top of page
  • Sofia Raja

New Podcast Episode! Ways of Working at Swiss Re with Pravina Ladva

Listen to the ways of working changes that Swiss Re has gone through as told by Pravina Ladva.

It’s the Age of Digital and we’re all living in it. Sooner Safer Happier is a podcast orchastrated 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 latest podcast for Sooner Safer Happier where we are talking to people who are leading ways of working and are advocates of ways of working at large organisations and I'm delighted to say that Pravina Ladva has agreed to join me today so welcome Pravina. 

Pravina Ladva: Hi Jon, happy to be here. 

Jon Smart: and Pravina could you introduce yourself and you know tell me a bit about yourself and your role and what you're doing 

Pravina Ladva: Yes certainly so it's an honour to be able to speak on this podcast. So as Jon said my name is Pravina Ladva. I'm the group digital and technology officer for Swiss Re. Swiss Re is one of the world's leading global reinsurance companies and really my role is to look at all things Tech. But that also includes data digital cyber security and anything that you touch with an organisation that really enables our businesses to grow and accelerate falls into the review of my team. 

Jon Smart: So that's not an insignificant role Pravina. That's a big role at Swiss Re and to start with the punchline in terms of ways of working, how you do what you do across Swiss Re and also your experiences from other organisations you've worked at as well. What would you say are your top three learnings on the journey of improving how we do what we do?

Pravina Ladva: Absolutely so it's almost hard to paraphrase them into three. If I was to pick three, I think the first thing is you've got to remember that we are all in people centric businesses. So how is it that colleagues, people organising themselves to work together to produce an outcome. So that for me is the underlying factor across everything. But then you got to think about why you're doing it and what is the purpose that you're trying to drive. So the second thing I would say is be absolutely clear on what your customer needs, however you define your customer, who is your customer or what are you trying to create or what are you trying to solve and make sure you're aware of it. And the third thing is measure the impact because if you're making a change involving the right team and experts but you don't measure it how are you going to know if it's worked or not and that virtuous cycle is super important because if you don't do that quickly rapidly using metrics and data then you're going to find hard ways to fix things or to say that really worked so I'm going to try again so those are the things I would flag. 

Jon Smart: That's great so people, customer centricity, the problem, the why, and then the data which gives you a feedback loop. It was great to hear you use the word cycle there you said virtuous cycle I like that Pravina like you said that gives, that enables you to have the feedback loop to determine what's working, what to do more of. 

Pravina Ladva: Yeah and I think the quicker you can make the cycle go the greater progress you will make as well 

Jon Smart: Absolutely absolutely that's great thank you. So we're going to come back to those three in a bit. So Pravina the next question is the context of Swiss Re, could you explain a bit more for the listener what your context is.

Pravina Ladva: Yeah so if you think about us as an organisation, we're primarily we're a B2B business. But we also have a commercial primary insurance arm as well. But I think the bulk of the business is B2B. So what is driving us is we're a data driven business so we have a lot of data available to us but if I go back to our purpose about making the world more resilient clearly we reinsure we do reinsurance but we also support our clients and customers in many other ways so providing right insights and helping them along their journeys as well. So if you take a step back from that we are like any other organisation have what I call the engine room so the technology just needs to work whether it's your infrastructure, whether it's your laptop, or whether it's your phone. So that machinery just needs to work, needs to be secure, stable, and reliant. On top that you have your business applications which goes everywhere from applications, claims, processing, and a huge amount of analytics. So again that needs to move at such a pace that we can keep up with the demand. But then all around us we need to look at what are the new trends that are coming in so it's all well and good thinking about what we're doing today you've got to have an eye on the future as to what's coming down the pipeline and then unlike a B2C business or a high transaction volume business the pace we need to go at, yes it's fast, but it needs to be fit for purpose for our organisation. So we probably don't need to move at the speed of an FMCG company or even a bank that deals with transactions in seconds but we still need a degree of pace and speed but there's also an element of quality that comes into it as well. 

Jon Smart: And in terms of improving how you do what you do and in terms of ways of working, what's the can you tell tell me a bit more about the journey that you're on?

