ING’s Agile Transformation with Albert Vrajolli

ING’s Agile Transformation with Albert Vrajolli

In this episode, Albert Vrajolli is visiting us, the topic is ING’s agile transformation. Listening to Albert sharing his experiences and thoughts from a transformation that involved the entire organization is truly inspiring. What was the goal, how did they do it, and what is important to remember? And how did they inspire everyone from the mortgage department to recruitment to IT to work with agile principles? Buckle up for a truly interesting and inspiring episode 🤩🧡

Some of the elements we discuss in this episode is: 

  • ING’s agile journey
  • Agile outside of IT 
  • One size fits all vs flexibility
  • Employees when scaling agile 
  • How to focus, prioritize and align the organization
  • What are the most important elements in agile way of working

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Recommended books

If you want to see how the vanbuild is going 🚐

Instagram: @miles.thevan


How to cultivate psychological safety

How do you build & cultivate psychological safety in a team? 

This is not an easy task and it will not be done overnight.
However, there are many things we can do to cultivate & build psychological safety.

In this post we’ll address the 4 top things you can do today!  

  1. As leaders, we need to be forthcoming about the challenges we face and be able to address them with employees openly.

    This allows us to be able to explain the challenges and encourage our employees to keep up the good work and push through it. A common understanding of the challenges we face will also open up for other great ideas. Remember, there is a reason you have the people you have in your organization. They are intelligent and full of great ideas!

  2. Active listening:
    Listening with intent and presence is important for leaders and team members alike.

    Listening with intent means that you focus on the person who is conveying the message, not on your response or reaction. You are curious and genuine in your approach. This is return will create and cultivate trust and psychological safety.

    Working on practicing active listening and continuously work on these skills is not a one-time thing, rather in it continuous and has to be practiced frequently.

    If you want to learn more about the art of active listening join our masterclass on enterprise agility.
  3. Next, we must acknowledge and talk about mistakes:
    If a mistake is made, acknowledge it, and talk about it openly, but remember to do so without focusing on the person who made the error or blaming them. When we experience failure we need to focus on the problem and process, and what went wrong. Rather than blaming people. Blaming people will not lead to anything good, instead, it will lead to an unsafe environment and employees.

    If you as a leader make a mistake, talk about it, make it human. By leading by example you will establish that same practice among your team.

    Instead of considering mistakes as something negative, work on turning this into a learning opportunity & experience. Without the mistake, you, your teams, and organization would never have had that exact opportunity to learn!
    Recognize their value as opportunities to learn and build upon.

  4. Lastly, encourage curiosity, encourage curiosity in the organization at all levels.

    Be genuinely curious about your people, who are they, what are their passions and interests?
    Creating a culture of curiosity will also in return not only spark a culture where coming up with new ideas are safe but also expected. It will spark innovation among your organization and excitement among your customers.

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Psychological Safety

Do you wonder what makes the ideal high performing team? 

To many people’s surprise, what we’ve come to learn is that it that a teams collective intelligence is not correlated with the sum of its member’s individual intelligence. 

Collective intelligence is made up of three different elements: 

  • The first of these elements is social perceptiveness or social awareness:
    This is how perceptive or aware we are about other people and understanding why they behave and react the way they do. 
  • The second element is equality in conversational turn-taking:
    This is what we know as psychological safety. Equality in conversational turn-taking is ensuring that everyone is heard and has time to speak and that this time is shared equally. Also, it is essential that all members of the team feel like and experience they can voice their opinion and communicate their ideas without fear of judgment. 
  • The final element is gender diversity: 
    This is having equality in the ratio between genders. 

We also know psychological safety is important for team performance based on Google’s research study “Project Aristotle”. Google conducted this study to determine what makes up an effective team at Google. 

They spent 2 years observing 180 teams of 37.000 employees. What they learned from their study was that psychological safety was the most important thing needed to create high performing teams. 

