Embracing Agility at Anthem, Airbnb, and Capital Group


A couple of weeks ago, we were honored to host our inaugural Cyara Xchange conference up in San Francisco. It was such an energizing event where everyone was sharing best practices and war stories from the CX trenches. One of the highlights for me from the three days was the main stage panel titled, “Transforming Your Development Organization to Support an Agile World.” The panel included CX leaders from three of Cyara’s most innovative customers: Anil Ravula, Staff VP at Anthem, Mitch Glaser, Contact Center Systems Manager at Airbnb, and Mark Remington, VP of Application Services at Capital Group.

A panel discussion about going Agile at Cyara Xchange 2018

Our very own Amy Hudson, Global Head of Domain Consulting, moderated the lively group. The panelists were honest, transparent, and humble about some of the keys to success with leading and navigating this transformation within their organizations. The journeys were not always smooth and they required changes in company culture (people), process, and technology. The panel was highly entertaining and left us all with some tangible and practical takeaways to bring back to our day jobs. 


Being Agile with Going Agile 

Anil shared that he “took an agile approach to Agile” at Anthem, the second largest health insurance firm in the US. He knew that he needed to bring business partners and stakeholders along during the transformation. About a year ago, he started with a “simple but big” project that was highly visible. The team leveraged Agile methodologies and delivered strong business results. Soon, other teams wanted to learn more about Agile/DevOps.

Change management and the culture shift required for an Agile transformation was the #1 most challenging aspect, as articulated by the panelists. It was not the technical pace or agility required to keep up, which is what many often react to at the beginning. Anil bridged this gap at the ground level by creating a positive competitive environment to drive internal adoption. As a leader, he rewarded those that have made steps toward practicing agile and celebrated “small successes” in a public way to motivate others to keep up.


A panel of experts on Agile transformation at Cyara Xchange 2018


Prioritization "Cage Match" 

Mitch talked about how at Airbnb, there was such a culture for rapid iteration and innovation. Product engineers would want to develop new code and push to production in a single afternoon. At the same time, there was the need to scale the business for the future. Airbnb was a platform with no inventory, so great customer experience was essential for competitive reasons. They were not a startup anymore. His team in IT was trying to balance all the requirements and that put a lot of pressure on them to deliver.

The only way they could keep up with demands was to move to Agile. The case for change came from both the bottom up and top down. “The 18-hour days were not sustainable”. Mitch’s team moved to bring in CX testing automation to expand their coverage, reach, and quality. And prioritization became critical. There was some fun banter between Mitch and Mark about teams going into prioritization 'cage matches' until everyone agreed and understood the trade-offs.


Leadership Matters

Mark then shared that Capital Group, one of the largest asset managers in the world with over $2.7 trillion under management, had been on the Agile journey for over 10 years. Their CX teams were the most recent adopters.

Customer experience had always been a key priority and differentiator for Capital Group given their industry and client base. However, their legacy project environment was “hyper Waterfall, regulated and structured with a lot of governance.”

Some of the advice he had was for cross-functional teams to take Agile training together, which helped to break down the silos and for team members to have a common vocabulary. The next step was to figure out how to take the Agile ‘ceremonies’ and turn them into work. “It’s a book, not a bible,” said Mark. It was also very important to continuously communicate progress and updates to gain shared vision and alignment.

He left us with a parting piece of advice that I thought was so fitting:

“Keep the faith, don’t give up. You will go through the Trough of Disillusionment. You will make it. If it was easy, they wouldn’t need us [leaders].” –Mark Remington.

You can read more from Amy Hudson about going Agile at the Cyara Blog.