much more efficient as an organisation you know having made that shift and we can maybe come back to to talk about that a little bit more so you know that's probably the second one and I think when you make that shift as well Jon you you've got you have to shift from talking about outputs to talking about outcomes as well because you know when you stop measuring Gantt charts it's like well what are you looking at. You have to start looking at their outcomes if you're not measuring projects anymore so you know so that's a key part of the transition. You know I think I talked about platforms there and I think generally many organisations possibly don't invest enough in platforms you know we you that I mean that would probably be a third thing for me is you know like like invest a lot in your platforms to help you build your products more quickly and sometimes it can feel like a little bit slow down to go faster but I think the benefit in the long term you know is really there if you get a really really strong team and really think about how you build a platform that's going to accelerate your change and your development and there's maybe a sub lesson in here about you know autonomy and you know too much autonomy maybe being the enemy of speed I'm a you know I'm a big believer in giving people you know autonomy in their work but you know sometimes if you go too wide when you're trying to move at speed it can actually slow you down and create a mess so yeah that's probably the third part. The fourth part I touched on a little bit and about you know the stuff you know I really discovered when I when I sort of picked up Dan Vacanti’s book on you know you agile metrics for predictability and you know I think I think if you start to understand the science around measuring the flow of work and there's a lot of it and really get into that and try and get your teams and your organisation to understand that I think you're going to see real improvements in flow of value, flow of work through your organisation you know and also predictability I mean one of the things that almost I think every organisation I've worked in or talked to struggles with is the business feel that technology work is you know not predictable and we always overcommit and under deliver and you know for me trying to trying to build stable systems of work that don't have high variability you know allows you to start to become more predictable and you know for me the holy grail and we're not doing it right now as about to use Monte Carlo simulations or something like that to you know to try to increase the predictability of our delivery and then yeah I think the last one is probably really about through any many major transformation it could be a technology transformation it could be a ways of work transformation these things take years and years and years in big organisations particularly Banks they're not things that are done in 6 or 12 months and you know I think I think there's there's real value in trying to keep consistent and stable leadership through those sort of transformations you know I think you see many many organisations that will start something and then you get new leadership come in they have different views of the world different ideas and you know it really really slows it down and to try to get something whether it's a platform or a system or a thing that you're building or a way of work to the point where the thing is bigger than the people who kind of started it and and it has momentum and life of its own so that it can survive I think it's really important but you need you know technology and business support consistently behind those things to drive big big changes through like that as well so that's probably the probably the last observation or learning that I've got 

Jon Smart: Spoken with true experience and by the sounds of it learning the way. That's how that sounds that's a very I love that I love that set of five they I like the breath that you're covering there Nick and there are I have so many questions we we could talk we could talk for hours so I'm going to come back I'm going to come we're going to come back to some of those some of your top learnings there. The last one in particular really resonates about the fact that this takes this is measured in years that really resonates and this is because this is this is human behaviour change that's why this is measured in years and you know I'm I'm sure we've we've all seen lots of instances where as you said new leaders old leaders leave new leaders come in and you've made you know you've got three years worth of progress and that all goes backwards in six months 

Nick Manterfield: Absolutely it doesn't it doesn't take it doesn't take a lot for the antibodies to start to multiply you know as soon as like the doors open a little bit and there's a glimmer of light people can put their foot through the door and you know I think I think if you've got you know really strong top level leadership or or senior leadership behind what you're doing that can carry that through it's so important to the success of it because otherwise yeah things just lose momentum and I think I think you can point to so many organisations I mean fortunately I think we've been reasonably fortunate that we've had reasonable support behind what we're doing I mean I've certainly been there through a big part of this transformation from a technology perspective and I think in our in our business we' had really really fantastic support so yes people have left and you know we've had new faces come in but there's been a core of people who really believed in what we're trying to build and you know also in transforming our ways of work and I think if we hadn't had that we really would have stumbled and you know you can see it and you you can see it in other organisations you can see it in competitors where things change and you know they write off you know like like like tens of millions of pounds of invest because you know you know someone else thinks there's another way to do it and it's waste it's huge waste 