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But what is psychological safety exactly? 

Psychological safety allows teams to learn, grow, and perform, which is why it is critical for us to understand.

There is a great misconception that psychological safety is simply about being in your comfort zone, but it has nothing to do with being at home in your favorite spot on the couch with your favorite snack while talking to colleagues.

Instead, it’s a place where you have a strong sense of safety but also high-performance standards.

If you have low psychological safety and low-performance standards you end up with people who are mostly apathetic to their work. They end up in the apathy zone. If performance standards are increased many then think that people will be motivated to work harder. However, if you have low psychological safety coupled with high-performance standards this leads to anxiety. This is where people experience high amounts of stress.

However, if you have high psychological safety but low-performance standards the result will be that people enter into a comfort zone where the employee is comfortable but has low productivity because little is expected of them. Neither this is a place where people tend to be happy.

What you do want for your employees is for them to be in their learning zone; this is where employees experience high psychological comfort and high-performance standards. People tend to do better and be more productive when more is expected of them and they thrive in this learning zone.

So what we know about psychological safety is that it’s not about being comfortable, it’s about creating space for the behaviors that are necessary for complex, uncertain, and interdependent work, which is most modern work environments. 

We also know psychological safety exists at group level, which means it can be different from one team to another, even within the same organization.

This level of variation is why it is important to stay focused on cultivating psychological safety within each team. 

Lastly, we know that high psychological safety creates an environment that encourages learning behavior, and allows for people to be more creative in their work. People also have a higher tendency to report errors because they have less fear of reporting. And, of course, with more error reporting comes more opportunity for growth, learning, and quality improvements in implementation.

But how do we build this safe space for our employees? If you want to learn more about this check out our course.

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Trust and transparency – Trust as a competitive advantage

Trust and transparency are talked about a lot. Bård Kuvaas, a professor in Organizational Psychology at BI Business School in Oslo, Norway, argue that “trust is more than intensive management and control, leaders who give more trust get more motivated employees in return. “

Employees whom experience trust are often:

  • Less stressed
  • More productive
  • Have less sick absences

“TRUST is more than intensive management and control. Leaders who give trust get more motivated employees. They become less stressed, more productive, and have less sickness absence than others. A lot is about being involved in tasks and challenges at work. When we seize this chance, because it’s obvious there’s uncertainty in the picture, the people we show trust experience JOB AUTONOMY. TRUST is a competitive advantage!

Bård Kuvaas

For this reason, Kuvaas argue that trust can be a competitive advantage. We argue that transparency is part of trust. Trust can be gained through transparency and transparency can be attained or achived due of trust.

All employees are involved in challenges at work, having transparency can allow them to understand the challenges better, hence make better decisions. With the right information, which has been given due to trust and transparency, employees can be entrusted with more autonomy to make even more decisions and face challenges.

This, of course, does come with some risk because it requires that you begin to trust your employees more which comes with uncertainty.

With that in mind, Stephen Covey and Greg Link write in their book Smart Trust that what is required is the type of trust they call Smart Trust.

Smart trust is when one has a willingness to trust but exercises analysis. This means that rather than trusting blindly one must be conscientious in who they give their trust to.

Covey and Link argue there are five steps that must be taken to employ this strategy:

  • First, you have to believe in the strategy of giving trust, you have to believe that it is the correct action for it to be effective.
  • Secondly, you must have trust for others within yourself.
  • The third step is that you state your purpose and be transparent about your reasons for doing the things that you’re doing and maintain a positive and optimistic outlook that you will get the same in return from your employees.
  • The fourth step is that you be sure to stand by your word and have strong integrity so that you give your employees reason to trust you in return.
  • Finally, the fifth step is that it is your responsibility in leadership to initiate the spread of trust.

Another aspect of trust that is discussed in Smart Trust is called the Speed of Trust.