Pravina Ladva: So I would say probably about five six years ago in certain areas of our business you know we were standing a whole new business area and what we quickly realised is we're creating a new product but not only we were creating a new product, there was an entire team around it. And what the first thing we did was, going back to my three principles we understood what we trying to do and when we had to do it by. Then we got the right circle of team and we started working and then what we soonly realised actually this is what is known in the industry as agile way of working. Now I start I try to steer away from the a-word because it's become synonymous with different things and sometimes people say we're working agile and I say well what does that mean? They say oh pre-COVID that means we're working in a hybrid way or we can use a different working environment. So I think the meaning of the word agile has become lost. So in fact internally we have a team called ways a working team which looks at all the facets of how do you produce the end product sooner in a better way that is to the satisfaction of our clients. So we have you know all the facets so all the ceremonies we expect scrums, DevOps, CI/CD pipelines everything single thing I can throw at that we do that. The challenge we have is the maturity of which we're at. So some things we do really well some things are still a journey and that's fine because this way of working is a new thing to many people and almost overnight you can't go from today we're all working like this and tomorrow we're working like that. So what we're trying to do is create what I call lighthouses. So lighthouses are certain areas where we say this business unit but we're going to change these processes and now we're going to try and work this way. What that does, it has created an understanding so it's created an understanding and all of a sudden everybody else goes hang on a minute they're laughing all the time what are they doing and they are getting all the accolades because they're producing the end solutions faster how did that happen and actually the quality is better. So that creates that's why I call it the beacon or the lighthouse because it attracts it attracts people to want to work to it. I'll give you my story in a prior role, I created a business unit that entirely operated this way. It was a global team so the idea of collocation didn't really exist and many people had met each other and every time I took on a new portfolio my existing portfolio who worked in this way said please don't make me go back to old school. I'm like what do you mean by old school? There went like this whole waterfall thing where you know we do requirements and then we build it and yes it's wrong and we go back. Don't make me and I said why not I said well because we love working in this new way and for me from a colleague satisfaction perspective and fulfilment of work, that's what created the buzz. And then as a result as people started come and see what we were doing we found it spread so my recommendation would be start small create the beacons what's right for your organisation right culture but then ultimately you'll come come to an inflection point where in a big corporate you will have to change your macro processes to match. 

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah definitely and are you at where are you on that inflection point?

Pravina Ladva: With my leadership team, we measure metrics around you know the level of automation on key platforms all the standard stuff but then from running the business perspective at the beginning of all our cycles we agree our must-wins. From that we have our core deliverables and we run an OKR process. So every quarter all our sub teams do their own, they roll up into the divisions, and they roll up into me, and we will have planning sessions and agreeing backlogs for the following quarter. And so I do that in my technology space but we also do it with our business units that we do it in do this work for. So we're now doing cross functional and we're probably been doing this now for about 18 months and it works really well. 

Jon Smart: That's great! And so you're doing that cross functionally does that mean business plus technology?

Pravina Ladva: Yes it does. And the other thing I would say it's probably broader than that. I also think in the regulated world you know risk legal compliance they're all part of that team because one of our ethoses is control by design. So all these people as we're writing the user stories are doing the user stories together. So it's not just about the tech platform or the business functionality, it's what else do we need to do as well. So that's key and then the other thing I would say is they're all part of the same conversation so how do you make it work in a flexible way 

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah that's really good. And then are the cross functional teams business plus tech plus risk plus legal compliance with your use of OKRs, are those do those OKRs become common goals for people to work to? 

Pravina Ladva: Yeah so then they translate into their not only the common goals, but they also go into the personal objectives as well of my leaders and their teams. And then when I do the quarterly reviews or when we do quarterly reviews as an organisation, it's really clear you know especially in technology organisation there are huge dependencies. So the infrastructure team build the best cloud environment, the application teams are going to have to work together, the security team is going to work together, and I think the beauty of the OKRs is it shows the cross dependencies really early on and I think that sitting on PowerPoint alone or in whatever system is not going to make the difference. It's the conversations around it that come to life. And you know it's really hard to find another way of describing it but I automatically and I use it myself but I have a reaction when people say business and tech because my view is we are all business. If you're tech you actually by the way you're a part of the business. So what I you know for me what success looks like and and I've seen this magic happen is you have a group of people around a table and you hear the conversation and you can't tell who is a scrum Master, who's a business analyst, who's the app developer, who's a product owner, or who's in P&R because their common goal is what they are trying to do as opposed to their own Silo thinking 

Jon Smart: Awesome awesome couldn't agree more Pravina love it. And actually what you just said there about the use of OKRs that's that's really powerful because my personal conclusion is this topic around ways of working comes down to one word which is incentive. The flip side of the coin of incentive is threat which is why you need psychological safety. So you want to maximise incentive and minimise threat now a lot of organisations accidentally increase threat and don't think about increasing incentive because some organisations will do a top down type reorg into squads, tribes, chapters, and guilds and people have job insecurity and so on that's it's not uncommon. So I love what you were saying about OKRs and uniting people across their role-based specialities and actually having in their objectives as well because then there is a real incentive to work together and to and to step in and be kind of t-shaped and help out.

