How Telcos Can Tackle Organizational Agility and Grow — Simultaneously

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Maurice van Son

I have the privilege of working with a range of different types of businesses here at Relay42, with one of the more predominant sectors being telecommunications. It makes sense — our technology helps companies unify and activate customer data, and telcos have an abundance of that. They come to us in search of a way to better leverage that data to improve the customer journey.  

Having been at the table for many conversations around this topic, I've noticed a few interesting trends in the telco industry — increased competition from OTTs like WhatsApp, Facebook and WeChat; shifting consumer expectations; the urgent need to differentiate with services, products and bundles.  

I always think to myself, "yes, of course technology can and will help with this, but you can't solve it all with tech." Even more important than having the most modern data management technology is having a modern way of working — and I would argue that especially in the telco industry, this means agile. But not just any kind of agile — agile that works for you and your company. Let me explain.  

What is Agile, really? 

Popular terms like tribes, scrum and sprints get thrown around a lot when talking about agile, to the point that it’s almost a meaningless cliché. So, let’s start by quickly defining what I mean when I talk about agility:  

At its heart, agile working is about focusing on continuous improvement, cross-functionality between departments, and working in a data-driven way.  

Principles vs. Process 

In other words, agile isn’t just a way of working — it’s an entirely different set of values. Agile is iterative, empirical, and cross-functional — it’s about continuous improvement. I would argue that these are the things that make it so powerful. Sure, process is important, but I would challenge telcos and other businesses to dare to get creative when it comes to how best to implement agile working for their particular company.  

  • A sprint doesn’t have to be 2 weeks. 
  • All teams don’t have to be scrum teams.  

Many telcos are working with legacy systems, which tends to prevent them from adopting a more agile way of working; rather than avoiding agile altogether, however, I believe it makes sense to either work with a multispeed approach or to lengthen sprints when needed. Agile is about flexibility at its core, so use that to your advantage.

We have a great article based on an interview with Maurice Pordon, who is the Marketing Manager over at Evi, an online investment platform. He explains how he's reorganized his team for a more agile approach, and how he did it a bit differently than most — I'd suggest checking it out if you're looking for some additional inspiration in this area. 

Don’t let legacy systems hold you back 

Legacy systems are going to be a challenge in any large, established company. That's why it is crucial to review IT systems to ensure they’re capable of adapting to the environment with ease. Of course, these things are huge projects and can’t be solved overnight; the important thing is to understand that legacy systems don’t have to be a bottleneck. You can start working in an agile way earlier than you may think.

I suggest starting by planning around your current IT infrastructure. Network technology is sensitive, and telcos understandably want to tread carefully here. That's why many go the route of tackling upgrades and agile transformation around their digital stack first and integrate the new approach to their most sensitive systems last.  

Embrace cross-functionality 

There’s a reason why there’s such a huge emphasis on squads and tribes in the agile world: cross-functionality is crucial to success! And I would argue that this is even more important for telcos than for some other industries. Telcos tend to have a lot of diversity in departments, yet they are simultaneously more interdependent on one another, resulting in a huge need to embrace cross-functionality. 

This isn’t only crucial for upstream functions like product, marketing and sales, but also for downstream functions like security, channel and networks. If you want to roll out a new product that could impact the peak load of your network, for instance, you'll need to be sure to involve resources from the network department — that's in addition to product, marketing and sales teams who are already involved in ideation, execution and promotion.  

Technology can play a pivotal role in helping these departments share data in a complete, comprehensive and secure way so they can begin to bridge the gap and work together more efficiently. In my experience, I’ve seen technology like ours at Relay42 provide the glue that was missing to bring data from different departments and channels together, which in turn, bridged a lot of gaps in interdependent customer journeys.

Prioritize digital transformation 

Over time, digital transformation can certainly be more costly and complex than you first envisioned. Scope creep is real, and many telcos say they’ve avoided investing in agile because they’ve yet to see the proof of added value.  

I suggest approaching agility from an incremental point of view. Start by identifying goals across your entire domain and focus on the most practical ones first. Telcos need to focus first on quick wins to create steady momentum that will allow them to scale up at a later stage. Companies that take this route toward successful agile adoption are 50% likelier to outperform their competitors financially.  

Something I find interesting is that while 70% of companies report agile transformation as a top priority, we haven’t seen a comparable adoption of agile implementation. Why? We know that companies who adopt this way of working are more successful and outperform competitors. We also know that it directly helps operators win four of their core battles:  

  1. Faster time to market 
  2. Higher customer satisfaction 
  3. Significant productivity improvements 
  4. A transformed employee experience that improves talent attraction and retention

I would posit that fear of failure and/or high investment lost is holding most organizations back. But if they can manage to start small and scale from there, there’s really no reason to wait.  

How telcos can get started with agile, poised to scale 

You don’t need to completely overhaul your organization structure and legacy systems to become more agile. Start small and grow efforts over time.  

This could look like starting with marketing agility so you can ensure you’re engaging with the right people and offering the most relevant products and bundles at the right time. This is a common and smart end goal. And believe it or not, it doesn’t need to take years to achieve.  

To approach a goal like this with an agile mindset, I suggest the following approach:  

  1. Create a core team with one person from each department/team, e.g. marketing, brand, product, and put one person in charge who will ultimately be responsible for ensuring KPIs targets are met. This team will be tasked with feeding information to and from their teams. This is a simple approach that won’t require immediate reorganization. 
  2. Define clear objectives and omnichannel/cross-departmental KPIs. (Read more on doing this from a customer-centric standpoint in this article.)   
  3. Adopt smart technology that enables cross-functional teams to work with all data at hand and collaborate on achieving cross-departmental KPIs. 

Technology can really work as an accelerator, enabling you to work in an agile way without waiting for a full digital transformation or overhauling your existing setup.  

Moving forward, flexibly 

It can be difficult for large organizations like telcos to adopt new ways of working — it takes a lot of time, and it requires a shift of mindset, which is perhaps the most difficult part of the whole process. Approaching it in bite-sized pieces, however, with strong leadership and clear communication around purpose and goals, can certainly set you up for success.  

Adopting an agile way of working will put telcos in the position to be able to compete with OTT players that are disrupting the market and give you a competitive advantage over competitors, with a quicker time to market. Working agile can come in different forms, so have a good look at your organization and listen to the input given on the ground and define an agile way of working that makes sense to your organization and teams. 

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