Brilliant Basics Edition Podcasts
Annelore Arnold and Thomas Wouters on Agile Development
Annelore Arnold, Program Manager at Telenet and Thomas Wouters, Brilliant Basics client lead, discuss agile transformation. The discussion covers how to build an agile team, how to deal with failure and how to learn from it.
Hosted by Anand Verma, European Head of Digital Services for Infosys and Founder & CEO of Brilliant Basics, Infosys’ Design Studios.
“The agile mindset and the focus on collaboration will benefit everywhere in any model really, but it's also about doing what's right for you and not sticking to a certain theory just because that's the theory.”
- Annelore Arnold
Annelore talks about herself.
Thomas shares his background.
What Telenet is as a company? What do they do and what are their sphere of influence within Belgium and outside?
OneApp has gone through its own ups and downs. Annelore shares the story.
Annelore talks about importance of trust. How trust was built on this program from the get go?
How one app has been managed from senior stakeholder perspective?
If you have to create an agile team, what are the few skill sets that you must look for?
Every company looks at agile in a very different way. For those who are on the agile journey, what are those frustration moments? Annelore talks about “agifall” and “agifail.”
Do you need a project plan for agile?
Annelore played lot of sports growing up and still does. Does she feel that coming from a competitive background makes her a little bit more driven within the team?
From failing to learning. Annelore shares her thoughts.
Thomas shares his views about the journey of OneApp from Brilliant Basics perspective.
From building that trust with Telenet as, in this case, a client, how did Thomas go about it with the team to build that trust and understanding the culture part of that trust?
Thomas describes the partnership between Telenet, BB and Infosys?
Annelore and Thomas share their favorite books and explain why they like them.
Music by Ruhan Verma, 13-year-old upcoming Drummer and Producer
Anand Verma: All the things that could go wrong in this model would have gone wrong. You know the team members team coming from, even the team from India is from five different locations in India, and for all of them come together with the sole purpose of making the product better for the customer is amazing news. When it comes to diversity inclusivity is creating better design innovation for the product.
Annelore Arnold: Yes, definitely. We always say we turned OneApp into fun app.
Anand Verma: Nice.
Annelore Arnold: We all know that. When we were going through this difficult patch, it wasn't fun. We remember that time and we also know that we don't want to go back there and we want to keep on investing in building the team and growing those personal relationships because we understand it's the key to our success as well.
Anand Verma: Welcome to this special episode of the Emphasis Knowledge Institute Podcast, Brilliant Basics Edition, where we talk about the future work and digital disruption. I am Anand Verma, and today I'm happy to be joined by Annelore Arnold, program manager at Telenet, and Brilliant Basics client lead Thomas Wouters. The topic today is really exciting that is all about agile transformation in our digital disruption category. Before we kick off, Annelore, Thomas, I would love to know more about you, your background, some of the stories that listeners might be interested in, outside work as well.
Annelore Arnold: I am currently a program manager at Telenet for the last 18 months. I've been working on a program called OneApp and next to that I have two small children, three and six, two girls actually. Well, I'm trying to educate and help them just grow up and try and be as happy and successful as possible. I love sports. I love running like basketball, watching football. Yeah, that basically sums up my day week and I'm what I do.
Anand Verma: Amazing, is great to have you Annelore. Thomas.
Thomas Wouters: I've been at Brilliant Basics for two years now. I think I'm one of the ones that has been everywhere. I started in London, was here for almost a year, then help set up the Berlin office, moved to Paris. I have been all over Europe and Telenet has been my main client for the past two years. Then outside of work, oh I think it's sort of the classical stuff, gym, because I'm a foodie, I need gym to offset that. Exploring new cities, which is quite fun because I've received the opportunity to move around quite a couple of times. Yeah, just go to the movies, read some books, that type of thing.
Anand Verma: Fantastic. So Annelore, just a brief background in Telenet, can you describe what Telenet is as a company? What do they do and what are their sphere of influence within Belgium and outside?
