Scaling agile at Wells Fargo to deliver value for the customer

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez April 12, 2022
Wells Fargo is using Jira tooling from Atlassian to help teams coalesce around product delivery that is centered on delivering value for customers.

Image of people using a Wells Fargo ATM
(Image sourced via Wells Fargo)

US banking giant Wells Fargo is undergoing a transformation of its technology teams so that they work in an agile way, where the focus is iterative, customer centric product development, rather than projects with a broad scope and top-down management. 

The bank is using Atlassian tooling - namely Jira and Jira Align - to help development teams coalesce around a common platform that enables them to scale quickly, gain insights into productivity and performance, as well as on-board new teams more effectively. 

Rich Chung, Head of Technology Agile Transformation at Wells Fargo, and Eddie Park, Agile Transformation Leader of Analytics and Tools at Wells Fargo, were both speaking at Atlassian’s recent Team 22 event, where the pair outlined the bank’s efforts to deliver agile across the organization. 

Wells Fargo began this process two years ago, upon recognition that much of its work was focused on people following a ‘step by step recipe’ that would sometimes work, but also sometimes wouldn’t. These projects relied on a scope set out at the beginning, being delivered from the top-down and were often rigid in their approach. Chung said: 

What we saw in the organization was a lot of local optimization, people doing the right thing, but only within the context of what they were trying to accomplish. It wasn't really tied to customer value. 

We were very focused on accomplishing the project, what was set out, what was approved, the scope, the timeline, everything around the project, and really we [lost] sight of what the customer need is and what is the value that we provided to that customer.

Wells Fargo created a framework for adopting agile that had what Chung described as ‘three waves of change’. The first of which was building a strong foundation. Chung said: 

We really had to make sure that we had a strong foundation otherwise the whole thing would collapse. It's a house of cards. The foundation isn't just about the processes, the foundation is also about the technical underpinnings of the overall organization, meaning that with a large company, with a large history, we had a lot of tech debt. So we had to upskill our people, introduce new processes, introduce new technologies and really make sure that that foundation was sound and solid.

Secondly, Wells Fargo had to think about incentivizing the organization and understanding how to get teams to not focus on achieving an end-state, but getting into a mode of operating that focuses on continuous improvement and iteration. This meant making better use of data. Chung said: 

We quantify those changes by looking at the measures, looking at the outcomes and seeing whether the data is showing us what the next thing we need to change is changing at all. We can try many, many different tactics, many approaches, but if they're not effective, and they're not showing in the data, then we're going to have continued problems. And we're gonna be focusing on the wrong things. So that telemetry and the insights into the environment are really paramount to have in place.

Then the final wave is all about empowering Wells Fargo teams. Chung said: 

I talked a little bit earlier about the fact that we can't just expect people to follow a recipe, follow the directions one by one. It's about how you teach people where we are going, how we want to operate, giving those enablers and then allowing and getting out of their way so that they can achieve those goals, achieve those outcomes and objectives.

Becoming product focused

Wells Fargo began its agile transformation by starting small - with just 100 teams across the organization. To put it into perspective, there are approximately 45,000 people working in technology at the bank. This started in 2019 and Wells Fargo used this early period to create an agile playbook and to communicate to the entire organization that it will be taking agile “very seriously”. 

Chung and his colleagues also spent this time implementing a maturing model, whereby it could run quarterly assessments to measure progress, and by building out a common sprint calendar to allow teams to coordinate together. 

Wells Fargo also built a teams registry, which is fuelling the analytics to monitor the company’s agile performance. Chung said: 

The team registry is something we found was really pivotal to our analytics, as well as giving us insights into the organization. What that is, is so very simply, what our teams are, who are on those teams, and what are they working on? It later turned into a lot of additional metadata on things like how many products do we have? Or what products do we have? And who is working on them. 

Then what that turned into is being able to remove a lot of the overhead, remove a lot of the manual reporting, because we knew what people were working on when they were working on it, when they were delivering that to production, how our customers were experiencing those capabilities and much, much more.

This is a departure from those projects I talked about earlier, where you're focused on whatever scope was defined by some leader. 

All of this work was carried out to enable teams to focus on customer value - building products that align with the outcomes and goals of Wells Fargo customers. In order to achieve that it has to simplify the organization and its use of tools. Chung said: 

One of the things that we talked about was a simplification of Jira and our use of Jira using many different plugins, many different customizations, and many different workflows. That was the prelude to leveraging Jira Align. Once we were able to do that simplification, adoption of Jira Align became much, much simpler. 

Now, when we have 4500 plus teams, and we have many products in the organisation, it is really hard to track the portfolio as a whole. And how is that relating to our customers? In Jira Align you can track roadmaps, OKRs, and relate that to the work that you're trying to achieve. So that enabled us to really focus in on making sure that we're working on the highest priority highest value capabilities for our customers.

Understanding progress

Wells Fargo is using these tools to understand how teams are progressing in their agile work, in terms of productivity and maturity. What was surprising to Chung and Park was that later cohorts being stood up more rapidly advanced in their levels of maturity. The chart below highlights the progress being made: 

An image of a chart outlining Wells Fargo’s agile team productivity
(Image sourced via Wells Fargo)

Commenting on the findings, Park said: 

One of the reasons, as we peel back some of the underlying factors, really point to the ecosystem of change that was put in place through that wave one - the foundation, the maturity model, the timeline - this really created the environment that supported the transformation of these teams.

Whether it's a bigger and more robust coaching, community, communities of practice, all of those factors really help drive and accelerate the maturity of those teams. 

These are some of the benefits that we were trying to use as a feedback mechanism to the organization, to understand that maturity is something that will help you, there is an idea of what good looks like and when we get there. We are going to be able to focus our productivity on the right things. And that was a big piece as we began to monitor our transformation over the last couple of years.

Park said that Wells Fargo’s enterprise instance of Jira for all agile teams was a “significant lift” to get everyone on the same page, around a common single instance. He added: 

Every single team has a project on that instance, it's configured for both Scrum and Kanban teams. Whenever we look at introducing additional functionality around additional add-ins, or integrations or automation, it benefits the entire firm from a scalable perspective because we did the heavy lifting of getting teams to a common platform, a common configuration, really driving many benefits as we begin to scale up our product structure.

The tool isn't set up and doesn't guide what we want to do but rather the tool is configured to really support the processes that we see as being pivotal to the success of a product oriented organisation. 

So having things like consistent intake or ideation mechanisms, really being able to help prioritize work through Align, down to the individual teams. Having that consistent tie back to the ‘why’, as to what drives the work at the team level, are critical elements. 

So all of these pieces together are looking at the maturity drivers, monitoring that through the data. The toolset creates that foundation, which really helped resolve many of the original complexities - the local optimization, the kind of loose tie to customer value, and then also complexity and manual work.

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