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Speed of Trust

Speed of trust is the idea that having a culture of trust within an organization allows it to run faster and more smoothly. In many organizations employees’ work must be checked or have their decisions verified, these are referred to as checkpoints within the organization.

More employees and less trust mean more checkpoints are required to confirm that the needed work is being done correctly. More checkpoints means slower function or operation within the organization. In addition to slower operation, more checkpoints mean higher operating costs as well.

More trust, however, means eliminating checkpoints because you give your employees enough autonomy to do their job and have faith that they will do it, and those that would be checking have more time to perform the necessary functions of their jobs.

Fewer checkpoints, in turn, means higher operational speed, which can translate into bringing products to market faster. In addition to the increase of workflow in the organization, more trust then also means lower cost, since in removing checkpoints you have also relieved some of the burdens of work off of your employees, and is able to move faster.

Trust also has the ability to increase transparency, increasing trust will also allow for an increase in transparency. Trust and transparency have a strong and direct relationship in that more trust allow for more transparency, but then more transparency can also create more trust and each one can feed and promote the other.

As we stated before there is an amount of risk involved in this approach and it’s because of this risk that it is the responsibility of you, the leadership to start the movement towards more trust in the organization so that your employees will follow your lead.

The best way to get this cultural shift started is through transparency and initiating trust.

An unexpected story about trust

General Stanley McChrystal was in charge of the US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. In the fight against Al-Qaida and the extremists. General McChrystal used trust and transparency in the US Army to a tremendous extent, he saw great success with it, and completely changed the way they operate.

General McChrystal applied trust strategies through many means but largely through the use of extreme transparency and a very high degree of information sharing.

…sharing information would help build relationships and the two together would kindle a new, coherent, adaptive entity that could win the fight.”

U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal

The military is an organization that is not well known for it’s transparency, in fact it’s quite the opposite, they have probably the greatest reputation for secrecy rather than open information sharing.

As leaders of an organization it’s worth considering that if the US military can implement this kind of transparency and trust culture, it’s worth considering for use in your own company.

It is worth considering being more open with colleagues about what projects we have, what tasks, decisions, challenges etc. Simply being more open with coworkers will in addition to creating more trust and operational speed also help you if you are stuck on some aspect of your problem. Sharing it with a colleague and discussing that hurdle may lead you to discover that your colleague can actually help you with your problem, look at it from another angle, or know about a workaround.

I’d like to wrap this up with a quote and reference to Gandhi himslef

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

Mahatma Gandhi

It is mine and yours responsibility to initiate this change; we must be the change we wish to see, including within our organizations.

If you want to see a work environment and culture that is based on trust and transparency, the change must begin with you.

Take a minute and think about how you could be more trusting and transparent in your daily work?

Distributed Agile with SAFe in Yara with Tonje Norheim and Joakim Lindberg

Smidigpoddens first english episode is ready for listening?

In this episode, Tonje Norheim and Joakim Lindberg from Yara International are visiting us ? We get to hear how they have improved delivery quality and speed in a team which is localized in the far corners of the world ? How do you actually do planning and kick-off when your team is localized all over the world? What is the key to excellent (digital) collaboration across cultures and borders? This, and so much more do we get to hear about in this episode ?

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Contact information

Tonje NorheimLinkedIn

Joakim LindbergLinkedIn

Recommended books & podcasts

Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter 

The art of avoiding a train wreck by Em Campbell-Pretty and Adrienne L. Wilson

SAFe business agility podcast

Data driven decision making

It’s important that we remind ourselves that we always want to keep focus on the customer, what the customer needs and what the customer wants. 

The decisions we make, they’re often based on other things or the factors than actually data. Decisions can be ego driven, this is where a person only thinks about what is important for that person. This can be the product that they are involved in, the project that they are involved in their team or their department. Decisions can be opinion driven, this means that they argue for what they think, not what they know, and then they can be authority driven. This means that there are leaders or managers that actually make the decisions and that they think they know best. Sometimes they even think they know the customer. And this is a huge pitfall. What we want is data driven decisions. 

