When a software and technology development company discovered lean thinking and Toyota Production System theories, it was like someone pulled a lamp cord, illuminating and aligning their work processes to be more responsive to their customers. It was good. But revolutions are restless things. Soon, this Brazilian company discovered agile and scrum and realized they could provide new systems to their customers even faster than their traditional clients—banks, manufacturers, utilities—could absorb them. What to do? CI&T began transforming their clients' operations and management systems with this mash-up of systems they call Lean Digital, allowing new project development to run at the speed of great ideas, faster and faster.
The leader of the largest bank in Latin America raised an eyebrow as he scanned the table in front of him. It was covered in books, and he was not accustomed to getting homework from vendors.
"From the look of it, I will have to read six thousand pages to understand this lean thinking," he said. He smiled, but he did not sound enthusiastic.
It was five days before Christmas 2017, and Candido Bracher, CEO of Itaú Unibanco Holding SA, had arrived at our offices in Campinas, Brazil, with his entire executive team in two helicopters. A security detail had arrived a day earlier to sweep the campus for possible security risks. Everyone understood the urgency of this business of transformation that we had gathered to discuss.
"How do we speed this up?" he asked.
It was the right question.
Traditional companies like banks and manufacturers need to move faster to meet the needs of a quickening global economy, especially when it comes to technology. So business leaders have been studying the methods of the digital natives, trying to decide whether their companies should be more like Google or Amazon or Facebook—all of which were born with speed and experimentation encoded in their operations. The digital natives and a lot of consultants talked up the virtues of agile, and some traditional businesses tried it too. Executives did tours of Silicon Valley and then went home and put together these small, cross-functional teams and told everyone that outcome (happy customers) was more important than output (an app or a website). It was not a bad message. It just wasn't enough.
Itaú was one of the early adopters and saw wild successes with its first agile teams. With just a few small teams within its information technology department in the São Paulo headquarters, Itaú created a great mobile banking experience for its customers. Of course, business leaders wanted more of that. Anybody would.
The bank's leaders then hired consultants who advised a "scaled agile" approach. If a few agile teams in IT could pull off that miracle, then 50 agile teams working across operations, marketing, and HR could transform the entire company. With great excitement, leaders set up new processes, job descriptions, and teams. They encouraged the teams to be entrepreneurial, to work with the customer, to be creative.
And then this bank, like so many other corporations, hit a wall. Projects slowed. People seemed to be dragging their feet. There were disagreements. Instead of finishing projects faster, teams became bogged down. Still, they kept trying because everyone had seen that initial magic happen and so believed it was still possible.
After a couple of years of this, Itaú executives involved in their agile effort came to us. CI&T was not a consulting group. We were software developers. But we had also been struggling with scaling agile for a few years and had finally discovered a way to achieve organization-wide results. In 2016, we began a new kind of engagement with Itaú to create a mobile banking platform with the bank's IT department and, at the same time, to perform a deep dive into the cultural and operational workings of the company. The goal was organizational and cultural transformation as well as a new mobile banking platform. We would be working for them while leading them to our discoveries about making agile work at scale. Eighteen months later, Itaú's executive team arrived in that week before Christmas to find out how we—this collaboration of Itaú and CI&T—had achieved throughput speeds that were seven times faster than before. But what they really wanted to know was how to arrive at a 10x improvement.
We can tell you, like we told Candido Bracher, that the key was lean thinking. The principles and tools that were translated from the Toyota Production System—generally referred to as lean thinking—and married into the digital realm is the way we scale agile throughout our organization. Lean is the way that we think about our entire business.
We can also tell you, step by step, how we manage the flow of work all throughout the system to ensure that we are producing the most valuable results for our customers while keeping our people engaged. It is a system that has made us 10x faster than our competitors.
If you belong to a traditional company, however, telling you these things will not be very helpful. We operate within structures and assumptions that are almost certainly unfamiliar. Instead, we propose to show you the path we took, so that you can see some of the roadblocks that got in our way as well as new structures you will likely need to build.