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Q&A with Niel Rodgers

Updated: Jan 6

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Niel Rodgers, Director, Digital Solutions.

How could you describe your career path in few words ? 


I wanted a career that would allow me to travel and started my career in risk management – I learnt the downside of that career choice when work slowed in Australia and the opportunities were in other parts of South East Asia which didn’t suit my wife's career. So I pivoted into technology and that was hard to learn and unlearn things. Actually I think the hardest part was realising I needed to ‘unlearn things’ and adapt quickly as work isn’t homogeneous from role to role, industry to industry or company to company. 

I was also really fortunate with one role I was applying for (~10 years ago). After numerous interviews I got to the last stage and wasn’t successful. The company were great in telling me were I needed to grow – with the main thing focusing on getting as many experiences as possible. For them, a great leader was someone who had exposure to a huge array of scenarios that could only be accumulated via different roles and industry experience. They explained that this exposure would result in better decision making, so I set off to work in different roles and for different styles of leaders. I couldn’t agree more with this feedback and tell my team this too.  


How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years ? 


Agile is now clearly in two camps – agile delivery (ie a scrum team) which has a huge number of constraints around it which only offers limited empowerment but speeds up delivery while the teams of teams (or whole organisations) agile camp is focusing on enterprise processes to ensure the agile team is fully autonomous and empowered.  

Agile is also becoming more common place in more regulated industries and this is leading to some interesting ways of working to incorporate “Safety” into the operating model. While agile de-risks the change (i.e. the release) by being smaller and more frequent there are other elements to safety – cyber, regulation, legal, procurement etc that can be missed as teams accelerate their delivery model. This “Speed and Safety” concept is not only enabling teams to be more autonomous it is also helping agile delivery teams shift their organisations into enterprise agility organically. 

I don’t think there is an industry that doesn’t need to go faster in this day and age – you can go faster with traditional ways of working but it can only go as fast as the executive who is delegated to make that decision – when you decentralise decision making it allows the company to 10x their speed as more people are making decisions. That’s why safety is important – if you empower all teams to make decisions they can lack experience and the safety team acts as a wrapper to safe guard them and the company from chaos.  


What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you ? 


Success of transformations is completely based “the why”. Failure is often due to poor communication or poor choice and therefore the entity could never actually be transformed. This also means success is also very situational – so I hope people never try to copy a transformation as chances are it won’t be right for your company.  


One great transformation was enabling a company to release frequently because previously nothing could get finished. Any team that attempted to deploy to production had marathon release windows with huge amount of bugs and/or roll backs. Without that transformation, all the newly built websites, systems and processes and associated commercial contracts couldn’t be implemented. That transformation came at a large upfront cost – it needed a lot of people to cover for system and process gaps – while another team built the infrastructure and pipelines to make it automated in the future.  


Another great transformation wanted a great place to work and ensuring that any business/product decision didn’t have a section on “technology constraints” in the assessment of that decision. They had old systems that meant they could never deploy new products to market or adapt to its customer needs. Unsurprisingly, its employee satisfaction was also low. This required rapid re-platforming of its systems that could only occur if business and technology teams become one – I read a lot about value aligned teams (ie technology and business are mirrored) but if you really want rapid development and clear prioritisation of work then having them as one team is the way to go.  

Lastly, I want to share a company transformation from country specific teams and P&Ls to a network of teams. Their “why” was based on how to maximise global resources to get products to market quicker than their competitors. It meant that localised country silos had to be broken down leading to completely rethinking their expense management and resource tracking approaches. So often large global organisations are ‘too big’ to change so to see them transform so that their global size became their prize asset shows companies large and small, global and local can adapt to agile if the “why” is compelling.  


Will agile practices continue to generate interest ? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices ? 


I think Agile (“big A” i.e. the framework) will die out. How something that started as a simple set of principles to make work better has turned into these huge frameworks is beyond me.  


I think organisational agility (“little a” i.e. transparency, pivoting and learning) is just at the start of its journey.  


I was reading a really great blog on experimentation – and how you can’t just experiment with your products but you must experiment with your ways of working too.  When I reflect on some of the agile transformations I have been part of, the key was inclusiveness and psychological safety for people to say “here is a gap we need to focus on” but a small group who can decide what experiments or changes to make to resolve it. For products we know product owners / product managers own that product and can solve product gaps but no one can owns the system of work – it is multi faceted and dynamic (even if most frameworks tell you to set up a team that ‘owns the way of working’). The fine line we need to walk is if only a small group can decide on ‘whole of systems’ decision making, is that disempowering? As agile grows in this area, experiments on process, culture and technology will result in some interesting company models and be great case studies for the future.    


That’s why I believe we are really still at the start of the new wave of management –as we focus on internal learnings and experiments and external environments rapidly changing decades old work practices based on homogeneous ways of working or early agile concepts will not stand the test of time. 

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