In order for agile to work, we need trust on a large scale. This means that we need objective decision making, not subjective.

A great way to do this is actually lean on quantitative and qualitative data. There are several ways to get this data. For example, user research, it is finding out what does a customer need and what do they actually want. The other one can be user testing. This is actually allowing the user to interact with your products in person and see how they behave. The next one can be collecting user data from the interface that you have or it can be through a questionnaire. These are just some examples of techniques. But the important thing here is the combination of these. That’s where the value really kicks in. It’s this holistic picture that we really want. 

We need internal politics to be eliminated, and we need there to be no fear when we make decisions. 

Again, we want decisions to be made objectively, not subjectively. What’s really important when we collect data is not to end up in this analysis paralysis face where we just collect, collect and collect data and we forget to think about and use the data as indicators to get us started. What we want to do is we want our hypotheses and then we want to use the data to prove those hypotheses right or wrong, and set the direction that we’re going in so we can move faster. 

We want an experiment friendly culture, we want to build up a culture that asks questions and that is curious.

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In order to accomplish this, we want an experiment friendly culture, we want to build up a culture that asks questions and that is curious. We want the people in our organizations to ask questions like what is the hypothesis? What did we learn? What we will try next. That’s an A and B test. Let’s try them both and compare. These are the types of actions and initiatives that we want from our employees and colleagues. 

We need psychological safety and trust.

What is important when you do data driven decision making or development is to remind yourself that when you measure and you track, you do it in order to improve, not to punish. So. The key here is that you get what you measure and you only get what you measure. That’s why it’s so important to focus on the right things and to use the data that you are collecting for good and for developing the employees and creating engagement and curiosity. There’s actually a really interesting and bit sad story about this, about getting what you’re measuring. Ut was a company a while ago that figured out they needed a way to find all the bugs that they had in their system. So what they did is that they actually implemented a monetary incentive for testers to find bugs before it went into production. So what you ended up with here was testers and developers collaborating with the developers to make bugs deliberately. Then the testers discovered these bugs before they went into production. What happened? The tests got a bonus and then the tester shared that bonus with the developer. This is a good example of how you actually get what you measure. The company cannot blame the testers and developers for this kind of behavior because the organization itself created this kind of behavior with the way it works. 

Frameworks for prioritization

When we want to have data driven decisions and development we want to focus on prioritization across the business. We want a holistic view, and we want everyone in the organization to really focus on what is most important to achieve your goals, not the individual goals or the team goals, but the organization goals as a whole. So here are a few frameworks on how you can do that. We will not go into depth with them, but these are very easy. 


This is Impact c Confidence x Ease equals ice or your ice score. It’s pretty much an equation where the results will give you a score that will help you prioritize. So the impact here, it will demonstrate how much your idea will positively impact or affect the key metric. You are trying to improve the confidence here. It shows how sure you are about that impact. The EAS is about how easy it is to implement it, sort of an estimation of how much effort and resources that are required to implement the idea and then you end up with the score. 


This is also an equation where you will end up with the rice score. So it’s reach, impact, confidence and effort. 

  • Reach is how many people will this feature impact within a given period
  • Impact is how much this will impact individual users
  • Confidence it is how confident are you about the impact and reach that you have estimated or scored
  • Effort is how much of a time investment this initiative will require from product design and development

Cost of delay

This is pretty much a method where you look at how much it will cost not to do something. So you will ask yourself questions like, what will this feature be worth if the product had it right now? How much would it be worth if this feature gets made earlier? And how much would it cost if it was made later than planned? The way you do this is by assigning a monetary value to each feature, by calculating how much time and team effort it will take to build it, and then the team and you can also assign a value to the feature in terms of how much they will be worth after they are built. 

