Driving Cultural Revolution With OKRs at Vodafone UK (Europe 2021)

A story of how Vodafone broke through inertia and learned behaviours to achieve the cultural and behavioral changes it needed to transform from a Telco to a Technology business. How, with a huge will and determination to transform but no clear path ahead, we chose endless KPIs to harness and 'measure' our transformation - but found that after the early quick wins had dried up (although they did deliver value) we plateaued and couldn't break through to the real transformation. After truly realising (not just reading about) the **cultural ** significance of the journey, and appreciating that the outcomes, not the journey, is our focus - OKRs began to change our behaviour from the ground up and the momentum and progress began to organically drive itself. Today we're delivering value faster, happier and more frequently than ever!


Ben Connolly

Head of Digital Engineering, Vodafone UK


Sabina Kamber Salamanca

Lead Agile Coach, Vodafone UK



Hi, everyone. Welcome to the session. Really looking forward to sharing a piece of our journey today, uh, all about one of the things that's really helping us in transforming Vodafone into a global technology and a digital first company, uh, start with a couple of intros. I'm Ben Caudalie, I'm head of digital engineering at Vodafone here in the UK. And that means I get to build and lead the teams that build our digital channels, uh, on the platforms that they sit on, as well as drive a bunch of the new ways of working and, and techniques that help us drive software engineering at the heart of how we deliver to customers. I'm a software engineer, myself passionate about technology. Uh, but it's fair to say. I've been on a bit of a journey myself personally and professionally here at Vodafone, uh, with one of the most exciting parts of my job now, being able to help find ways to allow teams to really fuel themselves, uh, drive the company forward in ways. I probably wouldn't have even dreamed on myself. Um, my role now is one where I'm constantly learning about new ways of working and how to, how to improve. And for me, that really is the best place to be. Uh, and so I'll hand over to Sabina to say hi.


Hi, thanks Ben. Um, it's an honor to be here and to have this great opportunity to talk to you by driving cultural revolution by carers in Vodafone. But before we do that, uh, I am, um, one of the agile lead coaches in a butterfly within digital engineering area. And let me tell you a little bit why I actually joined waterfall. And this was about two years ago in April, 2019. One of the kind of promises for what a phone was future is exciting. Uh, even though we all entered, uh, sadly, uh, global, um, pandemic, uh, with COVID having hit the world last year, um, more than ever at that time, I actually felt the mission of what a phone, uh, what it stands for, which is connecting the world for a better future. I felt that kind of connectivity and keeping everybody going and now where it's going on next in, in terms of what's dear to my heart.


So together we can, it's something that we really really believe within digital engineering, uh, in, in waterfall. And one of the other reasons why I joined was I wanted to work for an inspirational leader, especially somebody whose kind of question and drive is empowering and, uh, his or her own people. And that's been cannoli here. So that's why it's an honor to be here together with Ben to tell you our story on that note, I'm going to hand over to Ben, who's going to talk about what a phones, uh, ambitions and what the future holds for us.


Yeah, thanks Sylvia. Uh, right. So I'll give, uh, an idea of where we're going so you can see why some of the steps that we're taking are so important to us. And we believe in them so much, like I mentioned, our journey really can be summarized as one where we become a technology business first and foremost, one that happens to be in the communication communications industry rather than one that's defined by that. Um, we call that being a tech comms company, but you get all meaning. Um, for us that means putting our customer experience first, uh, and a digital experience of that, uh, changing how we serve our customers and interacting with them on their terms really rather than, than on us. Uh, it also means really genuinely becoming a product led company, really focused on the value we're adding, uh, moving to a real persistent focus on those products rather than more, more of a transient business case by business case model.


Um, and fundamental to that is becoming a software engineering business, uh, at our core really, uh, historically like, like all telcos, uh, we focused on our network first and foremost. Um, but we now full we're full steam ahead really on transforming that perspective with our networks and the products and services that we offer to support that. Being driven from a software and technology first angle, that's really exciting and super ambitious journey. Uh, one that's touching, probably influencing every single corner of the company, uh, currently, uh, we've come a long, long way already. Uh, and we've learned a heck of a lot as well, uh, including, I'd say a lot about ourselves, uh, in the process, not least about how to effect change in a company like ours, uh, which can often see me easy. Uh, but in practice has a number of hurdles, uh, any one of which can limit or even prevent some times success happening altogether. And one of the key things personally has been for me, I think, is to recognize that this isn't a single big transformation. Uh, it's more likely a series of probably thousands of micro transformations, um, small steps, uh, minor victories that culminate together to affect real change organizationally and culturally. Uh, so the key really has been how to unlock those and how to ensure that when we do that all targeted towards the same outcomes that we're chasing. And that is what we're going to talk about today.


So as we can see, just for a bit of added context, really, you can see here that our focus on software engineering as a capability within Vodafone has really, really started the motor a few years ago. It's fair to say that proportionally across all of the 26 markets in Vodafone, we had very few software engineering roles delivering it solutions. Um, when it came to the it side of the business, in fact, we'd been used to more of a, uh, delivery culture and see where our people are there to drive the technical direction and to protect Vodafone's interests, but not necessarily to be hands-on with our own proprietary systems are building them from the ground up. That's changing quickly now, as you can see with a really, really ambitious recruitment drive worldwide, uh, and a really great opportunity for our own people to upscale into new areas as well, which is happening across the organization.


