My letter from Shayne Elliott

It all starts with a letter

Can you remember a time when you received a letter from your CEO?  Yes I did say letter, not email.  In August this year, ANZ staff  got an eight page letter from Shayne Elliott.  The letter helped me understand how our purpose, strategy, culture, values, and our way of working fits together.

If you are curious about what we are doing at ANZ and following my journey as we transform the 180-year-old organisation, then reading this letter will provide some context.  For me, its a stake in the ground.

Agile capability and skills no longer optional

If you are someone who have little or no experience in agile and other related ways of working, you should start considering learning about it now.  A recent search at one of the largest job search sites in Australia,, reveals 6,661 jobs with the word ‘agile’.  This has more than doubled in 2 years! This number fluctuates over time based on the economy and job market, but there is no undeniable fact that the demand is growing.

Agile has crossed the chasm with the early majority having embraced agile.  Based on my own experience, network of peers, interactions at meetups and conferences and data from numerous yearly surveys (Forrester, Gartner, VersionOne State of Agile etc), many mainstream companies exhibit some form of agility.  What this looks like at each organisation is different and depends on the company’s culture, goals and strategies.  And agile thinking is also permeating into our everyday lives.

Some might have thought agile will be a fad, be short-lived, and if you wait long enough it will wash over.  Ten years ago there were many naysayers.  Today its becoming a necessity.  Yes, history has shown that the world will change and evolve and that one day agile will be a distant past.  However, as long as change continues to accelerate only the agile company can survive.  This means you will need agile skills as jobs are demanding it.

Whilst agile is here to stay, we all need to embrace it otherwise you may be left behind.

ANZ Agile Transformation To Create A Learning Organisation

The journey of transforming ANZ Banking Group into an awesome place to work has begun.  It’s about three months since Shayne Elliott, CEO of ANZ publicly announced his vision and plans to make the bank agile as part of the transformation into a bank and brand people love.  ANZ is a large enterprise with ~46,000 employees and the change of this magnitude will be complex.

The ANZ transformation will be emergent and informed by the knowledge of the experience and making decisions based on what is known as we progress through the transformation.

It will be guided by the agile values and principles as well The ANZ Way.  This is ANZ’s vision for our purpose, strategy, culture and ICARE values.

ANZ Agile Transformation: Shaping An Organisational Culture Where People and Teams Thrive!

I recently joined ANZ as an Enterprise Agility Coach.  My role is to help the bank create an agile culture as a strategic enabler, working with General Managers and other management roles.  Along with other coaches, I coach people within the organisation to increase their learning agility, and through this, build a mindset of people to own the transformation.

An agile organisation is about flexibility and the ability of the organisation to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction.  At ANZ the culture change and transformation to a new agile operational approach is called New Ways of Working or NWOW for short.

[NWOW] is how we organise ourselves to deliver outcomes for customers and how we work as teams to do that. – Katherine Bray, Managing Director Products

Although its called New Ways of Working, the concepts of agile, lean and modern management principles have been around for decades but it is relatively new to many at ANZ.  This means a key imperative for ANZ is to increase its learning agility.

With today’s complexities and uncertainties, the ability for organisations to learn faster than their competitors may be their only sustainable competitive advantage.  With this change, ANZ is on a journey towards being a learning organisation.  In a letter sent to everyone at ANZ, Shayne Elliott highlighted the importance of learning and being curious:

We are a learning organisation that encourages us all to adapt and improve. This means we’ll recognise and reward those who are curious and able to learn new skills. And we want to encourage people to try stuff out so we improve. We believe that with effort, we can all learn and grow. – Shayne Elliott, CEO ANZ Banking Group


ANZ Agile Transformation – Chris Chan Gives Thumbs up To The Growth Mindset

Why a learning organisation?  Agile ways of working and learning are synonymous.  Being agile means having a Growth Mindset which is a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck.  In essence, Growth Mindset is an individual’s belief that they can learn and grow, and can improve their capability through purposeful effort.  People having a Growth Mindset will enable ANZ to grow and adapt as an organisation.  It is key to ensuring the collective energy, intellect, and unique individuals with varied talents are brought to bear on the change.

However, once we have transformed into the next state, we will need change again as the world will have changed.  We need to constantly evolve in order to stand still relative to a surrounding ecosystem1.  By having a Growth Mindset and being a learning organisation, we will have the ability to constantly learn and co-evolve.