Pravina Ladva: Yeah and it's easy I mean so we're not done in the journey and I don't think you ever get to done because there's always going to be something new and because of the scale of the team everybody is at different levels of maturity and well that's okay because everybody's learning so that's not an issue but I think it's I know the newer teams coming to this soon as you say right what are your dora metrics let's get them in the tool so everybody can see them they're like hang on a minute does that mean everybody can see them, yeah well that means you're going to compare me to someone I don't want to show it. And I think that's a real example where you say no that it's not there to measure team X against team Y it’s just so that you know what is your baseline, what are you trying to do, and how you incrementally are trying to improve things and are you working on the right thing. And I think it's signalling those kind of cause and effect things that makes a difference and then the other thing is comes unfortunately comes back to behaviour. If the first time the metric shows in an adverse way, the teams react or the leadership reacts in a negative way guess what they're going to do you're never going to see an adverse metric again. So I think I think the role of leadership and servant leadership in this is a huge thing because you know I always say to my teams I don't know the answers, you know I need to set the direction of the vision and then I just need to get out of your way and be there to support and remove impediments. If I go back you know a few years when I used to be the on a scrum call I was so I had to sit on my hands because all I wanted to know was I wanted a progress update and one of my team said to me excuse me right you're going to come on the scrum call but you can't ask any questions that was really hard that was really hard and then I realised actually no I'm not here they're not here to report to me I'm here to help them unblock the challenges

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah love it yeah how can I help. Yeah I find the Improvement Carter works quite well in terms of the language. What are we going to learn next? What have we learned? What have you learned? What are you goning to learn next? How quickly can you learn it? And how can I help? Yeah I like that and there was an interesting point there around psychological safety or metrics that said so that's that is that's a theme that's a theme across organisations is quite often as you said Pravina there is often a lack of psychological safety around measurement and data where in the past it's been used against people I think so that's another great point there around as as a leader the role of leaders is to generate safety around metrics. There's a little trick that I have found works quite well there which is you don't need to surface the absolute measures outside of the team but actually surface the improvement trend over time. 

Pravina Ladva:  Yes yeah I know that works yeah that works. And I think the other thing that's happened is unfortunately over the history of this there's been so many evangelists on the topic so from a commercial leader it's put, sometimes I think it's changing, it's put commercial leaders going down this route because people have become had become very dogmatic you must do this in this way you must do this this way and now there have been some textbook cases of these of what let's call it transformations. And what people have have forgotten is it's like a bag of tools you have a bag of tools and you don't use every tool for every job you pick the tool for the job that you're doing and it's no different to this ways of working and I say to my team here's the 20 things you can use what's the your context and what can you change. And the second thing is you've got to do what's right for your culture of your organisation what worked in one organisation may not necessarily work in your organisation. And so those are the other two things I would flag if somebody's thinking about embarking on this journey. But one thing I'm super clear on having worked in a very traditional way you know maybe 10 years ago to working in this new flexible I think even post-COIVD it's almost I can't think of why you wouldn't work in this way because it tangibly delivers bottom line results and ultimately that's what it's about we're not doing it because it's a the next fad it’s because it deserves results 

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah absolutely that's great and Pravina for if someone is a leader and I my view on this is leaders at all levels in all roles and everybody is a leader. What would you say are some of the most impactful things that somebody could do? I mean you've already touched on this around servant leadership but yeah what would your advice be to someone who's in a leadership position, wants to get better outcomes, maybe not quite sure what's the most impactful way to go about it what would your advice be? 