The KANO model

This model is based on three different buckets, so you have the must-have or the basic feature bucket, and this is where if you don’t have these features, your customers, they’re not even going to consider your product as an alternative. And then you have the second one, which is the performance features. And that’s kind of the features where the more you invest in those features, the higher level of customer satisfaction you get. And the last one is excitement, features or delighters as they are called Here. And these features, they will be this kind of pleasant surprise to the customers, things that they didn’t expect. But once they have them and once they’re provided, they will be really excited about them. So an example of a basic feature. It can, for example, be a seatbelt. Let’s say you’re looking for a car and a car you’re looking at. It doesn’t have seatbelts. Well, that’s kind of a basic feature, right? So you wouldn’t be too happy if the car had a one seat belt in the driver’s seat. You’d probably be a bit more satisfied, but it still didn’t have seatbelts for the rest of the four seats in the car. So it kind of still is useless if you have passengers. So if the car has five seat belts, your needs as a customer and consumer would be satisfied and you would be happy. But what if the car had 23 seatbelts? Well, it wouldn’t have made a difference to you, it would have cost the company a lot of money and in the end it would probably be really annoying if you had all those extra seat belts in the car, maybe even would have rendered you a bit more annoyed. Maybe you wouldn’t have bought the product in the first place. So this is a really good example of how it’s important for companies to find just what the customer needs in order to be able to do this. You develop a KANO questionnaire where you ask your customers how they would feel with or without a given feature.

Technology-enabled culture

Technology moves fast, what was high end and cutting edge yesterday might not be that groundbreaking 6 months from now. How do you keep up?

As a response to this, in agile, we want to cultivate a technology-enabled culture where we enable you to cultivate a mindset and decision making culture that will ensure you choose the right technology for your company over and over again. 

This can be the journey towards exploring how blockchain can be beneficial in your business model or how to create entirely new products or services for your customers. 

If you want to have a technology-enabled culture you must allocate time for innovation.

Tools to create a technology-enabled culture:

  • UnConference, an UnConference is a meeting place that is created where people can come together, learn, and get inspired. The participants choose the agenda themselves and they address things that they feel that matter to them. It’s a great format for sharing and learning. 
  • Hackathon. A hackathon can be internal or external. You create a great learning and innovative environment where people can create awesome products while having fun. 

The key is that it shouldn’t be controlled and it shouldn’t be too tightly knit with the organization itself. You should give people the freedom to develop what they actually think is fun. 

  • Maximizing 10 percent of your time. This means that you allocate 10 percent of every employee’s time to work on their own products related to work, for example, two Friday’s a month.
  • Interns and graduates. Having interns and graduates is very common, but many companies and people send them off to get coffee, lunch, or do simple tasks like printing. 

Don’t be one of these companies or people. Enjoy and use their enthusiasm, their engagement, their curiosity, and their brain on something that’s actually useful. It will also add a lot of energy and inspiration to the organization. 

Lastly, remember that innovation and motivation to create something great doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Motivation is created through action, so get started on setting aside time and you’ll reap great results. 

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Next steps

If you want to learn more about how you can cultivate a technology-enabled culture and start your agile journey join our free course on Udemy. 

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Why SAFe should be called SAWe

So, let’s get one thing straight, this read will provoke people, entertain others and even make some people angry, some people won’t even read it because of the headline… well point proven

Let’s also get another thing straight, I am not pretending to be a SAFe expert, tons of other people are doing that with their fancy certifications, I’m just a simple agile coach trying to make the world a better place.

My “problem” with SAFe (for those not familiar: Scaled Agile Framework).. is not so much the framework itself, I’m sure many (some) companies have achieved great results with SAFe, it’s more HOW they are branding themselves.. And also the fact that they have pretty much “stolen” most of their content and now brand it as something revolutionary.. 

SAFe is portrayed as a scaled agile framework when it is simply not. They have however, improved waterfall project management. Which is by the way, great, if you can predict the future.

Let’s have a look at one of the cornerstones of SAFe, the notorious PI Planning. 