Being a learning organisation and having an agile and growth mindset will allow ANZ to transform at will.

We are embarking on a huge paradigm shift that is about creating a new operating model for the organisation that makes the existing model redundant.  An incremental change to the existing operating model based on mid 20th century management processes and 19th century management thinking will not be able to take us into the future.

This paradigm shift has clear leadership intent & purpose.  This is where most business & agile transformations fail.  Shayne Elliott and the executive group, lead by Katherine Bray have provided a strong vision and clarity of purpose for the change which is important for it to be successful.

I have joined ANZ at the starting line and am really excited about the journey ahead.

This will be the first of an ongoing series of personal blog posts about the ANZ agile transformation and my journey working in a team of coaches helping to build a learning organisation and creating an awesome place to work for everyone at ANZ.

There’s an audio podcast called The ANZ Way that can be found on iTunes and Soundcloud.  I would recommend you listen to the 3rd podcast – New Ways of Working to hear more about the change.  In this episode Katherine Bray discusses important issues about the change and answers some hard hitting questions.


Here are some additional articles and videos about the ANZ agile transformation:


  1. The Red Queen Effect, Prof Van Valen

Lead And Own Your Business Transformation

The World Is Rapidly Changing

The world has changed and the pace of change is accelerating rapidly.  The customer is the new boss and their expectations are higher.  Empowered customers increasingly expect you to do business on their terms.  Digital disruption is changing how companies deliver the value proposition of existing goods and services.  Globalisation has created a market dynamic that fosters competition on a grand scale.  The world is complex – it is made up of many connected parts along with a huge number interactions which have unclear cause and effect.  This is makes picking the right path forward difficult.

All this means your business models that were suited to slow, sluggish and low dynamic markets are now obsolete.  You will need to rethink your core business and operating assumptions from the ground-up.

Failure To Learn

In his Ted Talk ‘Smart failure for a fast-changing world‘, Eddie Obeng reflects on the how rapidly the world has changed in the modern and digital age.  He explains how the change was so rapid that the ‘world after midnight’ was significantly different due to organisations slow rate of learning.

As a result most of us are not equipped to handle the pace of change because we are using old rules to do so: “Somebody or something has changed the rules about how the world works.”   The practices, processes, assumptions that we commonly used to plan, manage, lead, organise, and govern are obsolete and are now damaging to organisations.

Due to this failure to learn many organisations have not evolved over time to survive or thrive in the current state of the world.

Transform or die

To bring their organisations to the moden era, many leaders are embarking on business transformation initiatives.  Business transformation is a change management activity to move an organisation from one operating model to a new operating model which has the aim to align people, process and technology of the company so they can better realise its business strategy and vision.

Over the past 10 years the number of organisations undertaking a transformation has boomed with many companies increasingly turning to agile as a panacea to address it’s organisational problems.  There are times when the transformation goal is misguided as leaders may not actually know the problem they are solving or they embark on solving the perceived problem.

With the urgency to transform leaders in organisations look to find a quick or comfortable solution to solve their problem.  This has given rise to organisations implementing SAFe by the book, trying to copy the “Spotify Model” or roll-out the consultancy’s  approach.  This is the approach they understand – big top down batches of change.

Ever since Henrik Kniberg released the fascinating document, Scaling Agile @ Spotify with Tribes, Squads, Chapters & Guilds in 2012, all of a sudden every organisation now has squads, tribes, chapters and guilds.  But that was a point in time.  You shouldn’t copy it in your own organisation as the context will most likely be different.

Speaking to someone I know in Spotify, they talk about there is no such thing as a “Spotify Model”.  Even people within Spotify talk about their way of working changes all the time as employees are encouraged to learn, discover and adapt their way of working continuously.  There is no one way in which software is developed at Spotify.  Spotify tries to be the best learning organisation they can be.  That way they are constantly innovating and creating their own future.

In a bid to solve a demand in the market, there are many consultancies now offering Transformation Services.  The issue with this approach is that there is no recipe to transform an organisation.  Each organisation is different and no two organisation’s cultures are the same.  Furthermore, it is most likely no one has transformed your organisation before.

