Case study of the Agile transformation at Apalon (IAC Inc. Group)

Speech at AgileDays 2021 on "How to make an Agile Transformation without naming it an Agile Transformation"

We have been working on this case for more than four years. Some time ago, the company moved into an American holding company. Within a short period of time, the whole management team in the company changed, the process of integrating into global operations and aligning the approaches in the various offices began. The structure that grew out from a small startup has been replaced by an enterprise culture. This raised the question as which target structure could we choose?
3 levels of Agile organisation
The company develops and promotes its own products. We have proposed a 3-level model.

The first level is the Portfolio level. At the top level is the budget and we try to understand which products the company wants to continue to develop, which products there are to launch, and which products are planned to be invested in.

Levels 2 and 3 are Product and Team respectively. The difference with 'pure' Agile approaches is that we separate Product discovery and delivery cycle.
There is a team that works directly on product development, marketing budgets, attracting customers. There is also the team that works on growing these products. At this time, one team responsible for the business part may have several products. The key issue is to develop an approach to understanding what we are doing, at what stage we are at and what value we are creating. Staff in Belarus understood what was going on, high-level leaders in the US, in turn, understood what they wanted, but connecting the dots was a challenge.
The Value Team or what is a POD?
A POD-based structure may be useful when managers change. It connects Development Team and Value Team and is built around key roles: Product Manager, Marketing Manager and Delivery Manager.

Delivery Team is basically a multifunctional service that includes all those roles that are needed to support the products that Value Team operates. It is important that initially, each team got specific types of products. After a while, it became clear that there is no direct link to the domain, and one team can have completely different products for which the team has enough competence, skills and experience.

Then we can see that on one side the Value Team is connected to the Leadership Team and on the other side to the Technical Leaders. On the one hand there are 2 teams, on the other hand - a single mechanism that works cohesively to create and develop products.

This concept allows us to scale within the company. When there are too many products for a POD, we can easily create a new one while maintaining the existing structure.
— How to involve people in this structure?
Ok, we have a structure, the question is how do we get people involved in the story? How can we communicate the value and show the benefits? So we start to teach them. There are several strategies:

  • teach key people
  • teach everyone and everything (what we did).
We took the ICAgile training roadmap as a basis. Everyone in the company should be aligned in at least basic terminology, this can be achieved with an induction course, so each employee had to take the Agile Fundamentals with Scrum and Kanban course and learn the basics of Agile. Then we follow the daisy-chain petals of the roadmap and teach the relevant people the relevant things. This story is interesting because the movement towards change started without announcing the transformation, through employee training.
— Time for culture.
— What else do we need to support the movement to change and scaling the company? Let's remember the corporate culture. Even if you are not really dealing with corporate culture, you still have it. We decided to look at what we have compared to the American office and try to align ourselves. In order to do this, we launched a number of workshops on developing corporate culture through value proposition and defining the mission, which were held both in Minsk and New York at the same time.

In the workshops, employees answered one simple question: Why do I work here? The results were very interesting. Quite quickly it was possible to identify both the 5 values and the mission. It turned out that people who work for the company on two different continents have common things in common.
Mission and values
How do we get people to use it?

Values should be the language of communication within the company. In performance appraisals or during job interviews, we have to share our values, show what we are like, check whether the person is right for us or not. And the decision should be based not on personal feelings but on whether the values of the employee and his actions are in line with the values of the company. Then we popularize the values in various ways. Through visualisation - we print posters, stickers on laptops, make cards that can be used to say 'thank you' when a person does something in line with our values, include the values in the employee's personal development plan.
— Executive Leadership team Minsk and NYC
— We introduced a weekly Lean Coffee in an extended format. To the topics we are going to discuss, we added news, facts that people want to share. Things, that do not take much time and do not require discussion. This enabled us to synchronise the entire management team very quickly through a facilitated discussion. Before, the meetings used to be one-on-one. A change in the paradigm of working in the company has taken place, namely from the centralisation of power and authority in one person to teamwork (because a team is always more powerful). Every senior leader in Minsk got a mentor in the US, and a weekly meeting between the Minsk and New York teams has been added to the local meeting.

Approximately once a month, Whatsapp Friday is held, during which leaders share company news with the whole office, helping us to understand what we are doing and giving us the opportunity to ask important questions about what is happening in and around the company.
— The teams become more autonomous. Is that all?
— As the number of teams increases, focus is lost and it becomes unclear again where we are going, why we are doing it, what we have achieved and whether it was expected of us. That creates a need for alignment. We made business goals more transparent, so that teams have a clear understanding of what they need to achieve, while leaving them free to make decisions and choose the way the goals are implemented. We also developed a mechanism for tracking progress. From all the frameworks, we chose OKR.
— Summary. What has been achieved in this time?
  • Created an organisational structure - PODs - that allowed the company to start growing at 1.5 times a year.
  • Changed the corporate culture, which supported the company's growth.
  • Implemented synchronisation cycles for the entire company.
  • OKRs to align and track movement towards goals.
  • Conducted more than 30 training sessions, 600 participants for a company of 200+ people.