Jon Smart: It's interesting as you were talking there I was what was going through my mind is the Rebel Alliance you know if you even if you have a change of senior leadership if there are enough if there the resistance if there are enough people who who are fully aware that this is a better way of working that is more engaging and leads to more value more quickly it will carry on even if it goes a bit underground you kind of have the Rebel Alliance the resistance. In terms of your context Nick could you say a little bit about your context and the why you know so you know a bit about ABSA maybe a bit about the yeah any any kind of starting point I know you've been working on ways of working for a while now but you know from a from an organisational archaeology perspective what did things used to be like and what's the reason for change? 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah I mean there's a really interesting history to this organisation and I think you know maybe I mean I probably won't go back as far as long as I've been there but I think if I go back maybe six or seven years and and I would say that was probably what lit the fire for the change is you know we like I said Barclays Barclays group an organisation you know well Jon you know used to be a majority shareholder in ABSA and you know they decided they wanted to you know sell their business interests in Africa a few years ago and and sell Barclays Africa and I can't remember the exact date it was probably five or six years ago and this this really kicked off an enormous program of work inside the bank that you know I was working in and it was really know it was a huge corporate divestment and particularly you know the the part of the bank that I was working in the corporate investment bank was you know heavily constructed on top of Barclays Global assets you know so we'd used you know technology that had been developed in Barclays globally to kind of bootstrap and grow our business and shared IP and we had to unwind all of this and actually you know really rebuild a lot of stuff from scratch so you know we had the opportunity to really start again with a lot of stuff reimagine you know how we build our technology, how we build our customer facing value props you know there was it wasn't just technology was branding and all that sort of stuff but what it did is it created this huge sense of urgency and focus across the organisation for like appear of about three years it was almost there was almost nothing else that we talked about and you know it was it was absolutely it was it was probably the biggest technology transformation program in the world at the time I would believe and I think as an organisation you know we executed extremely well because there was just this huge focus and I think that was really the springboard for probably where we are today was that you know that you know that that intense focus around separating from Barclays and what was what I was thinking about earlier what was really interesting about this work is it's actually an enormous waterfall project because we had a drop dead date we had like I can't remember what the date was is was by you know the end of this year or this date in this month on this year we're pulling the plug out and we're not part of Barclays anymore so you we had this absolutely enormous like multi-year waterfall project and you had all these teams inside trying to like run agile and do Agile delivery inside this huge waterfall project but you know somehow somehow we managed to you know we managed to execute it I think we executed it really really well you know and I think I think that was really the springboard for kind of the next what I would call the next the next phase of change which you know I think was probably catalysed by maybe a little bit of restructure where we moved our business facing technology teams closer to the businesses so we almost federated our technology model soon after that and really the teams that were business facing working on customer facing product moved into the business areas you know we use the term embedded technology in our organisation there's obviously still you know teams in the centre that look after you know assets that don't make sense to federate out but certainly the stuff that's that's facing the businesses you know got more closely aligned with the businesses and I think the you know at that point it was you know we had this enormous focus like how do we kind of keep the energy keep the focus going on what we're doing and those are some of the questions that we were asking ourselves you know and I think that was when you know we started to discover you know like OKRs and and thinking about outcomes you know and I think it was really that it was that focus element because we've been so focused on one particular outcome this program have ended and we were like how do we maintain that level of focus in what we're doing and I think it was probably around the similar time that John Doerr released you know measure what matters and a few people read it and you know it felt like there was something there around you know around creating focus and you know I would say that was probably what started the you know the next phase of our transformation I'm talking about in the area that I was working which was the corporate Investment Bank where we started to talk more about outcomes over outputs you know we started working with OKRs at various levels of the organisation you know and in parallel then that started you know to create more focus it started to force maybe different prioritisation conversations you know I think that also kickstarted the project to product transformation at the same time as well because it felt like those things almost go hand in hand that if you're talking about you know outcomes you know business outcomes particularly like it's kind of weird talking about projects and outputs you need a different way of really measuring progress in terms of real business outcome so you know I think that probably yeah kickstarted the next phase and you know I think we're still we're still working with that we're still we're still working with those constructs now Jon 