I have experienced and heard countless stories where consultancies were accountable to execute the transformation of an organisation but the changes never stuck.  Many consultancies that have strong strategic management capabilities are pushing into implementation but we are finding they are lacking experience and capability.  Most of the time it’s to implement a particular methodology or follow a playbook which is out of date as quickly as it is produced.  In this scenario, “organisational change is treated as a product—sold by consultants, paid for by leadership, and consumed by the rest of the organisation as directed.” [1].  Any ideas or suggestions of incumbent employees are often ignored.  There is often a trust issue as people are more likely to trust colleagues who are part of the journey, rather than someone who is external.  Change needs to be done with the people, not on the people.

Another challenge is that the consultancies main stakeholders are the not the people of organisation they are trying to transform (they don’t report to them) and it’s certainly not the organisation’s customers.  Furthermore, the consultancies have a commercial outcome they need to realise.  This does not align to a cultural change outcome which is important for the transformation to progress and this takes time to develop.  And how do you measure success for a transformation?

Transform The Culture

First and foremost an organisation is made up of interconnected people – it is a social network that is striving to pursue a collective purpose.  An organisation is an open and complex adaptive system – they affect and are affected by their environment.  Company culture is the personality of a company – it is the social behavior and norms found in the organisation.  No single person can own the company culture as it is made up by its collective people.

A transformation can not be treated like a program.  There is no end date.  It is not mission accomplished after 18 months.  Any failed transformation can be traced back to a misalignment of vision, purpose, values of people within the organisation.  It’s not about changing processes, implementing new tools, or putting new structures in place.  As quickly you have transformed to one state, you will need to start transforming to the next state.  What you want is constant evolution as the organisation adapts to its ever changing environment.  There is no done.

For years automotive manufacturers have tried to copy the success of the Toyota Production System (TPS) that has made Toyota one of the most successful companies in its industry over a long period.   Why have they all failed?  It is the 14 Principles of The Toyota Way that underlie the company’s philosophy, managerial approach and culture.  At best you can copy the practices, but what you can’t copy is the culture.  It is the culture that makes Toyota successful.

This is best echoed in a story from the early days of Toyota when they built automatic looms. When hearing
that the plans for one of the looms had been stolen, Kiichiro Toyoda is said to have remarked:

Certainly the thieves may be able to follow the design plans and produce a loom. But we are modifying and improving our looms every day. So by the time the thieves have produced a loom from the plans they stole, we will have already advanced well beyond that point. And because they do not have the expertise gained from the failures it took to produce the original, they will waste a great deal more time than us as they move to improve their loom. We need not be concerned about what happened. We need only continue as always, making our improvements [2].

I have seen organisations and teams where they implemented a new system of work but then remained static for a number of years.  They only were taught to implement some practices and process.  What they failed to do was learn how to learn or adapt.

A goal of a transformation should be to strive to be a learning organisation.  By building a culture of learning, you only have to transform once and then never have to transform again as people within the organisation are constantly learning and adapting its way of working.  That way you build the muscle memory needed so you can constantly change as the world changes – this is true Business Agility.

Your People Are The Competitive Advantage

Having been part of multiple transformations and from multiple view points a key learning is that the people in the organisation needs to own the transformation.  The organisation needs to build capability, knowledge, skills and ability to transform and learn.  You can’t outsource it.  You want patriots not mercenaries because patriots connect with the vision and purpose of the company.  Also, the knowledge workers have intimate knowledge of what is going on.

The last point of Edward Deming’s 14 Points For Management, states that the transformation is everybody’s job in the organisation, not just a select few.

Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

Much of Agile ways of working is about feedback loops and gaining knowledge from experience and making decisions based on what is known – understand in reality what worked and didn’t worked so you can make adjustments accordingly.  This also applies to transformations.  The transformation plan is not linear, and requires many fast feedback loops and continuous adaptation.  The approach that worked in one organisation may not work in yours.  Also what worked in one team in the same organisation may not work in another.

Transformation is best achieved with top down intent and with bottom up implementation.  The best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people [Netflix].  With a culture of learning established, management should set a vision, manage the boundaries and help teams establish a system of work.  The system of work should be owned by the people doing the work.  If you do this, you will be living the first value of the Agile Manifesto – “individuals and interactions over processes and tools”.

Your people are the competitive advantage.  Let the people own and create the organisation’s new reality.  Own your business transformation.  The change needs to be done by the people, for the people within the organisation for it to succeed and be sustainable.  Don’t delegate this accountability.  Don’t rely on others to do it for you.


