Agile beyond Software: Valpak Book of the Jungle

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In the jungle of a highly competitive marketing business, Valpak, the leading printed and virtual coupons company, had missed a huge business opportunity, the victim of outdated waterfall technology processes with strategic planning approaches. This lost business opportunity became the lightening rod to look at their business differently. This was the time to reinvent themselves from slogging lumbering elephants to a much more agile way of working.

Agile Monkeys: velocity and flexibility

Four years ago, the Agile monkeys arrived at Valpak. Flexible, fast, direct and able to be both down-to-earth and climb up the tree to take an overview at the entire process. They are also very versatile and love to tell and share stories, which they will soon turn into action.

 

Driven by simple principles such as “guts over metrics, visibility breeds accountability, no one size fits all etc.” and deeply embracing the Agile Manifesto, they managed to get rid of the weight of heavy elephant-like procedures and move from trees to trees to grasp opportunities and respond to clients needs…while enjoying the ride!

 

At first only a small group of Agile monkey started the journey, mostly in software development, with the results that all developers know are to be expected with such processes.

 

Faster delivery, lower mistakes, higher client satisfaction, increased motivation, etc.

Beyond IT: the Agile company

But emboldened agile monkeys didn’t stop there. Valpak decided that since those agile principles were so effective in the software development, they could probably apply agile beyond software, in all other departments, including their printing manufacture, the support fonctions etc. They decided to become the first Agile Enterprise.

 

Indeed, the monkey-to-elephant communication (technology versus traditional management) had proven to be difficult, with the former becoming more and more impatient and frustrated while the latter felt lost and afraid they were losing control.

 

So to get more alignment and consistency, Valpak tried what had hardly ever been tried before, which is to replace elephant ways of working with agile monkey methodologies. And to do so in every single team and department in the company, from top to bottom, from manufacturing to marketing.

 

This created a kind of revolution. Just as it had been hard at first to get technology people that always acted like elephants to learn how to climb trees, the same was true for non-technology people. In the first months, some of the heaviest and least flexible employees simply left. In the end, it favored a cultural change that lightened the entire company, enabling Valpak to rise up on every front, something that continues at a rapid pace to this day.

Valpak daily: Reality of a fully agile company

Now here is a sneak peek at what it looks like to be a fully agile company:

Executives no longer:

  • Dictate what the company should do: they are “servant leaders”, at the service of the entire company; transparent and accountable for everything they do
  • Have complicated PMO processes: they create “Epics”, general stories that they would like to see become projects in the coming quarter, and post them on a board for anyone to see
  • Have long secret strategic discussions: they have weekly 20-min stand-up meetings in front of a densely populated white board; they even invite key stakeholders to decide on which “ Epic” to push forward.

Managers no longer:

  • Manage people: they are either product owners conveying stakeholder expectations or scrum masters/agile leaders, managing the process
  • Decide on what should be done: the entire team creates stories/tasks and prioritizes them
  • Assign and control every task: everyone decides which tasks they will take and how long it will take to complete them
  • Fight over resources: the team estimates the resources and, with a systemic view, and all managers meet to discuss their dependencies and share their resources

Employees no longer:

  • Execute without having the big picture: they get to be involved in the entire project design by creating the stories and/or tasks, and can also see what other teams are working on
  • Feel overwhelmed with work: they estimate the time a task requires and the team plans the work based on these estimates to make sure work is completed at a sustainable pace
  • Roll up their thumbs for a day or two: everyday they share with the team what they have done and what they intend to work on the next day

Their results are amazing: not only did they gain a 40% increase of productivity, they also got a huge morale boost, with over 95% employees satisfaction, becoming one of the US’ s dream places to work. And they share their success: they were elected one of the top 50 most generous companies in 2014.

Agility is all about the journey

As they continue on this journey, they have the huge opportunity to truly make a difference by going another step forward, by fully embracing the Agile manifesto not just for themselves but with all the partners connected to their business. By listening to their purpose and values, living this unique identity in every single aspect of the company, and by “opening the space” for innovation and increased collaboration, breaking down barriers and hierarchy, they have all the cards to become one of those emerging and hugely successful self-managed and “harmonious” companies whose influence extends to a far bigger neighborhood.

 

We look forward to following their progress on this exciting adventure!

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