Pravina Ladva: First thing I would say if you if you're totally new to this start small pick one area maybe it's one specific platform, application, project, whatever it is pick one area and just get started you know you know even if it's simple as every day you have a stand up and you have a list of you know things are progressing through the pipeline. So start small and learn I think that's the first thing I would say. Second thing is recognize that you as a leader are going to have to change. So you you're not going to get progress reports you are not going to you know have people come and tell you what's going on you there's a degree of trust it's almost it inverts the pyramid you need to go to the standups, make time to understand the progress, you need to show up at the demos the code release demos to see okay what's it what's being delivered and be become more of a coach so the style of leadership I think changes as well. And I think the other thing that especially in corporates people make a mistake and this is where I think the older and the new are coming together is I've often had people say to me I've got I'm working in agile I don't need a project plan I don't need risk and issues I don't need the blah blah blah and I'm like load of rubbish and the end of the day if I'm going to doing a project is about meeting a regulatory deadline or an external commitment there is a project plan because in every segment I want to know if we are getting through enough capacity and have the right velocity through the burndown charts to hit hit the end date. So the other thing I would say to a leader is speak to somebody who's done this before because there are so many schools of thought it's easy to get lost in all the jargon.

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah yeah and you mentioned you mentioned a myth a common myth there which is we don't do planning or we don't need documentation. As you said you actually do more planning and you have more documentation because you're doing it all continuously. 

Pravina Ladva: Yeah yeah and there's a couple of other myths one myth that I you know I even had a reaction to actually more of a terminology thing. A few years ago someone said to me we've got a backlog now coming from an operational background when somebody says I've got backlog you just just see okay that's a bad thing that means we've got we're behind and then somebody explained to me what it meant okay I get it now but that's a reaction often people have with the word backlog. So that's one thing I would point out. And I think it's just being wary of what what do certain things things mean and and just killing those myths because they're not reality the other the last common myth I get is just because I'm working agile you're not in control. Actually I think you're more in control. 

Jon Smart: Totally absolutely yeah. It's not a theatre of control like it used to be. So I'd like to come back to your top three Pravina and just dig into them a little bit a little bit more. So the first one was around being people centric around colleagues working together to produce an outcome we've spoken about OKRs we've spoken about OKRs providing a common goal and a common incentive to work together and I think actually that's you know there's I think it's great that you have got them into appraisals as well. And so is there anything else on that topic of people centricity in terms of lessons learned? Is there anything else that you want to talk about any other kind of learnings on that topic?

Pravina Ladva: Yeah I mean I would think especially Swiss Re about knowledge sharing. You know most companies think you know say we need to knowledge share and create that greater cumulative knowledge and that's something we as an organisation do really well. We have communities of practice and people are willing to share what they know, learn, and offer advice. So finding your community on where you can learn more is super key I think that's one thing out of flag. And don't be afraid to ask because this is you know although it's been around for a number of years it's still new and it's still evolving is one thing I thing I would I would flag. And the other thing is working in this different way requires an element of courage and resilience which people don't like because if you if you go back to when we did waterfall projects when you finished a project you take a breath of release and go okay we're done now whereas this is continuous and continuous doesn't mean to it need means chaos but it means you're continually doing stuff which for some people you know means you have to build a different level of resilience and the other thing I mean about courage is you know you are not going to have written your PowerPoint taken it around 10 stakeholders and then give the news. You're going to have to give good news and bad news on the spot and that takes a different way of working as well and that's why I think courage is really important.

Jon Smart: Yeah do do you feel that that those behaviours need to be signposted from the top of the top of the organisation 

Pravina Ladva: Yeah yeah yeah and it goes back to your point around psychological safety as well. 

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah yeah and change is social as you the example you were giving about lighthouses and there's no way don't make me go back to that previous way of working. Change is a social activity isn't it and it's that it's the it's the I'm going to wait to see what my peers think about this.

Pravina Ladva: Yeah and as humans we you know we are we're a social species so it's whether it's getting the accolades, the recognitions, the learning, the camaraderie of being together, working together, debating we love that and this I can't think another better way of doing it and there some of the toughest assignments I've worked on as a program and delivered some things you know even years ago those teams I'm still in touch with today and those colleagues they're global teams because we went through some good times and some tough times and we learn together 

Jon Smart: Yeah that's it it's yeah it's it's really there's no such thing as failing it's just learning. Okay and then on the second your second key theme was customer centricity is there any you wanted to say on that Pravina?