[1] J Humble, J Molesky & B O’Reilly, Lean Enterprise, 2015

[2] M Rother, Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results. McGraw-Hill, 2010

Webinar – The role of a BA in large agile environments

This webinar was recorded in June 2014.  I was on a panel with Bernd Schiffer discussing the role of a BA in large agile environments hosted by Pete Cohen.  I forgot to post this at the time and although it was two years ago the discussion is still relevant today.

Thanks to Lynne Cazaly for capturing the following visual notes of the session.

BA in Large Agile Environments

LAST Conference 2016 – Agile Innovation and Thinking Like a Startup

My presentation at LAST Conference 2016 titled “Agile Innovation and Thinking Like a Startup” is available on Slideshare.

Many enterprises are struggling to innovate whilst smaller startups are disrupting the market. Existing organisational business models work well in a known and predictable environment. However, these approaches fail when applied to an uncertain and changing environment.

In this session I will discuss the different approaches and how an organisation can balance a portfolio that both can exploit existing opportunities while enable the exploration of new opportunities.

I will draw on my experience working with some innovation teams in an enterprise and how we are re-focusing agile back to its roots and thinking like a startup to evolve the way we work.

Participants will also gain an understanding how Design Thinking/Human Centred Design, Lean Startup, Agile and Business Model Innovation can blended together to transform the way you work to enable innovation within larger enterprises.

Here are some of the tweets from the session:

1st Conference 2015 – Evoking Excellence Through Agile Coaching

The presentation I delivered last year at  1st Conference 2015 titled “Evoking Excellence Through Agile Coaching” is available on Slideshare.


LAST Conference 2016 – Pirate Metrics AARRR !

My Lightning Talk at the opening session of LAST Conference 2016 titled “Pirate Metrics” is available on Slideshare.

The talk is a quick 5 minute introduction to the Pirate Metrics based on Dave McClure’s startup metrics.  Fans of Lucas Art’s game ‘Secret of Monkey Island’ would enjoy the inclusion in my talk. AARRR!!!

Here’s some of the tweets from the session:

Scrum Australia 2016 – Lean Discovery

My presentation at Scrum Australia 2016 titled “Lean Discovery” is available on Slideshare.


“The hardest part of building any software system is determining precisely what to build.” – Fredrick Brooks.

Discovering exactly what customers, stakeholders, and sponsors want to create is often the most difficult part of product development. Getting everyone aligned can be fraught with misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Scrum starts with a product backlog, but how do you know that the development of the product supports the growth of your company?

Getting off on the right foot when starting an agile initiative can set you up for success. This presentation will outline a basic flow of light touch Discovery workshops as a way to start your agile product development engine.

And here are some of the tweets from the session:

Do you have a real deadline?