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah and so then so then in terms of in terms of maintaining the incentive you know so you had the there was the the the divestment the Barclays divestment ABSA you know back again to standing standing as a as a bank as ABSA so yeah so how was was OKR the way that you maintained the incentive to keep on improving was is there like a like a top level OKR which is improve how you do what you do what's the what's the incentive for people to you know go through fear maybe fail in order to improve?

Nick Manterfield: Yeah look I think I think there's it's an evolving framework and I think there's a few things that we you know that we we look at and measure certainly within the corporate Investment Bank there are a set of outcomes or OKRs that are we do measure and track at sort of an exco level that represent our whole our whole business and you know those are discussed and and curated at exco and are looked at in various sort of operating committees so I think you know that is there and I think that is the you know that is is the basis for you know the value question obviously you know like are we are we doing the right thing are we chasing the right things and you know obviously they also align to key pillars of the strategy so they have to work with the strategy so we have our strategic objectives and the group strategy and the strategy and then you know the OKRs are what are we really focusing on to execute on that strategy and how are we doing it you know how are we doing at it so trying to measure those key results to tell us are we moving in the right direction towards our strategy so you know that that's an important pillar of it. You know and I think the you know that like the flow metrics and the stuff I talked about flow is really the other piece of kind of are we getting better at our ways of work you know those are really the two two of the big pillars and that really talks to the you know the sooner part of it in you know in in your book and you know really measuring how teams are progressing trying to roll that up at scale you know and I think and I think there's the big cultural change obviously which I think you know with this way of working is that there has to be like a cultural shift in in leadership to be able to push decision making down into teams I think that's I think that's probably one of the hardest transitions that big organisations have got to make is you know is for leadership to say this is where we're going this is how we're going to measure it but actually you go and figure out how we're going to get there and you know and do the work in the teams and you know and I think that you know that's always hard and I think it it's sort of matures at different speeds in different areas and the varying levels of success but that really is the is the transition and the shift that we're trying to make is to is to look at look at those outcomes and allow you know and allow teams to do it and we've had some you know we've had some you know really really great stories around that and then yeah I mean I guess the other pillar is sort of team happiness you know we do have some measures of that that we look at for team happiness as well and you know we've got a we've got a great team of coaches you know that are working with us in the organisation as well particularly on the flow stuff so yeah I think that's that's kind of that's kind of where we are now and and you know we'll continue to to look at how we can improve it and mature it going forward 

