Vipps Tech Strat — development of a strategic canvas. Sharing our journey and results (so far…)
Shortly after we had finished the first version of the Vipps technology strategy, with an adequate launch party of course, and the production of visual strategy graphics to depict our proud production, I was attending one of our leadership development workshops with an external trainer and thrown off my high horse. I was, during one of the sessions referring to the process and the outcome of the strategy work, when I was challenged by the phrase “Isn’t Strategy a bit old? No modern [tech] company uses this approach anymore. The markets and technology developments are changing too fast for this to make sense…”. That caught me completely off guard, and I was immediately thinking “have we just wasted uncountable number of hours, involving all technology and product heads in the work, to create a product that is not only outdated, but without real value to the business and market positions we crave?”
What were (are) we trying to achieve? Why the urge to do this, and why now? Does it bring value, enhance cultural development, companywide alignment and most of all, does it fuel our need for speed?
Can we debunk the statement above? Prove it wrong. Is it based on wrong assumptions and prejudice? Read on and find out. Follow our journey. With the risk of becoming pompous — it is not a destination; it is a journey we have embarked on.
It’s all about Speed
The fear of becoming an Enterprise — driven and nurtured on internal processes, hierarchy, strong interdependencies, hand-overs and interfaces, is predominant. Staying agile is key. The tension between the different mindsets of an [highly regulated] Enterprise and an agile Start-up is an interesting balancing act and a force which can be both destructive and catalytic at the same time.
The merger of the three entities of bankID, BankAxept and Vipps is a great start to define a new setup for the consolidated entity of Vipps AS. How we align way of work, guiding principles and a common technology culture that bolsters our combined strengths and creates a new more powerful setup than the three companies alone. Through a merger — there is always some short term “fix the basics” stuff that takes the focus for the initial period. Some companies fail in the integration part of such mergers and does not invest in (re)defining what the new setup will need to look like to unleash the potential that was the basis for the merger in the fist place. In Vipps AS — we saw that we needed to work on several axis with this, and one of the most apparent realisations was that we needed to define our technology identity, our technology Vision — and develop a framework which encapsulates the principles that we steer against.
Even though Vipps is actually in a pretty good place, friction was building up between teams. Employees would feel that they weren’t getting enough feedback, career guidance, or clarity regarding processes, visibility, ownership, and accountability, which prevented them from doing their job effectively. We also realised there were some top-down communication issues we were previously (somewhat) unaware of. One important attribute that is common about tech companies with exponential growth mindset is their ability to adapt. We need to design and engineer an organisation that is able to rapidly adapt.
Developing a tech strategy in Vipps
Small is easy. But — small is still small. We realised needed to accept the challenge to take the next steps. Puberty is over. Get in shape to harness the opportunities ahead.
For the technology organisation, understanding is important for how this work will contribute to
- Help Vipps reach its Goals and Aspirations by connecting our technology priorities to Vipps’ business strategy
- Show each of us how we are part of something bigger and how we can all contribute
- Tell our awesome story, both internally and externally
Vipps has many of the key attributes of a highly successful company; outstanding market position, unparalleled market share, experienced exponential growth and becoming a de facto payment instrument for p2p* and p2b** payments, national eID scheme and the preferred payment method for physical payments by cards.
However, positions like these are always threatened, both from local niche players and from the global tech giants (GAFA especially). Disruption of the disrupter — Vipps is highly challenged. Vipps need to focus on speed to market for new solutions, proactive combat so to speak. Utilising the combined power of our brands, making new products that take the current customer journeys to new heights, by removing customer pain points and make world-class simplifications.
We need to master the ambidexterity of superfast speed to market, combined with best in class operational excellence of national payment and ID schemes. That is an interesting nut to crack.
Co-creation — because we need to own this together.
First and most importantly — strategy development and the outcome is highly dependent on broad participation from the engineers and product heads. We needed to ensure that the people that it affects co-develops the very strategy which is defining their own way of work. Contribution and imprint the very heart of our technology organization.
Our approach was to make a gross list of strategic pillars, and through the work streams synthesize and consolidate adjacent and overlapping themes, through a design-thinking-like process. Nine fundamental pillars and thus work streams were identified as the baseline for the work ahead of us.
The nine pillars that became the basis for the work streams were as follows
- Communication and collaboration
- People and Culture
- Technology, tech strategy and architecture
- Platform and Eco systems
- Innovation, new products, and market/business future
- Dev methodology and Devops
- Quality, security, and risk appetite
- Data, analytics and smartness
We quickly identified that 9 separate work streams was not only ambitious, but also diluting some of the focus and crispness we were seeking in the process. As such we consolidated and organised the nine work streams into 5 Strategic Pillars.
In the very heart: it is all about the people, how we thrive and develop
> GROWING TALENT
Technology Vision and Guiding principles
> PAVING ROADS
Aligned Autonomy, Team topologies and the Vipps way
> EMPOWERING TEAMS
Harness and monetise our massive data sets and insights
> DRIVEN BY DATA
Utilise our strong position to bring together users and service providers
> POWERED BY VIPPS
Resulting strategic canvas
Through the work with Vipps Tech Strategy, it is now incorporating
- Company Level Technology Strategy
- Business and Organisational Context
- High level Technology Vision
- which are non-mutual exclusive areas where our Tech Strat platform revolves around, in the definition phase (pre 1.0) and underpinning the execution of the strategy forward.
The five focus areas were defined — each with strong leadership (aka team captain) and we set out for a tough and ambitious way towards launching a strategy that will serve as guiding principles in our work going forward. After a 12 week Development sprint — Vipps Tech Strategy (tech.strat) 1.0 was launched.
There is vast material developed under each focus area, execution plans and priorities. Ensuring that 1.0 is only marking the very start of implementation journey, is key. Embrace the evolution pace, keep decisions and crossroads in line with the strategy and link it back.
How to get organisational buy-in?
Organisational buy-in is key for alignment between Vipps’ overall Strategic Platform, Business processes and governance and the Technology Strategy. We can’t operate in silos, so this part is not to be underestimated. Tech strat cannot live under the radar, be hidden and only serve as internal guidelines for Tech. Not sustainable, and our goals much less attainable.
So — we made a big deal out of it Launch Day — Presentations, Show and Tell, and sharing the work. We basically made a launch party out of it.
What next? We are now well into execution phase and we have seen some great results already. But, the most important result is that every engineer, every tech lead, every architect and every manager are invested in this and use it to underpin decisions and choices, in addition to cross team collaboration. The latter is taken to new heights as we co-develop across boundaries, loosely coupled and consumable services are contacted between teams. Even if its early days and some heavy lifting lies ahead of us, we have a clear guidance on how we are approaching this.
Strategy work still relevant? Or “move to Bin”?
It is now nearly half a year since our launch of tech.strat 1.0 — what is the current conclusion?
Firstly, I must admit that I feared the risk of this work not being seaborne at all. Competition from other priorities are always lurking around. However, with the investment and anchoring through to the top of the company, this was not the case.
Secondly, Co-creation of the strategy has been key of ensuring the ownership and willingness to keep this as key principles in every day engineering work.
Thirdly, this has brought a new sense of tech culture into the company. We collaborate in different and more effective ways, we have the same foundational compass established.
The journey is still young, but I am truly optimistic for this to be a living environment that will continue to challenge the way we work in order to create truly differentiating competitive power and speed.
To be continued — with five in depth articles of the Strategy Pillars, with some real tangible take-aways.
*p2p: person-to-person ** p2b: person-to-business
A special thanks to Hallgrim Sagen for your endurance and spirit through the incubation of Vipps Tech Strat