Cesario Ramos began the opening keynote at the 2019 LeSS conference with the statement:
“We improved on the ‘Spotify Model’ that ING took in”
From that moment, the significance of this keynote presentation was clear for the many organisations with “Squads, Tribes, Chapters and Guilds” copied from Spotify. Many people call this the “Spotify Model” even though numerous Agile Coaches who have been working at Spotify have for years been writing and speaking at conferences about how There is No Spotify Model and that it should not be copied-pasted to other organisations. In this post we will refer to it as the “so-called Spotify Model” as a reminder of this.
The Significance of ING Netherlands
It is particularly significant that it is ING Netherlands making this move toward LeSS from the so-called Spotify Model as many such adoptions were most likely encouraged by the ING Netherlands adoption as promoted by management consultants McKinsey & Company.
In addition to Agile consultant Cesario, this keynote presentation involved 3 managers – Nadine, Hans and Joris – from the Business Lending group at ING Belgium and The Netherlands. Their position in the org chart can be seen in the slide below. This structure depiction also includes a type of cross-functional leadership team with the rather odd acronym POCLAC which is a group combining: PO = Product Owner, CL = Chapter Lead and AC = Agile Coach.
To define the “product” to focus on in the LeSS adoption, ING personnel studied the portfolio of features from the last 6 months and the next 6 months. They then played through which teams would be “touched” by these features and created a visualisation of their percentage contribution to features. This showed that out of 24 teams, 7-9 teams would be touched by this work a lot more than the remaining teams. It was therefore decided to start the LeSS adoption with these 7-9 teams.
Above is the Component Heat Map used to identify the teams to focus on. This technique is described by Cesario’s blog post Defining Your Product for a LeSS Adoption.
After some education about LeSS, the teams involved did a self-designing team workshop. The general preference in a LeSS adoption is to form co-located teams however in this case they needed people in Belgium to be across what people in The Netherlands were doing and therefore formed geographically 7 distributed teams.
As per the so-called Spotify Model, ING originally had team-centric Product Owners on each team. In contrast, LeSS calls a product-centric Product Owner who works with up to eight teams. For the 7 teams involved in the LeSS adoption, this meant 6 Product Owners losing that role. Navigating this transition without pushback from people reacting to a perceived reduction in status can be difficult in many organisations.
Surprisingly, it was the Team Product Owners themselves who proposed that they relinquish their roles. They came to this after analysing the portfolio of work coming into their teams and realising that a significant portion of it was not the highest priority for the organisation. Rather it was lower priority work being done because there was capacity for it by a team that had a fixed mission. Upon realising this, 6 of the then Product Owners proposed that they relinquish their roles.
For more on the advantages of a product-centric Product Owner as per LeSS, see the video ‘Why “Scrum” Isn’t Making Your Organization Agile: Harmful Misconceptions About Product Owner Role’ by Michael James.
Cross-Component Feature Teams
A big enabler of the improved adaptiveness at ING are feature teams that work across multiple components and multiple types of feature in order to deliver the highest customer value in any given Sprint. Achieving this requires substantial learning across technology components as well as increased engagement with the overall vision and customer context. This is an ongoing effort at ING.
ING had 3 KPIs for this improvement effort including:
- Highest customer value focus through single Product Backlog and improve completion of “Epic” items,
- Delivery of value every Sprint through cross-functional teams, and
- Happiness and skills improvement
The performance against these KPI’s is shown in the following slide.
Sprint Review is crucial for seeing the bigger picture
Something that was emphasised is the importance of repeating the vision on a regular basis for it to sink in and encourage team members to align to a common context. This group at ING discuss the vision at every Sprint Review. Product Owner Joris Verheij said that repeating the vision frequently again and again was necessary to encourage teams to think outside of what were previously “their piece” of the overall product as well as to increase intrinsic motivation and alignment. Sprint Reviews in this Business Lending group LeSS adoption at ING involve approximately 80 people across Belgium, India and The Netherlands.
Other Ingredients in Success at ING
The ING managers presenting emphasised how motivating and impactful it was on customer value delivery to bring the teams together around a single shared vision and backlog.
Another factor that was strongly emphasised was: “Give teams problems to solve, not work to do.” Seeing team members as business problem solvers stands in refreshing contrast to the view of software developers as fungible order takers to “deliver” what others define for them in a mass-production model.
“Investment in Continuous Integration is now key for scaling” highlighted one of the technical practices that ING are putting concerted effort into.
Further insights can be seen in the slides above and below.
Organisations that have adopted the so-called Spotify Model have likely created a new type of silo around teams with relatively rigid missions and “parts” of the overall product. At any point in time, a substantial portion of the teams are likely to be working on lower value items that what is now the highest overall priorities. To improve the overall value discovered and produced for customers, they could benefit from following the lead of the ING Netherland an Belgium in consolidating multiple team backlogs into a singular backlog around a broader customer-centric product which enables Sprint-to-Sprint reallocation of priorities across teams. Doing so involves challenges including eliminating most of the Product Owner roles and teams learning to think and work outside of what was previously their “piece” of the overall product toward a broader vision.
Thanks very much to Cesario Ramos for his feedback on this post.