Jon Smart: You mentioned leaders and helping leaders on the journey allowing teams to evolve allowing teams to learn so your number your very first lesson learned was allowing teams to evolve and not being not being too prescriptive however minimal viable guard rails there are some things that are not negotiable to the other thing that you said Nick which is you the risk of too much autonomy so minimal viable a wide road with high curbs minimal viable guard rails allowing teams to evolve their ways of working within those constraints now and then and then you mentioned leaders and leadership I'm interested can you can you talk a little bit about what what you're doing or what you're seeing around leaders and and that could be that's leaders at all levels in all roles so it doesn't need to be people management it could be an individual contributor the you know leadership is in my opinion it's the biggest enabler or it's the biggest constraint so I'm interested what what are you doing on the topic of leaders and helping leaders to change behaviours from command and control dictatorial to more emergent empowering servant leadership? 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah absolutely I mean look I think I think at you probably need different approaches at you know at different levels so I think you know really right at the top of that sort of business unit excos you know we try and it's really a process of education right so we you know we try and make them understand different ways of working we get people like yourself in right to talk to them about actually you know this is what we've done here this is why these are the results that you can see and you know when we talk about change as well you know at a top level you know we start to use a different language we're using the language of you know outcomes you know we're trying to show improvements in flow we take we take teams that are doing this really really well and you know showcase them in sort of you know leadership sessions and showcase the change and you know I think it's a gradual process of people you know I guess rewiring their minds about how you really deliver the change and it starts to change the language and you know keep saying things and then you hear people repeating them back to you eventually so I think you know at a top level I think you know we've also done quite a lot of you know some training and I was you know it was interesting  you know when we when we started playing with safe you know with like I was for some reason I was quite against like doing lots of formal safe training it just didn't feel right it didn't seem to make sense to me and you know this maybe because you know there were pieces of the framework that we wanted to use but we have been doing quite a lot of kanban training you know with with leadership in teams so product leadership technical leadership you know change leadership so we've doing quite a lot of formal you know what we call KMP training and I think across the areas and we try to get we try to get you know obviously get teams in together rather than sending all the technology people all the product people get the whole whole team into together and and and do kanban certification KMP1 KMP2 do the training I think that's really starting to you know to shift the mindset at the next level down below the exco and I and  I've seen I've seen those penny dropping moments and in fact I had them myself you know when I first read Dan Vacanti’s book and I started looking at these charts and reading what's in there I was like okay now this makes sense there's something here and then I you know I ended up just like I don't know reaching out to contacts I had in the industry and I said you know do you do you know anyone who really gets this stuff gets this gets this kanban and and flow and you know measuring that and you know someone connected me with a a chap who's still working with us now is doing a great job and you know I got a bunch of people a lot of them were my team and a few other people in a room and we played that that kanban board game and you know I think just those just people really start to realise very very quickly that trying to shove more work into the system is just counterproductive that you can measure this stuff that you know that there are people who are blocking things and you can see them so clearly when you think about like this that everything being an expedite just doesn't work it doesn't make any sense and there were so many penny dropping moments and for me you know I've started to you know obviously you light the fire in one place you know and then you see it take and not everyone not everyone buys it at the beginning some people are skeptical and others really like love it and adopt it and you keep feeding them and then you like the fire somewhere else and then you like the fire somewhere else but you know it wasn't it wasn't it didn't feel like a very difficult fire to get burning because it was just it made so much sense and you know I think the other the other thing is with with what we're learning through these processes is actually like the teams they want tools and mechanisms to say stop over burning us stop pushing more work into the pipe it's making us go more slowly but intuitively I think they knew that and there's so much work in progress that we're not moving forward but actually having the tools and the language to be able to go back to prioritisation forums whatever it is to businesses and say look if we do this it goes quicker like I think you know they really really embraced that and they understood why and they could see it working so you know we we've trained quite a lot of people you know in kanban and I think you know for us this is this is this feels like the right the right path at the moment and and is working well 

Jon Smart: I'm going to I'm going to paraphrase Dan North it's like switching the light on in the room and you see the tiger that was always there by by visualising the data you can see that oh my goodness I didn't realise we were saying yes to twice as much work as we could possibly do and so that you know I have a similar story which is when we did this for one business area visualise the system of work switch the light effectively switch the light on so you can actually see what's happening and that was the case this this business division was saying yes to twice as much work as it could possibly produce and as soon as we actually were able to visualise that it was like oh well okay fine you's where's where's the constraint where's the bottleneck let's alleviate the bottleneck we're going to stop saying yes to twice as much work as we can possibly do we're going to stop having role-based SLAs trying to like local optimization trying to get one role to do something in one day that can't possibly be done in one day leading to lower quality completely agree and actually just reflecting across industry sectors across organisations this is a very common area for improvement is most organizations don't have enough data on the system of work and it can be on behavior as well it can be on engagement happiness psychological safety this is so important because this is your feedback loop and I think Nick as you as you will have experienced some people are motivated by storytelling and some people are motivated by just show me the hard data and and I love what you said where you said this actually gives the teams a vehicle to have a conversation which is look we're just doing feature development we're not doing any continuous improvement for example 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah yeah absolutely yeah I mean some of I mean you talked about twice as much work I think I mean I heard something the other day saying I think one of our teams was you know is doing 10 or 12 work items per cycle and there are a hundred new items hitting the backlog every cycle I mean it's crazy there's like there there's almost 10 times the demand of the capacity and you know I think when we also started with these teams you know we spent you know you look at the the ageing whip charts and you had so many like old items that had been out there for hundreds of days so you know some teams they spent probably six or nine months just just getting rid of all those super aged items to get the you know to get the kind of system of work stable that generally you know you were starting items you were finishing them and you start to build a more stable system and you know you really build that that baseline for you know for going forward at that point so yeah it's been it's been really I I feel it's been really transformational for many teams and and I say we're starting to spread it out you know more and more and more now and and I hope it will continue to to create an impact 

