Spark execs reveal the advantage of agility

Spark announced in March 2018, plans to rejig its senior leadership team in a move designed to create “an Agile Spark”

Spark’s outgoing CEO, Simon Moutter, his nominated replacement, customer director Jolie Hodson, and HR director Joe McCollum have provided a detailed account of the telco’s transition to an agile mode of operation.

Their comments have been reported in the June edition of the McKinsey Quarterly, which says they “describe the arc of change at the company, as well as how they are confronting the challenges together as a ‘leadership squad’.”

According to McKinsey, “Taken together, their observations underscore the importance of a joined-up top team in securing change—even when the changes require significant mind-set shifts for themselves personally.”

Spark announced in March 2018, plans to rejig its senior leadership team in a move designed to create “an Agile Spark” that would help it accelerate its digital transformation.

Moutter said at the time that Spark would move away from a traditional hierarchical organisational structure based around large business units.

“The agile model involves self-managing teams, each with clear accountabilities, who collaborate quickly and effectively with one another to deliver great products and services for our customers,” he said. “In this model, business leaders act as catalysts, showing direction and setting up the systems for people to do their jobs effectively.”

McCollum told McKinsey that the shift to agile had removed multiple layers in the management hierarchy and greatly streamlined operations.

“In our pre-agile world, we would have had seven or eight layers between the top and bottom of the company,” he said. “Now, across much of the company, we have three. The result is that things are massively faster. When you talk to people, you hear things like, ’We’re getting stuff done now in two weeks that used to take us three months’.

“Emails have dropped off significantly, because back when the developers lived in one part of the building, and the marketing people lived over there, and the product people were in another part of the building, just to organise a meeting was 27 emails. All of that has gone.”

Hodson said the new mode of working had proved its worth when the company was worked with Network for Learning to provide fibre broadband and security layers to 2,500 New Zealand schools.

“In the past, the design process alone would take many months, with lots of documents flowing back and forth before testing or any migration of schools even started,” Hodson said.

“Whereas in an agile model, we’ve already designed the new solution, rolled out the proofs of concept for different-sized schools, and migrated half of the schools in eight months. This would never have happened at that pace in the past.”

McCollum said there were many more benefits to be gained as Spark gained more expertise in agile operation. “We’re just getting started. On the agile maturity scale of one to five, in most parts of the company we’re really only at a two or three. 

“We’re less than halfway through the journey, and we’re already seeing significant benefits. Once we’re further along, there are doors that will open for us that we simply can’t envisage at the moment—a bit like a computer game where the next level reveals hidden doors in hidden walls.”

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