Q & A with Richard James and Rachel Robinson
In the build up to the Study of Enterprise Agility Conference (SEACON) in November, I caught up with Richard James, Head of Digital Technology and Rachel Robinson, Head of Digital Strategy at Nationwide Building Society, and asked them a few questions.
At SEACON, Richard and Rachel will be delivering an outcome focussed case study in the afternoon on the main stage.
Here's what they had to say...
How would you describe what you do?
Beyond the official job titles, CVs and career histories….I’d sum up the role Rich and I play here at Nationwide as helping teams think bigger and go faster.
We started working together a couple of years ago, when we created our first digital hubs. Our hubs are cross-functional teams where product managers and compliance experts sit next to designers and engineers to design, build and run propositions – and for us that often includes a significant element of re-design and re-factoring as a 100+ year old financial services institution with all the legacy technology and process you’d expect!
Back then I was “the business” and Rich was my connection into the world of change and IT. It’s much rarer to hear that business vs IT distinction here at Nationwide these days. Today it feels like one team, which is something we’re really proud of.
What will you be talking about at SEACON?
We’ll be sharing the story of how we’ve piloted, scaled and grown a new way of working for the organisation, which is grounded in lean, agile and DevOps principles and mindset.
It’s a massive shift for the organisation with a big cultural dimension and we’ll be talking about what we’ve achieved so far and probably more importantly what we’ve learned, where we still have challenges and what we’re doing to address them.
We believe that engaged, empowered (ie happy!) teams go faster, build better products and ultimately deliver better outcomes – and we’ll be sharing some proof points and stories that demonstrate that and help bring it to life.
It’s a session for anyone interested in lessons learned when introducing or scaling agile and DevOps to teams, particularly teams in large, traditional, regulated organisations.
Richard, at my meetup (SEAM) a few months ago you stated that "We (Nationwide Digital) are not there yet with DevOps", going on to describe challenges around Dev and Ops collaboration, hand-offs, sharing common goals etc. It was a refreshingly honest assessment, which actually demonstrates maturity beyond what I have seen in many other enterprises.
Do you think there is a lack of general understanding as to what DevOps is and what it involves, and if so, what can be done about it?
Our transformation is fundamentally about coupling a DevOps culture with a more incremental and experimental product-based Agile approach to change delivery, alongside the expansion of automation with continuous integration and continuous delivery and the growth in our use of Public Cloud.
Each of the key words - Agile, DevOps and Cloud - are heavily overloaded, both here at Nationwide and beyond. For us, the cultural transformation is key - moving from a set of hand-offs from business stakeholders to centralised project-based IT Change Delivery into IT Run, to a ‘you build it, you operate it’ mentality with long-lived product teams.
This is, in many ways, a back-to-the-future move and allows for far greater engagement between business and technology...but requires education, engagement and trust across currently siloed groups to reflect balanced prioritisation for teams across resilience, fixes and new features.
The existing silo functions have been established and matured over the past 5-10 years and operate individually with heavy stage-gating and documentation - bringing cross-functional and co-located teams together is absolutely helping but there is a weight of history and organisational inertia to bypass.
Rachel, aside from the global consumer giants such as Apple and Alibaba, a lot of people who work in FinTech turn to the likes of Monzo, Revolut and Starling bank as the pinups for digital transformation, innovation and disruption. However, Nationwide are doing some really cool things as well as investing heavily in digital transformation and it feels to me you don’t get the recognition you deserve. Would you agree, and if so why is that do you think?
I think that’s probably true.
It’s not surprising the new entrants get a lot of attention – they’re doing some cool stuff and challenging the status quo, that always makes for a good story. Personally I welcome the disruption, the competition is resulting in lots of new product and service ideas and ultimately that should be good for customers.
The thing I love about working for Nationwide is that as a member owned organisation, we are in a really unique and privileged position when it comes to investing in the future and exploring new ideas. We are really focused on our mission of “building society, nationwide” and as a mutual we have the ability to focus investment and energy into ideas with the potential to transform society over the longer term, as well as helping our members with their day to day financial wellbeing, homes and savings – and our moves to start supporting small businesses.
There’s definitely a ton of exciting stuff happening at Nationwide – but I always think of us as quite a humble organisation – maybe that’s part of the reason we don’t get talked about as much!
Finally, what are you most looking forward to about SEACON?
Seeing Gabrielle Benefield speak – I am a bit of a super fan having spent a couple of days training with Gabrielle a few years ago. I remember it as a series of lightbulb moments and I’m still using lots of the ideas and techniques I learned. And also just the opportunity to hear others stories and make some new connections. It will be my first time at SEACON but I’ve heard amazing things!
I absolutely love Simon Wardley’s work on platforms and am a firm believer in the Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners analogy for innovation archetypes - seeing where his latest thinking has evolved to is something I’m really looking forward to.
Find out more about SEACON by visiting www.seaconuk.com
Buy tickets from Eventbrite with Rachel and Richard's £50 discount code by clicking on this link.