Jon Smart: So I think there's there's a key learning here there a key takeaway here which is it's important to have a data workstream for ways of working to be able to shine a light visualise the system of work because if this was physical manufacturing we would see the inventory stacked up on the factory floor but because it's knowledge work we can't see it so I think that's a key takeaway that's a key learning and also simulations and exercises you mentioned the kanban game maybe that was getKanban and portfolio simulations simulations are a great way to experience flow and likewise I've seen the light bulbs go on above people's heads when you actually do it in a simulation exercise as opposed to like a classroom and the theory and this is something I've you know I've done this with with like C-Suite doesn't take much 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah it doesn't take much with within an hour or two you can really really like have those oh wow kind of moments 

Jon Smart: Exactly and I've I've done a session like this with an exco and it was with Lego and it was like you know building things with Lego and loads of light bulb moments loads of aha moments. Nick I want to come I want to come back to your second lesson your second biggest learning which is Project to Product, value streams, Long Live products. I'm interested to hear a bit more on this topic so how did you go from role based silos, work passing, sequential you know kind of first Industrial Revolution way of working to long lived teams value streams maybe if you could just say a little bit about the journey about how you got there your you know your advice for anyone who's on the beginning of this journey how to get there and also funding like may maybe talk a bit about the funding as well we'd love to hear more 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah I mean I think I think it really just started around a conversation of you know I mean I think you know for anyone who works in you know most big organisation and banks particularly you know work in annual funding cycles you know as certainly does I'm sure most banks do and you know I think prior to prior to this shift you know there was so much management time spent trying to understand what projects we were going to do in the next cycle and you know there would be these enormous spreadsheets of things and you know like maybe semi fabricated business cases but so much of the stuff you found was a continuation of something we'd started in a previous year that had rolled over and we needed to carry on investing it and you know I think through conversation we just got to the point where you know like we we agreed and look I think our our rebuild under the Barclays divestment helped this because you know we really transformed our landscape and we know we had probably a clearer set of value streams or products that we were building in value streams and maybe the state the strategic or end state became a lot clearer as a consequence of that work but you know it was really just a conversation with you know the teams that managed the annual funding cycles to say we're still spending what for a start we this is we call it Strategic investment, Capital funding, Project funding we spend a huge amount of you the organisation's resources on this but a lot of it is the same stuff every year our businesses are the same like we're a bank, we still do FX, we still sell cash management products, we still do trade Finance, we still do working capital, we still do equities, and actually the systems that those value streams or those products that our customers consume are largely the same every year you know either occasionally there's a big project where you really want to rip a vendor out and do something different but actually having built a lot of the technology ourselves through the divestment we found we were just investing more and more you know in these in these products and these systems that we we built under the Barclays separation so you know I think and that was really the trigger for the conversation I think it wasn't people just understood that that actually you know we still needed to invest in these platforms every year they were core pieces of technology that underpinned our business and you know the really the debate should be around you know where do we direct the most funding like which value streams or which areas of a business need you know is there a particular opportunity potentially need more funding in a cycle but they all need some funding and they all need stable teams around them and most of these you know most of these platforms are going to be things are going to be with us for the next 10 years and you know I think there was an understanding as well you know in the business that that technology you know the way technology is now it's not it's not implement a system run it sweat it for 15 years it's end of life you know new project let's buy something else like you know when you start to build a lot more of your own technology this is just a continuous cycle of regeneration and reinvestment you know and you know slowly iterating and refactoring pieces of it you you move away from those big cliff events and those big bang sort of waterfall projects and I think you know I think the business understood that in the context of what we were building as part of the divestment so it was a pretty easy conversation and I would say generally you know projects for us what I would call real projects have become the exception in our you know in our in our sort of annual book of work and you know 80% plus of our strategic investment goes into the things that we want to carry on building which are the core technology assets that sit behind our business that our customers use every day and yes we do get some regulatory projects or we do we still have some vendor systems in certain parts of our businesses that you know might need replacing over time but those those are very much the exceptions and the edge cases I think the funding conversation is still the funding is probably still viewed on an annual basis and you know I think changing that is probably a you know you know the next iteration I don't know if we'll ever get that I think that's a much more difficult thing thinking in a bank but you know we're very much at the the place where you know the investment conversation is much much simpler than it used to be a few years ago we understand that this is our these are our core technology assets that need continuing investment you know from one year to the next 

