When I first met Maria, I had to ask myself: how can someone accomplish so much, so fast? Although she has a bit of experience, it seems that she managed to squeeze in a lot of projects in it: she worked in sales / commercial, product specialist, manager to turnaround director. In the 18 years she’s worked in the financial sector, she was also in charge with business redesign and setting up of new business lines, which makes her experience very diverse.
Maria has graduated the EMBA from MSM Romania in the RO3 cohort and is now an Innovation & Change Consultant, helping companies embrace organizational transformation. She will be hosting an Open Enrollment Course on Agile in Business on 1-2 February and in preparation for the event, we caught up to discuss being agile and how it can help companies of all sorts.
- Tell us a bit about your professional career. What made you interested in innovation?
I was always passionate about change management and innovation and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who believed in me and gave me some wild cards.
My first big change projects were taking over the lease and factoring businesses of ING in Romania. For the factoring operation I was in charge with integrating the business in the bank, which resulted in creation of 3 departments within the bank, integration of IT systems and modifying over 50 procedures to include the new businesses.
For lease, I was in charge with selling the company in extremely harsh market conditions. Transaction was aimed both at portfolio sale and people transfer in order to minimize the human impact. More than 70% of lease employees were safely place within the bank or at the buyer.
- You were at the front line of Agile implementation in ING Bank Romania. What would you say were the greatest challenges you’ve had in the process and how did you overcome them?
Agile implementation started in Romania as a pilot in 2014 and I was put in charge of creating a lending value chain, that was an end-to-end process design and implementation of automated flows for SME and micro companies. The project was initially developed waterfall and release was very much delayed.
The hardest part when I took over was to create a proper governance within the organisation, that is defining my decision power as a product owner and putting in place a transparent way of prioritising projects that took into consideration the benefit for the entire organisation, not the interests of a single business line. Those two steps were key to success, but at the same time were the most challenging, since I was operating in an organization that was only starting to experiment with Agile and self-organizing teams.
- How have you seen companies benefit from implementing the Agile methodology?
From my own experience, we have managed to reduce by more than half the delivery time needed to launch a new product. At the same time, we managed to constantly embed the changing information into the specifications, so that the product would be fit with all the latest customer requirements.
Reduced time to market and responding to changing requirements are usually the most obvious benefits of Agile implementation. Other important aspects are the team dynamics, which change for the better, in the direction of increased collaboration, more focus on customer value and self-organizing.
- What would you say is the first step towards being Agile?
Agile organizations have a common purpose and allow decision rights to the teams that are closest to implementation of customer value. Sharing the same vision, translating it at all levels, taking people in the organisation onboard for the same goal of creating value are not only inspiring, but also mandatory for building business agility. We are moving away from top-down towards responsive organisations and companies need to transform themselves in organisms that breath-in and are able to react to change at all levels.
- How has being Agile benefited you in your professional/personal life?
Agile has brought me more focus – acting as a product owner and subsequently as a sponsor, I was always focused on what is the biggest value we can create, not was is the next step from a project perspective. Further, working Agile with strategy teams and without IT implications, has made this quest for value even more abstract.
Being Agile is making you prioritize continuously your life, as whatever choice you make is automatically excluding other options. Once you realise that we constantly choose one thing over another, we start understanding where we allocate our resources and time vs. what we actually claim that is important for us.
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