Annelore Arnold: I'm telling it is a Belgium telecom provider. They serve the Belgian market with mobile internet, home internet, telephony products, lots of focus on entertainments as well. It's the full spectrum and yeah, they're one of the top plays in Belgium. Have been there since the late nineties and they have grown ever since.
Anand Verma: OneApp also involved the business technology and design all of these three factors to come together as well?
Annelore Arnold: Yes, so that's really important. So the team, we currently have about 20 people. We really fully deliver the app end to end from the initial idea concept to the design to the technical analysis to building the app to testing the app, is really the end to end product delivery this team takes on.
Anand Verma: OneApp I remember has gone through its own ups and downs. Can just describe what it has gone through? I think that'll set a nice scene for the next part of discussion or an agile transformation.
Annelore Arnold: About, as I said a year and a half ago, we found ourselves in a really difficult position as a program where there was a general perception that we weren't delivering in line with expectations. Yeah, looking back at it now, it really stemmed from needs to or desired to really make long-term detailed plans based on a number of very high level assumptions. It's no surprise that we were never able to deliver those long term plans because product delivery is no exact science. There are many unknown factors which you can't ... you never know in advance. We really wanted to move away from that, trying to create that longterm view, which, well we always found out was unrealistic and we were never able to deliver that, which caused a lot of frustration in fact.
Anand Verma: Just describe what are those frustrations that business owners were raising to you.
Annelore Arnold: I think the frustration specifically were that we didn't have any predictability because we were making plans, which she couldn't deliver, but at the same time, we didn't have any flexibility because we were always saying no to last minute changes because we were so desperately trying to deliver those long-term plans. So I would be unhappy too. You don't get flexibility, you don't get predictability. You just stuck with something that you probably, at the end of the road, you get a product that you ... get it late and you probably didn't fully want it anymore. They cause frustration with the team as well because they always felt that they could do better and they always felt that we can do this.
Annelore Arnold: We saw the road to what if we start delivering smaller pieces of functionality as soon as possible? What if we try and get feedback as early as possible? And really move into that agile mindset of releasing little and often.
Anand Verma: One of the big things I want to talk about is the trust between the teams, right? Because as you're getting sandwiched between number of different stakeholders, you have to maintain some sort of motivation and the team ceremonies and team celebrations on a regular basis. As feel that they should be feeling that we're United together regardless of our emphasis, be Telenet and other badges that we kind of bring to work. What's your view on how trust was built on this program from the get go? I'm sure it went through ups and downs kind of journey.
Annelore Arnold: I think we're extremely lucky to have [inaudible 00:06:07] Victoria who basically grows supports, nurtures that team. Yeah, we try obviously to minimize disruptions and to minimize changes in the team, but they will happen regardless, but it's because we have such a well oiled, well running machine that actually is changing one cog, we can manage. We're very welcoming, we're very open, new people bring new skills and new points of view to the table, so it's actually also a great opportunity to maybe challenge some things, question some things, further improve. We do look at it from that point of view as well. The fact that we were in such a difficult position 18 months ago and we work together to get out of it was a perfect ground for us to build that trust. Also really focused on, as you said, like everyone had a badge.
Annelore Arnold: There are multiple vendors working on this program and really building that single team ethos where we're open, we're transparent, we respect each other and we trust each other really. There are different factors influencing that trust. A key one is reliability. If you say you're going to do something by a certain date, do it. If you don't, well, you're losing that element of I don't know what you will do next time when I ask you something. It's about creating that intimacy, really strong personal relationships. I can say that the people on the team are my friends, we see each other, we WhatsApp each other outside of work, send them photos of my kids and what I did this weekend. It's really building those personal relationships and just, yeah.
Anand Verma: Yeah. It's quite envious actually because every party I see, Telenet team they have their own photos. I'm like, "I want to be part of that photos." It's a lot of team camaraderie there, and it looks like what happens at the party helps the team to perform really well when it comes to serious work as well.
Annelore Arnold: If you like the people you're working with, you're going to do a better job.