Jon Smart: Do you and and do you find that you're now doing more rolling wave type planning so so while you any public listed company is going to have an annual process you have to and do you find that it's easier to do rolling wave planning with a view that effective you whether it is capacity funding or it's virtually capacity funding do you find that you're able to do more kind of 12 month rolling wave planning 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah absolutely I mean that's that's exactly and I think I think all teams have adopted it but some of some of the more teams are more teams are and you have the four quarters and you roll the four quarters and you've got you know higher fidelity what we're doing you know at the front of the you know at the front of the plan obviously lower fidelity at the end and you keep rolling that forward and you know for me that's where that's definitely where I mean it's it's so different building a product yourself to buying a product and customising it and you can you know if if we buy a vendor platform and and we install it and we work with a vendor it's very hard or it's much harder to apply principles of product development to that and work in those ways you know it naturally lends itself more to you know SLA based engagement waterfall but you know we're fortunate now that that that a lot of our technology in our bank we've built ourselves so we can apply these product development type methods product management type methods to evolving those products and again we should you know we should just keep investing in and keep investing them where it makes sense so yeah and I think the rolling the rolling four quarters is you know exactly an example of that 

Jon Smart: Great and in terms of incentives shared goals so you mentioned embedded technology getting tech and business even closer together aligned to value aligned to the flow of value I presume long lived multidisciplinary teams tech and business when you're in the office physically collocated I imagine in terms of like FX trading on the trading floor for example I would imagine. A question about shared goals and OKRs so the you know that as you said like the other side of the coin to value streams and long lived multidisciplinary teams is OKRs because you need to have a shared goal do are you finding that you have that now do you have like shared goals which apply across your role-based speciality?

Nick Manterfield: Yeah absolutely I mean I think there was there was a bit of a journey here and a bit of a learning as well so when we you know when we started exploring OKRs I you know I was I was heavily I guess involved in trying to get our organisation to use OKRs at the beginning a few years back and because of that I felt it was important to me to have OKRs for my team and we started doing that but I realised probably within a year or two that actually having technology OKRs and business OKRs was creating a level of conflict you know my team would come back to me and say we're working on these things here and you're telling us or we decided that these things are important but actually you know the business is saying this and I've actually stopped you know stopped doing formal OKR process with most of my teams because we are part of the business right we are we're an embedded business team and actually our goals are the business goals they're the same like we should be understanding and working with the product teams to develop and and contribute to the business outcomes and I think yes there are always going to be things that we need to do in technology you know maybe that don't feed directly into a business outcome but fundamentally you know we want 80% of what we do aligned around the business outcomes and that was a real learning for me there actually you know like going down the route of creating technology OKRs in a very closely business aligned environment and then realising they're competing and and actually you know scrapping those and really get everyone focused behind the business and even things like security I mean cyber and security is so important nowadays and there's so much work coming in but actually the business and you know they all we we they understand that we have to make system secure and and that delivering secure systems for our customers is a you know really is a ticket to the game when you work at a bank. You know I mean the one of the other things actually in while I'm talking about this piece Jon is we tried to you know we try we're trying to work with flow distribution as well so because you know one of one of the things that that again it's about empowering teams with information so that they can have the right conversations when they go through prioritisation conversations but you know I think by flow distribution I mean I mean categorising work into risk work, feature work, bugs, and tech debt and trying to visualise that you know at a Team level and a portfolio level so actually you know when we're working with product teams and trying to build new features the product team can understand actually what's the real capacity that this team have to build new features because we're spending 20 or 30% of our time on risk work dealing with cyber stuff patching stuff or you know there's a bunch of you know maybe we haven't dealt with our tech debt for a couple of quarters and we've got to deal this piece you know and and I think visualizing that stuff to really try and elevate the true capacity that exists in teams to build feature work and exposing that stuff you know to the product teams in the business is also you know something we're trying to do and it's working in some teams and you know for me the next part of our journey is about rolling that up and trying to do that you know a scale as well and that you I think that's something that's also come from from you know the work Mik Kersten’s done in project and product and we really like that as well

