The journey of Pohjola Insurance's claims services towards an agile operating model began approximately four years ago, in the spring of 2020. We both have been involved in this journey as agile coaches, Teemu right from the start, while Sami moved there from OP's Retail Banking segment in the spring of 2021. When we received an invitation to share our agile transformation journey at ScanAgile (a Nordic seminar for the agile community), we realized that pausing and reviewing our recent history was worthwhile: the journey was not actually a linear timeline but rather a series of overlapping and consecutive waves.

Teksti Sami Luoma, Lead Agile Coach
Julkaistu 9.2.2024

As we contemplated the content of the overall journey more carefully, we realized that it would likely be a learning journey for ourselves regarding our recent history: what had happened, when, what led to those events, and how they later impacted or influenced certain outcomes. We also recognized that we were once again facing a complex situation — while we had ideas about where things could or even should lead when we were actively working with them, the collective impacts, outcomes and results of the varying activities could only be understood in hindsight. Sometimes things went mostly as planned, sometimes not, and occasionally the outcome was something entirely different from what was expected.

Our initial intention was to create a timeline or path of progression that we followed over the course of these four years. However, describing the sequence of events in a straightforward manner proved to be quite difficult: the events we originally thought of as points in a timeline were more like overlapping rising and falling waves. Waves which, with their own mass, also influenced nearby waves either reinforcing or weakening them. We decided that IF we were to use a pathway image to describe the journey, it should be so high-level that it wouldn't contradict reality, even if it didn't perfectly depict it.

While grappling with the timeline, we also pondered about what “waves” would be interesting to talk about. What aspects of agile service production journey would be of interest to people without service production experience or those who were hearing about this for the first time?

We noticed that the most interesting parts of the journey were the ones where we had realized that the original agile approach had to adapted quite a bit to get things working. These included the following three waves:

1. Transformation into a flat organization

Recognizing the actual starting-point and -status of the target organization is one of the most important factors affecting the success of the change: not applying a one-size-fits-all approach but instead, considering the starting point and trying things out on a case-by-case basis seems to be a good way forward.

2. Changed requirements for leadership when leading an autonomous team or group of teams

Leadership work changes radically when transitioning to an increasingly autonomous model. When the operating environment of the leaders is structured to support them in finding their own leadership-development path to grow this competence, change can progress.

3. Cross-functional teams when the organization delivers services to customers

According to agile principles, team should be cross-functional to be able to self-organize and autonomous. However, a cross-functional team comes in various ways and is highly dependent on the context. A working cross-functional setup depends highly on how well the specifics of the team's operating environment and the constraints of its operations are understood.

As we were putting together the presentation for the seminar, we realized that we hadn't actually previously revisited these events in the past in such a systematic way. While considering the events, intersections, bottlenecks and openings of the journey we also formed a more holistic view for ourselves. In a sense we conducted a very thorough review and analysis of the whole four-year period. And it paid off! We identified several highlights and missteps along the way that we hadn't previously stopped for. Of course, some successes had been celebrated, but especially when things hadn't gone as planned, we hadn't consciously stopped to consider the lessons offered by that experience; instead, we had just pretty much rushed forward to keep the momentum. Realizing this, we made a mental decision that, in the future, we would at least try to be more sensitive to those moments when it would be good to pause. This way we could better consider what was learned from what just happened, and how this lesson would guide us in the future. We made a promise to ourselves that from now on, we will conduct this kind of review of recent history far more frequently.

When was the last time you yourself took time with your colleagues to think about Your journey? Where you started with your team, what has happened during your journey, and where have you already reached? Could now be the time, the right moment?

About authors Teemu Vartiainen and Sami Luoma:

Teemu Vartiainen

Teemu is an Agile Coach in Pohjola Insurance's claims service. Teemu is interested in leading cultural change and supporting team planning work.

Sami Luoma

Sami works as an Agile Coach in Pohjola Insurance's claims services. Currently, his interest lies in the complexity of modern operating environments and wicked problems and what new requirements these bring to the leadership in those organizations.

ScanAgile24, the largest agile event in the Nordic countries since 2008, will be held on March 6th and 7th, 2024, at Paasitorni in Helsinki. This two-day conference offers international keynote speakers, inspiring speeches, and practical workshops. If you're passionate about agile practices, ScanAgile24 is definitely the event to attend to stay up to date and meet like-minded people.