Anand Verma: Absolutely. I think there's a lot of consistency in the team I see as well is the long-term team. We have a lot of debate about, do we bring in a rotation into the team? How do we do that? Because people sometimes ... I'm not saying they'll get bored of what they're doing, but having a variety of work they're doing is a big part of them growing in the career as well. You are on this journey, you're one year into the program and some successes are coming through your way. One of the big thing about OneApp is the way you mentioned the messaging to the senior execs, the way you talk to them and amplify the messaging. I would love to hear from you in terms of where Telenet is in right now and we'll talk more about where Telenet is in terms of agile journey and transformation. But, how one app has been managed from senior stakeholder perspective.
Annelore Arnold: I think we've asked a lot from our senior stakeholders. We've asked them to let go of long-term plans to give us certain level of autonomy to allow us to self organize in a way that we think we can deliver priorities and the product in the best way. We also had to find a way of balancing that, letting go of the long-term planning with other elements to make sure that they're informed, that they understand what's happening. We've been really focusing on communication there. It's been a huge piece of the puzzle. Every sprint we do extremely concise, but detailed reports on where we are, what happened, what that means for the product, when we're going to release next. And it's keeping that feedback loop upwards as well, and getting the feedback back from management, that's really helped. Again, also building the trust with them and demonstrating that we can do this and we can deliver every two weeks or every month and as long as we keep doing that and we're very open and transparent, I think we can just ... we're set up for success, further success even.
Anand Verma: Can you describe, if you have to create an agile team, what are the few skill sets that you look for?
Annelore Arnold: Someone with a very thorough understanding of your product, but also your broader products as in the product Telenet is providing, so a very strong understanding of that business. Then you need to merge that together with a very in-depth strategic understanding of how to build apps and how to make apps, deliver value to customers. It's the product owner role together with a designer UX or who really embodies the user in the team. So really important to get that feedback. Then we go straight into analysis so we have a couple of really strong analysts who can then take those requirements and translate them to what it means to OneApp, as a user story level., and then it goes really quickly.
Annelore Arnold: To be honest, then we get straight, the dev is involved and the testers to start identifying what it takes to technically build and test this and also make sure that we have automation in place to make sure that we can test throughout the spring. Then we have the scrum master who really supports the team and make sure that we have a positive environment there. Then, an overall architect who looks at the technical setup, make sure that we're future proof, also very important from a quality point of view. The dev ops element of it, the team are also ... they don't just build the app, they also support the app when it's up and running and when issues might occur. It's really taken up in the team and we want to keep it as small as possible almost to make sure that we are as agile as we can be.
Anand Verma: What I'm hearing is that Telenet is going through its own agile transformation journey. Do you have a belief that OneApp was a contributor or a major contributed for Telenet to actually go on a journey and have a bit of confidence that this is the right of doing stuff?
Annelore Arnold: Yeah. I believe we demonstrated that how successful it can be and what it means for you, both, it can mean for your product and for your people's engagement and happiness at work and then overall, what it means for you in terms of productivity and efficiency, which I don't think should be your primary goal or primary outcome of going agile. It's not about delivering something in three months instead of six months, but actually you do see that when you get into the mindset, you start delivering little and often that your team is happier that things will go more smoothly and you will go faster as a result, but it shouldn't be your primary goal. Your primary, you should do it to build a better product and get more feedback.
Anand Verma: Love it. It looks like this is a mindset shift, is a culture shift. Not just, hey, agile is a fashionable statement and I want to do this because I want to make statement to the outside audience. Let's talk about some of the failings and frustrations quickly. It's not always a rosy path, right? We all know that. Agile is sometimes fragile, agile is sometimes why wargile, and every company looks at agile in a very different way than the way you're describing agile. I would love to hear your views on what are some of the failings or some of the misconceptions or frustration that you have seen that our listeners might be interested in saying, "Hey, we are on this journey but here are the gotchas moments that we have to look at as well."
Annelore Arnold: We didn't turn up at work one morning and said, "Now we're agile. We've done it." That didn't happen. Actually looking back at it now, we went through this phase where we were doing agifall or agifail as people call it, where we were still ... we had all the labels and the terminology and all the meetings you should have in a scrum, agile way of working. But we were still thinking in a very waterfall oriented way and we were still thinking that we should be spending months building a certain feature or a number of features and releasing it to the customer. We had that intermediate phase as well where we were moving towards it, but we weren't fully there yet, and I think it did take us about three months to reach a certain level of agility.