Pravina Ladva: Yeah the thing I'd say is you know make sure you identify who is your customer and that you don't assume what they want. You need to step in their shoes. So it might be you know for for me you know we're a we're a B2B business so for me is I go and sit with our client managers and go and see our clients and understand what is working for them what isn't working for them what are they looking for because it'd be it's easy to assume based on internal knowledge oh I think we need to change this and this, but it might be okay for the customer and therefore you could be investing in the wrong thing. So I think walking in the customer shoes is really important and then you know the third thing is measuring that. Are you making a measurable impact 

Jon Smart: Yeah and that comes that's your third key learning point. I just want to I just want to linger on that point of walking in the customer shoes and yeah that that's very powerful and so you said do you go you go and sit with 

Pravina Ladva: I sit with clients and you know or I'll go and sit or with the operations teams on the phones and listen to the voice of the customer in a previous role which is more of a BTC role you know I would go and sit in the branches and see you know what were our customers saying working with the people in the call centres and looking hang on a minute you need to toggle between 10 tiles to get to the answer the customer query and it's taking you 10 minutes there's something wrong here.

Jon Smart: Yeah so get out of the office or the home office yeah and go and walk the customers in the customer shoes. 

Pravina Ladva: Yes absolutely 

Jon Smart: Yeah nice and then on the third one data measurement feedback loop do you want to say any more on that Pravina?

Pravina Ladva: No I think that's quite self-explanatory but data is key and it's you know being social animals we're very emotional as well so you could easily make decisions on I think this, I feel this is wrong. If the data is something else you're going to need to trust it.

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah and do you have centralised measurement around the things that you're trying to measure that demonstrate success of improving ways of work 

Pravina Ladva: Yeah we do

Jon Smart: Like time like concept to cache lead time. Do you have that of centralised? 

Pravina Ladva: Yeah we do so we have the we've all agreed what the core metrics are so time to market, the level of automation, the code quality, so it goes it's probably at three different levels but at the top level it is about quality at time to market and I think those probably are the the main ones and then they drill down depending on where you are in the team. But then it's down to the team to say over and above that what is important to them because of the different maturity levels about what they want to change and monitor.  

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah yeah and are you also measuring client satisfaction or looking at the correlation to client satisfaction and also colleague engagement?

Pravina Ladva: Yeah so we have so what the other thing we try to do is not duplicate. So colleague engagement like every organisation has that so we have as do and we then integrate that scoring and just to say right is there any insights coming out of that and then we also do our major clients also give us feedback so we correlate that as well instead of duplicating it as so those goes those go in as key input which goes back to my second point around customer centricity. 

Jon Smart: Yeah great right so then just to to wrap up then Pravina the benefits the the upside the size of the prize you know what are the what are the benefits that you're seeing from improving how you do what you do?

Pravina Ladva: Yeah so I think the first benefit I would say clearly it drives business results. So I'll give you an example we on board in one of our businesses we on board external partners onto our platform couple of years ago it used to take 12 to 18 months. We can now do we can now do partners at the same time with it in a month. So that speed to market is there so I think that's the first one. The second one is around the quality of what we produce you know so there's a I would say degree of reliability and consistency so I think the big thing that comes is consistency and with that comes transparency which everybody loves. So I know I am, I know what I'm going to do, and I know what's going to come tomorrow. And the third one which I almost think sort of encompasses all of them is our teams that who are happy, they enjoy what they're doing. So colleague satisfaction and doing purposeful work. So I think for me that is probably the biggest benefit because if you can get that right I always say everybody's clear on what we need to do the what is easy you either do it or you don't the how is tough and for me this way of working is all about the how.

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah this way of working is all about the how. Yeah yeah and it's interesting how many organisations are too busy pulling the cart with square wheels to have a conversation about the round wheels. Too busy doing the doing to spend time improving the how. So one my final question Pravina continuous improvement so that word how you know is that is that something that you have a focus on is that something that's incentivized to not just do the doing all the time but actually work on the round Wheels? 

Pravina Ladva: No absolutely and then we split the continuous improvement into two buckets one in terms of continuous improvement of the team whether it's knowledge, mentor, coaching and also continuous improvement our products because we you know you're never done that's why I go back to even this whole journey you're never done and you know we have things like specific allocation of our budgets to continuous improvement because you have to keep up with what you're doing and so we measure where we are but again I think this is an area we probably need to focus a little bit more on. 

Jon Smart: Yeah yeah great that's amazing. I've really enjoyed having this conversation with you Pravina. I think Swiss Re are very fortunate to have you  

Pravina Ladva: Thank you 

Jon Smart: In the role that you're in. I love I love I love the answer I love how you you've answered this I love the answers to the question Swiss Re are going to be in are in a great place and will continue be a great place and continue improving. So Pravina thank you very much thanks for joining me. 

Pravina Ladva: Thank you, thank you for the conversation.


bottom of page