A new episode of The BACKLOG PODCAST.
Recorded by ADAPTOVATE — The Backlog Podcast
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This condensed article accompanies Ep 7 of The Backlog — The Podcast, by ADAPTOVATE.
Frank Kazas is one of three product directors with Hyatt Hotels Digital team. Frank is responsible for four product teams focused on the pre-stay experience.
In our most recent episode of The Backlog podcast Frank joined Nate Nelson — our MD of the US arm of ADAPTOVATE in an inspiring, thought provoking conversation. This conversation of The Backlog is especially interesting as Frank works at Hyatt, a large global organisation, yet one that is a fantastic example of where the leadership is committed to Agile ways of working.
Frank explains the three main facets of his role as:
1. Helping design and influence the operating model for the digital organisation. “We’re in the throes of a Digital and Agile transformation at Hyatt and we’re constantly iterating on how we work and what our teams structures look like” he says.
2. Guiding the day to day priorities of the four teams in his product portfolio
3. Help the collective mindset of the organization with Agility and drive new ways of working.
Frank explains that at Hyatt “There is a real recognition of the importance of organization agility.”
He says it’s the first place he’s worked that organisational agility was really talked about at the highest levels of the leadership team.
“The organisational mindset and leadership is important to come from the top and sets the tone for the organisation. The leaders are talking about organizational agility — not just for software teams — but all functions across the organization– hr, finance, hotel operations. Thinking in the experimental, and test-and-learn mindset.”
This is crucial for an large organization to get right. It’s one thing to set off on an Agile journey — but the challenge is to ensure the leadership team are along for the change in mindset — believe in the journey, too.
The hospitality industry is an excellent example of a different industry that is showing how you can institute agility beyond software. Frank says “What’s interesting of hospitality is there is a huge opportunity to use technology and digital touch points to create really special and differentiated experiences for the guest. The sky’s the limit for what we can really do. We can really revolutionise the experience and take the hospitality industry to the next level using technology as a catalyst for that.” he says.
Nate Nelson agrees. “When I hear that I think about human cantered design — I believe when I hear Agile ways of working that’s spot on to what’s it all about.”
Franks says “A core tenet of Agile is having fast feedback loops. So it’s key for me to keep that communication open throughout our organization. So being in tune with what’s happening across our organization and stakeholders is critical. “Particularly now with the pandemic, where we are shifting and having to pivot quickly as new news comes to light.“
It’s often the case we are picking between several very important, very interesting initiatives to work on — so it’s important to keep the communication lines open to help our stakeholders and leadership understand the context as to why one is picked over the other. It’s not “no” it’s just “not right now”.
Frank says “Organizations can get caught up in what I’ve heard called ‘Agile Theatre.’ Just instituting scrum or another flavor of Agile practices on the software teams does not make an organization Agile.”
There are some core things that organization need to think about when getting on this path. We asked Frank what he believe is needed.
“Instituting things that can drive an experimentation and test-and-learn mindset, and provide the psychological safety to do that — a safe space to experiment.”
Frank’s five foundational pieces to help organisations on the beginning of their journey.
1. Focus on “outcomes” not “outputs”. Not being hyper-focused on velocity or activity, but actual customer and business outcomes.
2. Customer centricity — making sure the things we are doing are aligned with our customers needs.
3. Prioritisation and focus — don’t try and do too much at once.
4. Pushing decision making down to the appropriate level. Driving the decision making down in the organization can push that agility forward.
5. Funding models. How companies fund projects or products drives so much behaviour and tone around how things are executed. If you fund capacity in the form of product teams rather than just projects, you are funding the ability for people to learn and pivot along the way to ensure they’re focused on the most impactful things for the organisation.
CREATING A SAFE SPACE FOR TEST AND LEARN
When creating an agile organization, what are the best ways to create a safe space for test-and-learn and experimental mindsets? Frank believes that you need to cut down the scope to something that’s really digestible and small. Ask yourself ‘What’s the smallest thing we can do to prove this can work.?’ When teams do this — knowing that it’s not scalable etc, is fine. Celebrate the learnings from that.
CHALLENGES RIGHT NOW
What does Frank believe are the biggest challenges we are facing at the moment?
Frank discusses 2 challenges specifically. “I think the challenges we are facing are not unique to Hyatt, but to any company that are in the throes of an agile transformation.
1) Prioritisation — There is always way more work that we can get done — but especially now in the current climate where many organizations have fewer resources at hand, getting prioritisation and focus right is more critical than ever.
2) Changing the hearts and minds of organization. Another challenge is breaking some of the muscle memory or mindset of the organization in general that’s been institutionalised for a long time. Show by doing, rather than show by saying. Frank says “With Hyatt having the leadership buy-in really stands out as it’s quite rare to have in a company the size of Hyatt”
Nate was interested in how you hold leaders accountable or coach them in the new ways of working. Franks explains “You are trying to reverse or break mindset or muscle memory that’s been around for a long time in many cases. But a big part of the transfromation is bringing leaders along on the journey. Co-design, co-create, bring stakeholders into working sessions. It’s about engagement — folks start to get addicted to that way of working when you get to see things come to life so quickly. Let them be part of the process.
COVID-19 AND IT’S IMPACT ON CO-LOCATED TEAMS
The current environment with social distancing has been a challenge but also an opportunity. Everyone has been forced to experiment and trial the non co-located teams . Frank says “Working remotely has forced teams to be more creative with the way we work. Teams are leaning into the collaboration and remote working tools a lot more now.”
Finally — Nate asked “Where can organisations make the most impact in applying Agile ways of working now.?
Frank shares these three areas:
1. Prioritisation is key. Get teams hyper focused.
2. Being data informed and not data-driven. Combine quantitative and qualitative insights, and weave that in with feedback from stakeholders in the company. Get a 360 view.
3. Being outcome-focused.
As with all our episodes of The Backlog, we ask our guest for recommendations, podcast or otherwise.
Franks suggests the podcast “This is Product Management, “ , but also highly recommends these influencers and thought leaders –Marty Cagan, Jeff Patton, and Barry O’Reilly, among others he mentions in the podcast.
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