Annelore Arnold: And even from then we've been evolving ever since throughout the year. There's always things we can improve, needs might change, your product might change and you might have to tweak your way of working or certain elements around it. So, it's not done in a day and it's also never finished. You need to keep at it.
Anand Verma: Once again, you're listening to Brilliant Basic Specialty dissolved in Knowledge Institute podcast where we talk about the future work and digital disruption. We are delighted to have Annelore Arnold, Program Manager of Telenet as well as Thomas Wouters, BB client lead for Telenet. A lot of our listeners must be thinking, do you need a project plan for agile? Do a certain routines and rhythms that allows us to be on the right path, for example? Of course, if you're going on a destination, you've got to know the direction of travel. What's your view on that Annelore?
Annelore Arnold: It's a really valid point actually. My response would be that agile does not equal chaos, you actually need a lot of discipline to do agile or be agile successfully. For instance, to us, it doesn't mean we don't have a plan anymore. We identify a release goals three to six months ahead, but we see them more as commitments and items that the team will be working towards rather than being written in stone. They can also evolve because we will get new feedback or we might want to change our minds. We also, and really coach our stakeholders on the fact that this is what we're working towards. However, you need to understand that this will evolve based upon feedback or delivery and there are multiple factors impacting those. We do have a plan. The key thing there is that if things change that we communicate openly, transparently and really quickly about those as well, so things that should never be a surprise.
Anand Verma: Interesting. You said you played lot of sports growing up and you still play a lot of sports, you're running 10K you told me. Do you feel that having come from a competitive background makes you a little bit more driven within the team? Not just you, but also the team itself as well?
Annelore Arnold: I think it helps us to like a challenge. That's what I really like about agile. It's a challenge. You have to keep so many balls up in the air all the time. It's never finished. You need to bring your best game to the table, every sprint, and then you need to do it again for the next sprint and the next sprint. It's relentless. It doesn't stop, but keeping at it and the fact that you keep on delivering is just ... you feel like you're winning every month and that's so great about it.
Anand Verma: I feel that sports has this connotation of, if you give a challenge, and given challenges are smaller, you feel that's a game of, marginal improvement constantly. So if you look at the British cycling team, the way they won the Olympic gold was because they were improving every second, every time they practice. Rather than going for a big bang, it looks like if you break the problem down in smaller chunks, there's more higher propensity of delivering that, but more frequently to your point about agile. That's why I wanted to connect those two dots together. I want to talk about two more topics before we move over to Thomas.
Anand Verma: One is I'm hearing a lot from, when I meet with yourself and the senior clients, there's a sense of acceptance from failing fast to learning fast. I really enjoyed reading your blog about let's focus on learning instead of failing. I'm really excited to kind of use that terminology because I don't think it's accepted by a lot of senior execs yet, but in your case, you're almost changing the status quo mindset in this. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what do you think about this kind of change in terminology from failing to learning?
Annelore Arnold: I think indeed failing shouldn't be a problem. It shouldn't be an issue. However, that doesn't mean that you can just try anything and see what happens, is that mindset that ... it's not the right mindset to build the best product. You need to understand what you're trying to learn is the learning that's the key. It's understanding what you're trying to test, what you're trying to achieve, how you want to get there, what the KPIs are, and then measuring against those and making informed decisions. Again, going for that incremental improvement. It's not the, "Oh, let's try this." And, "Oh, it didn't work. Let's try something completely different." It's moving towards your goal and keeping that in mind.
Anand Verma: What you're saying is that the parameter around this, basically you're giving ability to learn fast, but not try and do something completely crazy and expect some other results to come in, right? Just who are learning from that move really quickly to the kind of next stage of evolution. A lot of our clients are going through, hey, we've done this one product really well in an agile way, should be implemented across the company? But these problems could be different kinds of problems. What's your view on scaling agile? What are the key takeaways that our listeners should be looking for? And also, when to apply this and when not to apply this.
