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 NetherlandsIt 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.
Product DefinitionTo 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.
Team FormationAfter 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.
Product OwnersAs 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 TeamsA 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.
OutcomesING 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