The Agile Tribe

Agile – Nature Vs Nurture: It's all in the DNA

on October 28, 2009

Author: Susan Akers

At the Agile Australia 2009 Conference in Sydney on the 16th October, Jeff Smith, CIO of Suncorp, spoke about the Agile journey that Suncorp has followed in the past 18 months. Jeff talked about the two main strategic levers that have been used and are continued to be nurtured to create a great people and technical environment for Suncorp employees to work in. These two levers are Living Agile and Inspired People. According to Jeff, the key to success behind these levers is a great culture where collective wisdom is utilised and constraint of thought is eliminated.

He felt that the secret to Suncorp’s success is the genuine interest, passion and belief of its people, that problems can be solved in significantly better ways. As Suncorp continues to mature its Agile practices and increases their collaboration, it will learn “not to settle”. Jeff emphasised that while Suncorp reaches its ongoing Agile milestones, there will always be another level of potential where there will be a need to continually stretch their thinking and vision. Two of the main lessons he felt that he has learnt from this experience is that any Agile implementation to be successful should aim at course correction over perfection, and clarity over certainty thereby creating a success driven culture rather than one focussed on momentary failures.

Good communication, active contribution and listening and taking on board feedback are also the keys to other successful companies eg. E-bay and wikipedia. He sees Yammer (Suncorp’s in-house Twitter) as being able to meet this communication need as well as having the ability to cut through the level of decision making and authority. It has proven to be a great leveller where ideas and opinions can be freely given without censure. It is all about giving power back to the people – listening and learning through collaboration.

Jeff is also a great supporter of using open source technology and methods in Suncorp’s development projects. In keeping with this focus he actively supported the creation of the Agile Academy. The Agile Academy is designed for IT professionals, as a knowledge hub that promotes Agile related learning, knowledge sharing and capability development across the IT industry. It also offers an integrated curriculum of leading edge Agile courses for the 1600 IT staff across the country. Suncorp has also invested both time and money into e-learning as well to empower and energise its people with a passion for ongoing learning and continuous improvement, so living and working Agile.

I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts that Jeff felt were the most important to Suncorp’s success so far in the Agile journey – 1. Never give up your thirst to learn new things and 2. Never give up your right to be wrong – it’s the single biggest mechanism, in learning new skills and moving forward.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences about Agile.


2 responses to “Agile – Nature Vs Nurture: It's all in the DNA

  1. Thank you for this post Susan. It’s great to see that Suncorp is creating a culture in which Agile can be successful. Without the supportive culture, and the people that work best in that culture, Agile won’t be truly successful. Nurturing that culture is a primary job of leadership, and as you point out, enabling communication between every member of the team and employee in the company is one way to facilitate it.

  2. Thanks Robert. It’s not been an easy road, something Jeff pointed out as well. We are still on the journey but with leadership coming now from both the top down and the bottom up we are seeing the cultural change and acceptance in areas that were not originally open to it. It has helped too that Suncorp has committed both time and money to formally training the business and IT in Agile, so communication is much clearer between all members of the team.

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