Annelore Arnold: Yeah, I'm still learning about it as well actually, but based upon on my experience, I think there are a couple of key factors to take into account and it's understanding why you think agile will be the best thing for you. Is it because you think you'll be building a better product? Is it because you want to deliver certain items to market faster? You do need to understand what you want to achieve because if you still want to have a big bang launch of your product on day X, maybe it's not the best thing for you. If you have very heavy processes or you work in a really heavily regulated industry, then maybe it's not that achievable either. I also say that whilst I clearly love agile, there's nothing inherently wrong, in some instances, with a waterfall delivery model. It does work as well. We just need to understand what you're trying to achieve and what your goal is.
Anand Verma: I'm hearing a lot about what agile does is creates predictability. A lot of people say agile doesn't create predictability and waterfall creates predictability. One of the statements I heard the other day was, by the time you fix a problem in a big bang, the problem statements has changed because digital is just disrupting everything at such a fast pace. In a way, the question here is that can you apply agile to everything? But not everything in terms of regulatory changes or constitutional changes, for example. But from a digital disruption perspective, it looks like the right methodology to leverage to start with, and if it doesn't work, then choose a combination of methodologies that might be appropriate for your business problems.
Annelore Arnold: I think indeed the agile mindset and the focus on collaboration will benefit everywhere in any model really, but it's also about doing what's right for you and not sticking to a certain theory just because that's the theory. You might want to combine certain elements, you might want to tweak it. So, you're solving your own problems rather than just implementing a certain framework. That's exactly what we did. We had an issue and we tried to solve it and work, move forward and do what's right to us with elements from certain theories, of course.
Anand Verma: Amazing. Amazing. So Thomas, with Annelore, we talked about digital transformation and agile transformation of Telenet, the journey of OneApp as a program of work that we're doing as well. For me, it's the two sides of the same coin. While Annelore is managing a team and making sure that things are going progressively well, I would love to hear the BB story from you in terms of a team set up, the team's locations, for example, which is has been an interesting model in the agile transformation world as well. Would you mind sharing your views from BB's perspective?
Thomas Wouters: I think for us it's been a really interesting one in the sense that we always talk about speed and scale with BB and Infosys. I think this is one of those project where we genuinely put that in motion. If you look at the team, we started with a relatively small team in London about two years ago. Then once we wanted to scale up, we had some Infosys people from India actually joined a team with the thought behind it was if you ever want to go to more of a production mode in a couple of years where you want to offshore, then we bring people to London, we train them, we embed them in the team, so to have everyone in one location and then you can potentially move them back off and they could start over there.
Thomas Wouters: I think it's been an interesting one because you also bring different cultures together and I think that's one of the strong things of the team that we have is ... we've got the local people on the ground in Belgium. I've got myself, we've got people here in London, we have the influence of India, and I think that brings a very sort of interesting mix to the entire team. It's all been glued together by client, by the scrum master and just that way of working, and that one team ethos, we've got telling it to thank for that in a big part because they've given us the opportunity to do this and also to fail. We received all that trust at some point where we said, "We can do this." We've also asked a lot from them. So it's not just us being in the driver's seat.
Thomas Wouters: I think we gave them quite a couple of challenges in the sense that we wanted them to trust us, we wanted them to give us a certain freedom to do things in the way we saw fit. We received that trust, and I think that's been one of the big success factors because there are misconceptions about offshore and different cultures and how is all of that going to work. But I think, by being very open and by giving us that opportunity, we actually created something that worked and that worked in a very natural way.
Anand Verma: We talked a lot about trust with Annelore around how do you build trust between team members, and it's one for all, all for one kind of mindset. But it's quite hard when you have an SOW between a client and a partner. Let's call it partner rather than supplier. To build that trust wasn't when the Telenet journey started. There were a lot of evolution of that kind of relationship. So can you just describe from building that trust with Telenet as, in this case, a client, how did you go about with the team to build that trust and understanding the culture part of that trust?