I have myself been part of PI Plannings, and I must say it is an interesting spectacle. One of the managers saying (yes, I used the word manager, not leader) saying “this is organized chaos, this is agile”… NO there is nothing organized about this, and this has nothing to do with agile, AND agile isn’t chaos! I was lost for words, and I rarely am.

Anyway, let’s have a look at the purpose of PI Planning:

  1. Each team should commit to objectives from the PI, this is basically what the team commits to do during the upcoming PI
  2. A program board, this is an overview with all sprints and the user stories to be executed in each sprint, also mapping all dependencies.. So, pretty much a timeline. 

Also, the PI Planning agenda is a standard agenda that should be followed each time. 

Okey, I have some issues with this. 

First off, the set agenda. What happened with one of the core agile principles, learn and adapt? If we are not using the (mandatory) retrospective at the end of each PI Planning to improve our process, we are simply not doing agile very well, or not at all. 

Secondly, that each team should commit to objectives. I believe this is fundamentally wrong. The number one objective should be that everyone understands what they as a team (meaning everyone) are delivering. What customer value are we delivering here? I simply don’t care if my team commits to something, if they don’t know what they’re committing to! 

Thirdly, you make a detailed plan, but add iterations/ sprints instead of adding week numbers, that makes it agile? Sorry to break it to you, THIS IS WATERFALL. Don’t say any different (sorry, I’m real stubborn about this one).

If you map something out, in detail, and expect it to happen you are either doing waterfall or you have precognition abilities, if so, I’d like to get in touch! 

Lastly, in a PI Planning you have a “confidence vote” (1-5 how confident you are in your plan), this is a great idea and you’ll get a feel to how the team is feeling since everyone raises their hand. But, you’ll only get an honest view if you have high psychological safety in the group. If you don’t, this is only a false picture and will actually do more harm than good since the leaders are not getting the truth and then they won’t be able to do what is needed in order to build trust.. 

Therefore, I propose that SAFe changes to SAWe. I have really great reasons. 

  1. SAWe stands for: Scaled Waterfall framework, this is much more applicable and explains what you REALLY are doing. 
  2. SAWe is also really nice because it is what you ARE doing, you are saving people from large scale waterfall projects. 

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You are not convinced yet? Lets round this up, I want to know what happened to the core agile principles in SAFe, did someone just forget them? 

Trust & Openness: this is crucial in agile, we need to encourage, create and facilitate trust & openness in our organizations. This will create empathy, and we need this in our workplaces in order to create truly high performing teams. 

I can’t find anywhere in the SAFe framework where this manifests through the framework. Rather the opposite, everything is supposed to be visible to the managers, stakeholders and ARTs, and all stakeholders can participate in backlog improvements. So, I think I’m missing something.. Isn’t the key that the team should experience and receive trust FROM the leaders, not that the managers should monitor progress? Isn’t trust supposed to go both ways? My impression with SAFe is that it doesn’t. 

The DEMO supports this. In SAFe the purpose of the demo is to give the ART a way to measure progress. WHAT?? The purpose of a demo is for the team to show of what awesomeness they have created, and be proud. Nothing should be developed for a demo, rather what you have created should be shown. But, nothing speaks trust like some good old reporting (because that is what this really is), am I right???

Self-organizing teams: in agile we believe in strong, self-organized teams, not title and role-based teams. We believe that we have highly intelligent, competent people in our teams. They will figure out how they should be organized on their own. Not through standard roles and responsibilities.

Do what works when it works. For me, this is the core of agile. Do what works for what team when that works. When they mature the team-ups the ante. They challenge, change, and adapt as they go. We don’t force a team to do anything a certain way, and we certainly don’t force a whole bunch of them into a standard mold that managers (or consultants) think will work. 

Alright, I can keep going about this, but I won’t. I think you have gotten enough of my input to break free and start thinking on your own.

Good luck ?