Do not cross the lineThe first written record on the use of the word “deadline” was in 1864.  It was a the term to describe the line over which prisoners were forbidden to go –
Along the interior of the stockade, 19 feet from the stockade wall, was a line of small wooden posts with a wood rail on top. This was the “deadline”. Any prisoner who crossed the deadline could be shot by guards stationed in the sentry boxes. [1]
The words are quite literal – a line where it will make you dead.
Not all deadlines are bad.  But we must be careful on how often we impose them and for what purpose.  Many deadlines are largely unwarranted and generally harmful.
Deadlines can provide a sense of urgency and focus.  Goals without deadlines are dreams, so deadlines can reduce the amount of procrastination and avoid Parkinson’s Law.  And when deadlines are self-imposed, it can challenge us to get stuff done – there is a sense of achievement on getting a job done in record time.  Deadlines used with the right mindset can help teams really focus on what is important and what isn’t.  With the right mindset, it facilitates bias towards action and help us prioritise so we are doing the important things for the customer and help identify wasteful (corporate) activities so we can improve and eliminate.
When used judiciously, deadlines can get an important piece of work over the line as it focus teams on production.  However, if this is forcing the pace of work that causes burnout, bad things start to happen.  Agile processes promote sustainable development
“The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely” – Agile Manifesto.
Deadlines used as an extrinsic motivator and holding a threat for unclear purposes is dangerous to our modern way of working as it imposes fear.
In a complex environment we do not know and cannot predict what will happen when we do action ‘ABC’ and there are many possible actions that we could do.  So when promises of dates are made early on, it causes a ripple effect as people will start setting deadlines off your deadline and it becomes self-reinforcing.  As a result of this you remove a lot of options for adaptation and unexpected events.
There are deadlines that have a “real” business impact or have an actual business consequence for failing to meet the deadline.  For instance, meeting an regulatory reporting requirement (eg APRA in the Australian Financial Industry, or Sarbanes-Oxley)  or studying for an exam.  There is little value in finishing something for an event (eg trade show) or holiday special (Mother’s Day) after the event.  The “Y2K Bug” is also another example of a real deadline.  Anything where the value of completing the work drops significantly or disappears altogether is a real deadline.  If the work is still mostly valuable if you get it done after the deadline, you probably have an arbitrary or “perceived” deadline pretending to be a “real” deadline.
A genuine deadline tells you “If we don’t get done by the deadline, there’s not much reason to get it done at all and we should stop”.  These type of deadlines, whilst are valid, they are actually not that common.
“Perceived” deadlines are actually the most common. There is a very significant difference between real deadlines and perceived deadlines.  Perceived deadlines tend to arise from questions like “How long do you think this will take?” or “Do you think we could have this by [date]?”.  They exist to keep work (eg a project) from going on indefinitely and create an arbitrary line in the sand where people can expect delivery.
Often these deadlines are a result of setting expectations, often very early on based on long-term or coarse grained estimates, and estimates of that sort are never accurate.  We are bad estimating – experience and scientifically it has been repeatedly shown that getting accurate estimates is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The real problem with deadlines, is that any deadline longer than a day or two you are asking people to fail.  What you are really measuring with deadlines is the ability to estimate. If you are trying to convince people to get something by a deadline, the only way they could get something done by a deadline is by getting better and better at estimating.  This is something you cannot do, even with experience.  [2]
In a complex world where you can’t predict the future of doing ‘ABC’ you are constantly punishing people for something they can’t get better at.
Deadlines based on annual budgeting and financial cycles is also a type of perceived deadline.  Teams working towards nominal end date (or start date) that aligns with the financial year is also nonsensical as customers do not operate (and don’t really care) when you make your investments and how you fund and capitalise work.
The best way to determine if you have a perceived deadline is to ask the question, “What will happen if we miss this deadline?”  If the answer is mainly, “people will be disappointed”, “someone promised that date to the market” or “we already announced that date” then you probably have an arbitrary deadline with no actual business impact on it.  Many of these deadlines are actually wishful thinking or commitments made on behalf of others doing the work based on theoretical plans and no evidence of actual production work.  There is little surprise why we have missed expectations and the ensuing conflict and confusion on why things never get done “on time”, why the quality of the product isn’t better and why we don’t have time to improve.
These perceived deadlines tend to cause undue stress on teams for no particularly good reason.  This creates short-term thinking and approaches aimed at getting across a finish line with little sense of what comes afterwards.  Heroics are often required to get things done and the product is sub-optimised as quality is sacrificed as hidden technical debt is accumulated which are rarely quantified or explained.
Jim Benson, author of Personal Kanban, has been credited with the diagram attached – deadlines as influencers of ‘crap’.  Simply put – as your deadline approaches your options are reduced and you choose options to fit the deadline rather than satisfy your customer.
In the novel, The Phoenix Project this common situation was aptly portrayed –
I’ve seen this movie before.  The plot is simple: First, you take an urgent date-driven project, where the shipment date cannot be delayed because of external commitments made to Wall Street or customers.  Then you add a bunch of developers who use up all the time in the schedule, leaving no time for testing or operations deployment.  And because no one is willing to slip the deployment date, everyone after Development has to take outrageous and unacceptable shortcuts to hit the date.
A much better way to get a predictable timeline is to make projections based off the team’s actual metrics of progress and constantly adapt based on new information.  That’s why agile promote working solution/product (ie shippable state) as a measure of progress.  We need to act our way to the future, rather than plan or guess our way to the future.  We should only commit at the last responsible moment.  Never commit early unless you know why (ie have you got a real deadline such as an “AFL Grand Final moment”).
Not all deadlines are bad but next time before setting a deadline please consider why you are imposing the deadline and what is the real need for that deadline.  Be on the look out for a perceived deadline acting as a real deadline as these will undermine teams with a constant push towards an illusory goal resulting in sub-optimal results, poor customer and business outcomes.  And along the way, hopefully we will reduce the number of times people crossing the deadline being shot.
[1] Reading 1: Andersonville Prison,
[2] Jabe Bloom, Beyond Deadlines,
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