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How The Agile Method Is Transforming BIL’s Evolution

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The digital transformation of organizations has never been as important as it is today. The key? Something that’s given great success to corporations in the past few years: Agile methodology and culture. Some formerly horse-drawn carriages have become V8 engines, resembling more a kind of sum of startups rather than sole ventures. During the official launch of Wemanity in Luxembourg, we met up with Olivier Debehogne, Head of Retail & Digital Banking at Banque Internationale à Luxembourg (BIL) to further discuss its collaboration with the startup and how the bank is implementing an Agile management approach in its daily functions. It’s a digital transformation in every sense of the phrase.
(Featured Image: Olivier Debehogne, Head of Retail & Digital Banking at BIL / Image Credit © Silicon Luxembourg / Marion Dessard)
Why is Agile so important for BIL?

At BIL, we are facing important challenges. Other industries (GAFAM) have defined new standards and raised clients’ expectations for companies across the board. Because of this, more traditional banks must evolve to stay in the race. At Banque Internationale à Luxembourg, we are aware of these new opportunities and our need to evolve into a more modern structure. Continuing work as before is not acceptable; we must do more and do it better with fewer resources. And we must do so in a faster way.

The Agile approach is not a method. It is a keystone that, combined with a positive mindset, will push us toward this evolution.

“An Agile coach from Wemanity has trained our employees on the Agile concept, and 150 employees are now familiar with this way of working and mindset.”

With Wemanity, what changes have you implemented in BIL’s functions?

One of the key principles of the Agile method is to localize a group of resources in one single place, around one table. Therefore, people must work together toward a common goal. Employees do not work on a 1-year project anymore, but rather on 2 to 3 weeks period called sprints—sprints that are built with clear and measurable objectives, called “Stories.” During that timeframe, people with different skills think together, debate, understand, test and measure.

Needless to say, this method is a challenge to implement in traditional companies. In a startup, the speed of exchange is easy to adapt. Some may even consider it the norm. But in a 2,000-person firm, we need some more thought around it & mgmt. attention to organize it. That’s why we decided also to collaborate with some specialized agile coach (Wemanity).

About a year and a half ago now, we started organizing our people in teams dedicated to specific products in line with the quality and customer experience we want to give. These teams are grouped around a table to work together and share their knowledge. We now have more than ten tables dedicated to specific projects, each claiming ten employees with their heads in the game.

An Agile coach from Wemanity has trained our employees on the Agile concept, and 150 employees are now familiar with this way of working and mindset. The coach is also present to help our teams to collaborate together in the most efficient way possible.

“After a few months of practice, it is clear that people were able to change very quickly and learn from each other […] The key element is giving your people a clear objective and letting them develop the means to achieve this goal directly.”

Tell us more about the practical benefits of the Agile approach?

Agile concentrates more on people than on product. With Agile, people work for a shared objective rather than for a boss or a department. It is based on the belief that an individual can think in a multi-disciplinary way when s/he works in a group! Therefore, you don’t seek someone’s advice because he or she is the boss, but rather because he or she has the relevant skills. The whole hierarchy is modified. In a way, it becomes flat—equal.

After a few months of practice, it is clear that people were able to change very quickly and learn from each other. With short-term objectives, the speed of exchange is amazing. I can give you a concrete example. It’s about how we were able to create and market a completely new and fully integrated experience in 8 months. Since this past April, you can become a BIL customer in just 7 minutes online! Such thing would not have been possible in such a short period of time without such an approach, mindset and strong sponsorship. We have put salesmen, IT infrastructure and development and product managers at the same table and given them the objective to be reached. The key element is giving your people a clear objective and letting them develop the means to achieve this goal directly.

I can tell you that the Agile Methodology has led to 10,000 debates, but that is the key to success. Putting different profiles at the same table will lead to contradictory debates and challenges that are necessary to evolve quickly!

“We want to spread Agile to the whole firm! Our recruitment strategy has therefore been molded, in addition to our communication strategy.”

Do you think we can talk about a “revolution” in the BIL organization?

In Luxembourg, we are now sharing the Agile Methodology and involving additional colleagues from other departments in the company. Moving from agile approach for project delivery to agile at the level of the company is our next challenge. Recent evolution is very encouraging and interest from people comes naturally. However, we should talk about “cycles of progress” rather than a transformation or revolution. Agile must be done step by step, and a real transformation takes time!

You need to understand that autonomy plays a huge role in Agile management, which can still be synonymous with anarchy for some people. This is completely untrue in practice. Agile is very demanding and people need to be focused and an extreme attention to time management. They need a real discipline, as we all depend on each other. A failure does not mean blaming someone in particular. Instead, the whole team must work together to understand what went wrong.

This is a real challenge, and we need to create the best conditions in order for this autonomy to be a success.

What is the future of the Agile approach inside BIL? 

We want to spread Agile to the whole firm! Our recruitment strategy has therefore been molded, in addition to our communication strategy. We are also working with key persons within the firm to ensure that this “contamination” becomes global. However, the transformation is not “natural,” and it deserves all the managerial attention we can give. Such is the key to successful implementation.

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