Thomas Wouters: We went through the classical journey where there was initially an SOW with obviously a whole list of requirements and a timeline, which I think on Annelore also mentioned it, give people this full sense of security saying, "Oh, this is what I'll get for my money within this time." We failed, let's be honest about that. Then I think, because we did work in phases, gradually we started to change it because ultimately, it's not just the team that needs to trust us and the senior leadership team, but also procurement at some point needs to say, "Okay, I will sign off on this."
Thomas Wouters: Also there, we went through a couple of phases where I think last year everything was around ... you do need a set of KPIs because you conscious say, "Give us X amount of money, we'll give you a team and then we'll see what happens." So we had a lot of the discussions initially around velocity, delivering story points, coming up with ranges of how we're going to do that, just because, or someone needs to be able to say, "Oh yeah, actually BB and has delivered on what they said they would." I think this year we're again a step further. In the last year we worked with story points and a certain velocity, which I think we hit every single sprint, which now makes those conversations easier again, because that trust has been built and proven. I think that's the important bit. Once you prove that you actually can do what you said you were going to do, then those conversations become easier and you genuinely go to a partnership.
Thomas Wouters: I think if you look at a classical sort of vendor-client relationship if I can call it that way, what you tend to sometimes do is, you always want to impress your client so you sit in your little corner, you do all your work and you always want to go back with a positive message. I think what we've achieved over the past two years is that we can say to good and the bad, or we can have very open conversations where things potentially don't work on our side or potentially don't work on Telenet's side. That's that relationship that we've built now.
Anand Verma: Thomas, in a few words, if listeners want to know what has worked really well between the partnership, how would you describe the partnership between Telenet, BB and Infosys?
Thomas Wouters: I think the openness. We can put literally everything on the table and I think OneApp has been a pioneer project for all of us that we're now trying to, I wouldn't say replicate, but take ethos that we created with OneApp. We're now trying to move to other projects wider in the business and I think that's a big achievement.
Anand Verma: Amazing. Annelore, Thomas, we have a tradition on our podcast to ask about which book you're reading now, if you're reading any book or which is one of your favorite books that you've read that you might want to talk about.
Thomas Wouters: So I've started the New Silk Road. It's basically a book about how the world is changing and the influence of China and other countries on the rest of the world. I haven't gotten that far because it's actually relatively scary. So I usually start read a couple of pages and the need to move away again and restart.
Anand Verma: Thanks Thomas. Annelore, thank you so much for a great discussion on agile transformation. Please share what's been latest on the reading list.
Annelore Arnold: The last book I read, I was on the plane home and that was called Sprint. I was inspired by the team. They actually shared it with me. I was like, "I have to read this." It's about how to identify and solve certain business problems in like a five day period. I can't wait to try it out and do it myself. It combines design thinking, getting the technical people involved as early as possible. Identifying what you want to solve, the validated learning, what you want to achieve by solving that and really testing those things as early as possible with customers. It fits perfectly with our team's mindset and way of working.
Anand Verma: How can people find you online Annelore?
Annelore Arnold: I'm on LinkedIn. I have a blog there. I write articles I would say every month. Yeah, feel free to connect and let's talk about agile and product delivery.
Anand Verma: Love it. Thanks so much for your time. You can find more details on our show notes at infosys.com/iki in our podcast section. Annelore, Thomas, thank you for your time and a great discussion. Everyone, you're listening to the Brilliant Basics Edition of the Infosys Knowledge Institute where we talk about future work and digital disruption. Thanks to our lovely producer, Yulia De Bari and the entire Knowledge Institute and Brilliant Basics team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Annelore Arnold
Annelore is agile coach and scrum master at Telenet. Annelore has over 10 years of experience in various product and delivery roles. She started her career in consulting working on a variety of clients – both public and private – and then moved into telecommunications where she has worked on various IT programs, product launches and digital products. Annelore thrives on building strong products and bringing out the best in the teams and people she works with.
About Thomas Wouters
Thomas is client lead at Brilliant Basics. He started off his career in digital over 10 years ago. After working for creative marketing agencies he made the jump to Product, UX and Design 4 years ago.
Thomas prides himself in his relationship building skills with clients and is happiest if he can go above and beyond and help create a culture and way of working where his clients and the teams can shine.