Adopting Business Agility at Moonpig, Part 12: Outcomes and Lessons Learned
About the Series
In 2017 I had the exciting opportunity to introduce business agility at Moonpig, one of the UK’s best known start-ups. This series of blog posts provides an in-depth case study of my experiences, and I hope will provide a useful set of steps for others looking to adopt and scale lean and agile. I have written this for the benefit of the wonderfully generous lean and agile community from whom I have learned so much. I hope that by sharing my learnings, others can benefit as I have.
In the previous posts I have attempted to tell the story of how Moonpig approached adopting business agility. I laid out the vision, the outcomes we hoped to achieve and how we want about making changes.
In this final post I’ll share some of the results — some of the benefits that we saw. I’ll also gather together the key lessons I learned, and some of the considerations for anyone else that might be tempted to adopt business agility.
Before I describe some of the outcomes, it’s worth putting them in context. The changes I outlined in the previous posts took place over 6–8 months, so we are still at a very early stage and we have to consider the results in light of that. You might think of what we’ve done so far as an “MVP”. If you consider the changes we made as a set of hypotheses against which we can measure success, what we’re looking for is positive signals that we are moving in the right direction and that we should continue along this path.
When outlining our vision and measures of success, I described how we hoped to achieve 3 key outcomes:
- Better = better outcomes, increased ROI
- Faster = reduced cycle time across all value streams
- Happier = higher employee engagement
So did the changes we made positively affect those outcomes?
Did we get better?
To understand this I looked at improvements on ROI. I can’t reveal actual numbers, but the squads delivered very healthy incremental revenue growth during the first 6 months. A less scientific, but no less revealing indicator, was that the leadership team were extremely pleased with the results being generated by the squads!
At this early stage I’d judge the gains as modest but very promising. With continued focus on experimentation I’d expect to see these gains continue to increase.
Did we get faster?
In terms of speed we saw some more dramatic gains. Realigning the teams improved cycle times dramatically in some areas, particularly in delivery of our marketing content where we saw cycle times reduced from months to days.
Again there is still a very long way to go and plenty of opportunity to continue to optimise workflows to further increase speed.
Did we get happier?
This was particularly difficult to measure as we had no real baseline. However, I was able to extrapolate some results by comparing the results of annual staff surveys from before and after the change. These saw some marked improvements in areas such as alignment & involvement (+13%) and enablement (+21%).
There is still tremendous improvement to be made in all of these areas. This is not the end of the journey, or even the beginning of the end of the journey. Adopting a continuous improvement mindset pre-supposes that you never reach a state of perfection, but instead seek to constantly optimise and improve. As you make changes you reflect on whether they have had the desired improvement and you continue to inspect and adapt. The results we have seen thus far certainly gave me confidence that the changes we made were having a positive impact.
Beyond the quantitative measures I also had the benefit of adhoc qualitative feedback from the squads themselves. My impression from this was that, whilst there was acknowledgement that there was still a long way to go, people definitely seemed to feel there was an improvement. Some had benefited more than others and that was reflected in the feedback I got.
My personal agile journey with Moonpig has now come to an end, but the experience has been invaluable. I think it would be hard to capture everything I’ve learned over the course of the last few years, but here is some of the key advice I would offer based on my experiences:
- You need long term executive sponsorship
It’s widely accepted that executive sponsorship is vital for agile adoption, and my experience bears this out. You cannot make changes on the scale that we did without leadership support. However, you also need consistent, longterm support — a change in leadership can mean a change in strategy and approach which can quickly derail your plans.
2. Start by coaching leadership
Executive sponsorship is great, but it’s important that those executives know exactly what it is they are sponsoring! I described in earlier posts my vision and my “roadmap”. In hindsight I wish I’d shared those with the leadership team and spent more time helping them understand my plans in detail and the principles behind them. Adopting business agility fundamentally changes the way you operate — you may alter your teams, the role of leadership is very different, working practices are different and the culture and behaviours you seek to drive are different.
These are wholesale changes and it’s important that your leadership grasp what you plan to do and why, and what their role will be in supporting a successful transformation. There can be an expectation that everyone other than leadership needs to change — but arguably the greatest change required is with leadership themselves.
3. Define your vision and outcomes
As I mentioned above, have a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve and define your measures of success. If you can, try and get some baseline measures so you can understand if you’re improving. Successful transformation comes from experimenting, and as with all experiments you need to measure impact. Not only will this give you and the organisation confidence in what’s working and what isn’t, it will help keep momentum and support behind positive changes.
Successful organisational change is not the work of a single coaching function. You will need to collaborate with leadership to ensure they emulate the culture and model the behaviours you are trying to drive. HR and L&D will also be critical to your success and building strong partnerships with them will be invaluable in helping you succeed.
5. Have the right coaching resource
One of my biggest challenges was a lack of coaching support. I started hiring additional coaches too late, and struggled to find people with the right ideas. For much of the time this meant I was the only person available to support squads as they adopted new working practices.
With more coaching resource dedicated to each squad we could have made much faster progress both with addressing problems and with improving working practices and increasing experimentation which in turn could have lead to better outcomes. Essentially my work in progress limit was exceeded and that impacted the speed at which I delivered improvements!
6. Be prepared to invest
The companies I read about that have had success in adopting agility don’t treat it as a nice-to-have — they treat it as a strategic decision. It’s a hard headed business choice and they invest in it accordingly. This doesn’t necessarily mean huge amounts of investment but there may well be areas where you do need to spend. It could be coaching resource, training and learning programmes or tooling. Agility can deliver huge benefits to your business; it’s worth investing in.
7. Preach the value of focus
I think the single biggest problem most companies have is they try to do too much. It’s a natural temptation to try and do everything — the expectation is always that the sooner you start something the sooner you will finish it. In fact the opposite happens — the more you take on, the thinner you spread your teams and the longer it takes them to accomplish anything.
It takes real discipline to prioritise and focus but those that manage this will feel the benefits. We achieved more focus by realigning our teams around goals, but we were still trying to do too much. Communicating the value of focus should form a key part of your leadership coaching.
My exploration of business agility began two years ago. Back then, I wasn’t even conscious of the term “business agility” — I was simply exploring the possibility of adopting agile practices and processes in different contexts. Fast forward to November 2018 and I now cannot see past business agility! My experiences in the last few years have taught me that it has enormous potential, and anything less now feels sub-optimal.
As long as agile remains a “tech thing” we consign ourselves to optimising a single corner of an organisation. Lean and agile comprise a set of principles which are ultimately agnostic of technology — every part of the organisation can benefit.
There is no one-size-fits-all. The basic principles may apply to all, but designing a better system of work for your organisation means experimenting to create a tailor-made system that works for you. Attempting to copy Moonpig’s approach won’t guarantee success any more than copying Spotify’s. I hope you have learned from what we tried at Moonpig, and you can take those learnings and apply them to fit your own business model, strategy, size and culture.
It’s a long journey, but it is incredibly rewarding. Start small, but start now.
Could I help your business to become better, faster and happier? I am a coach and consultant that helps organisations adopt agility. Find out more about what I do at betterfasterhappier.com.