Jon Smart: Yeah and I think and I think that touches on what you said earlier which is go slower to go faster so if you can visualise your flow distribution and you can visualise whether you're doing continuous improvement or not if you consider you're not doing continuous improvement you know you're going to have a problem in the future. So Nick final question which is if other people could help you, how could they best help you? 

Nick Manterfield: Do you mean other people inside the organisation or outside the organisation?

Jon Smart: Outside outside and inside or outside ABSA in terms of a community of learning you know if others could help you what would you be most interested in in learning about from other other organisations 

Nick Manterfield: I think I think the next I think the next phase of our kind of of you know journey and improvement really Jon is is trying to trying to connect all these pieces of data. So we've got OKRs we've got a system with OKRs in we've got some really great work happening around flow and we're starting to collect you know data at scale around flow we've got some happiness measures that we're doing in teams but you know I don't what I don't feel and we're starting to try to piece this together just tell a combined story but I I think that's you know an area for me where you know we can improve and we can get better is is really starting to bring all these pieces together to tell a combined story and really roll up the data at scale I mean we've you know I mean there's probably about 1,200 people in my organisation and there's also you know the trading investment part of the bank so you know getting all that all that data from all those teams to make sense you know at a roll up level so that talks to each other and and and been able to tell their stories I think that's that's something I would you know love to learn more more about and see how other organisations have tackled and you know I think I think you actually covered that in some of your you know some of your other discussions which you shared with me so certainly certainly learn keen to learn more about that. Yeah and then I think the other thing I think the other thing is and it's part it's part of what I'm saying Jon is you know making sure that the work that everyone is doing is really really connected to the strategic objectives and business outcomes of the organisation so you know there's not you know like generally I think technology teams over the world work extremely extremely hard it's not a 9-to-5 type job you know you're often deploying stuff in the evenings on call doing support of the weekends and you know we all work really really hard and you know one of the things I want to ensure is that all the effort that goes in with my teams and with the product teams is really making as much difference as possible to the outcomes that we're chasing and ultimately our strategic objectives so you know how can we get better at connecting the work that's been done in all these teams you know up to the broader strategic objectives of organisation you know and ultimately the strategy and see how that's moving the dial and you know I think we've got some stuff there but really connecting that up through the organisation is a is an area of growth and improvement for us and and those will be probably the next things I want to focus on 

Jon Smart: That's great 

Nick Manterfield: And any learnings I can get or from talking to anyone else would be great 

Jon Smart: Yeah awesome thank you Nick it's been a it's been a pleasure like I said earlier I could talk to you for hours on this topic and so good luck with the you know the next step in your journey hopefully we get to have a chat again in I don't know 6 months 12 months time 

Nick Manterfield: Yeah I'd love that thank you Jon thank you very much for having me 

Jon Smart: Thanks Nick


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