Scrum has to get into the blood of the business

Interview with Brandon Mayo, Project & Business Development Manager, Nordea.

Brandon Mayo was thrown into the Product Owner role without knowing anything about Scrum other than what he had read on the net. Today, he is enthusiastic about the method which works well across considerable distances and a large organisation.

Brandon Mayo has been spending his days at Nordea since 2006 and has worked in several business areas. In 2010, he was appointed head of processes, concepts and advisory tools in pension advisory services. It was time for a new IT solution that could do the job more efficiently and find synergies across the countries in which Nordea operates. A project was launched towards that end in early 2011.
The bank’s internal IT providers and an offshore partner in India were tasked with delivering the goods. These types of projects are normally run at Nordea according to the waterfall model, but an IT colleague suggested that Mayo choose another kind of development process. And so he was introduced to Scrum – and to the Product Owner role.

Hybrid model

Nordea runs Scrum according to a hybrid method. Specifications are not developed only by the IT people. The company’s product team is also involved because the bank has a few major processes that require various expert inputs in order to uncover the need for the product.

‘However, a requirement is not put into the backlog until the Scrum team has had a chance to review it, ask questions and perhaps redefine the requirement. In this sense, you could say that we run a waterfall method around a Scrum model,’ explains Mayo.
The hybrid is necessary so that the bank can ensure that the process does not bog down, that the Scrum team is able to prioritise and that all of the countries involved are on board.

The essence is that the developers have to deliver to three countries in addition to Denmark and one of the challenges at the bank is to devise solutions that are scalable and usable across all countries. There is a wide range of products at various levels and some products are delivered embedded in other products.

‘Nordea is a big bank, so there are lots of things around the project that have to be coordinated inside and across business areas.’

For the same reason, Mayo is not the only business representative. When you are dealing with pension advisory services, it is impossible for one person to cover four countries. Accordingly, local experts contribute to specifying the requirements along the way.

Denmark, Sweden, India

The deliverables to multiple countries also mean that Mayo’s team is dispersed across several locations. As a result, much of the dialogue is virtual so that he has a constant overview of progress – how many tasks are open, who is working with what and whether there is anything he needs to follow up.

‘Absolutely, I can see how the job would be easier if we were all in the same place.
I do try to get as many of us as possible together physically for the retrospective meetings,’ says Mayo, who is in Stockholm at the moment for a meeting of the Swedish product team and the IT department from Copenhagen.

The IT team, on the other hand, which runs the daily stand-ups, is gathered in one place, other than India, which is always present by phone. The Product Owner attends as needed, usually a couple of times a week, if he can.

‘But with a long value chain and a product team to coordinate, I cannot put myself into isolation with the Scrum team.’ Mayo’s goal is to be available to the development team half the time and to the product team the other half.

If the Scrum team needs to clarify something on the days he belongs to the product team, he can usually be reached by phone or email.

Product Owner course

Mayo did not become an effective Product Owner overnight, but he quickly became highly dedicated. In the start-up phase of the project, he read a few articles on the net that gave him an initial idea of what Scrum is.

Thereafter, the former Scrum Master guided him through the process. Six months went by before Mayo signed up for a Product Owner course. The experiences he had gained in the first few months had generated a few questions and he was ready to delve deeper into the method and debate the advantages and drawbacks with other Product Owners.

He explains:
‘I learned a little from the Scrum Master, but I needed more knowledge and deeper understanding. It is not enough for IT to use the method. If the process is going to work, Scrum has to get into the blood of the business.’

Closer cooperation

And the process seems to be working. The roles already established in IT and operations were opened and became less rigid. This is something that was a major success criterion for Nordea: The team has to work closely together, even if the members of the team have different titles on paper or come from different departments.

‘And distance is no excuse. We are successful in spite of a lot of limitations. If you are thinking about trying Scrum, the fact that you are a large organisation or there are large distances and an offshore team involved should not be a deterrent,’ says Mayo.

Overall, there are many advantages to using the Scrum method in the pension project. The method keeps focus on the product, the team can deliver faster than they could with the old model and Scrum brings everything closer to the surface. There is more buy-in among both the product team and the Scrum team – and colleagues at the bank are inspired by the project and the process.

‘Regardless of whether you call it Scrum or a hybrid, other Product Owners and teams are doing something similar in the part of operations where I work. That must be a sign that we are doing something right.’

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