Now, some fantastic examples are people moving roles and changing their focus for their careers, uh, within digital engineering in the UK, for example, we've gone from around six to around nearly 200 roles in engineering in the last two and a half years with lots, lots more to come, uh, and we've changed the way we work with our partners as well. Um, to instead, uh, now augment, I'd say our own capacity for engineering rather than handout work packages and wait for them to be delivered back to us. Um, so across the globe, we're scaling out our engineering practices. You can see, uh, we expect that in the coming years, we'll have around 40% of Vodafone's people in purely software engineering roles, which for us is an absolutely huge shift. Uh, and actually one of the biggest shifts of all there's not the numbers, but of course what that means for us culturally.


Uh, of course our real culture is our people. Uh, and so with our culture almost organically changing around us with all of, uh, um, these new colleagues, um, as we grow with new skills, with your preferences, with new ambitions of our teams and our people, we really recognize that, you know, our ways of working or ways of empowering teams really needed to change in order to connect to those people, uh, better as well. And these things are obviously important in any team, uh, but especially with our new S uh, expectations and new ambitions, uh, we couldn't any more work in a way that packages up work and dishes that out to a team, hands it down to a team. If we want real value, we couldn't really anymore pretend to know exactly what the precise solution is going to be. We have to iterate, we have to experiment to get there. We couldn't any more expect, uh, to motivate ourselves without being connected to the outcomes without being connected to the value that we create. And so we really started to explore new opportunities and new ways of working that will enable that unleash and unlock that potential that we know we had. And that's when we started with all chaos.


So why, okay, so just to say, we've made lots of improvements, uh, even at a framework for continuous improvement. Um, and we were driving a lot of great change and really accelerating at pace in a number of different areas. Uh, although we'd seen in many ways, we'd begun to plateau in terms of our maturity. And we started really understanding and exploring why that might be, uh, and what we could do to enable it at some points. We recognized that, um, our ways of working were still very much married to, to our old delivery outsourced model. We needed to find a way to really motivate to drive from the ground up, um, our, our ambitions and our cultures, uh, and very, uh, there was quite a few, um, ways that, that manifested itself as well. For example, we had over a hundred KPIs at some points, and of course with KPIs comes a need to hit those KPIs or fear of missing those KPIs.


And so on, of course, so we do then focus on hitting those KPIs. In fact, sometimes at the expense of delivering value to the customers or to the business, uh, and at the, of driving ourselves to improve. Um, and so with, um, with some of these challenges now ahead of us, uh, things like, as it says, these KPIs being gained or being focused on to, uh, aggressively, uh, a lack of desire and necessary, uh, behavioral change, we, we, we were trying really to change our ways of working our principles and values and behaviors, but again, top down, we were finding that this wasn't working, we were reporting, um, on initiatives, uh, all the time. We were doing lots of great work. And in fact, we were improving, but not at the pace that we needed to and not, um, not in ways that were sustainable. Uh, we certainly weren't adding value, uh, as much value as we, as we talked. Uh, and most importantly, our teams were feeling less and less engaged. Uh, they were feeling, um, although they were marching on and delivering and delivering, they were feeling disempowered and certainly not connected to the value that they were adding, uh, back to Vodafone as an organization. And so there is where we were at the time and Sabina now is going to walk us through how together we rose to meet this challenge.


Thanks Ben. So before I share, uh, the story about, okay, ours, I just would like to say continuous improvement is part of a DNA of digital engineering and it's on daily basis. Um, something that we discussed, so always improving, but then as Ben explained for these reasons that you see here, we wanted to up our game and how do we turn ourselves around turn that empowerment dial, and how do we actually, uh, probably even begin to see what outcomes are we after? What is the value gain? How do we start to turn around even the mindset towards that way? That's when the actual, uh, you have to go there and said, how about if we trial a bowl type of framework that unifies us all to a common purpose and turns the empowerment by, can I just be anything we wanted to kind of improve our culture really, really wanted the culture of psychological safety of experimentation and learning, not fearing failure, but actually embracing it as a learning journey on to, towards the success.


And that's how we said to ourselves, why don't we trial workers? Because psychological safety is one of the fortes of, okay, ours. So then the question was, do you know what these experiments, the big hypothesis that was always in the back of our minds when we actually see meaningful, valuable, and really importantly long-lasting changes and what changes the changes we were often is more than anything is in the behavior and culture processing tool matter. And we will offer that too, but it's that kind of mindset change, cultural change that we wanted to, to, to help us then collectively go towards something bigger and this where the story begins in one of the very first, uh, program increments. And it it's focused around how do we rise to the challenge of turning around these problems that we were seeing of releasing to production. We were faced with extremely large monolithic releases.


I'd like to call them BS at the time, on average, more than 25 services packaged up in one go, um, often they would be prone to error or would naturally cause delay. And historically, and we're talking here just an average. So you can imagine it would have been even bigger at any point in time for release 30 days, post completion to actually release the light in front of a customer. And then the sweating in the room of more than 20, 30 people. And then others dialed in hoping praying that the release feels well, or you could dove them then hours of debugging, making sure that we can, we vote back. Then we can then evolve forward. And it was very, very difficult. Therefore, naturally, who wants to, it was a clear message. It's not scalable, not sustainable. And this is where the experiment with the ochre comes in.


One of the leaders in Ben Connolly's team actually came in the program. Increment 15 starts in October, 2019, uh, stands up in front of, he says, we're going to do an experiment. We're going to organize ourselves around, uh, these problem statements, how to resolve them together. I would like us to hold on on to the bigger mission that we after. And that's the quote that you see here. What we released is an opportunity to stop theorizing what we believe customers want, and actually put these hypotheses to test and get the product, get the service, gets the stuff in their hands to validate. So what were you going to fall? Now, let's see how we can get to with that overall mission. We're going to have a goal. And this goal is every OKR. I apologize. Every team must release to production independently, at least once. So that's the objective and key results rolled into one.


And then before I tell you the story about the learnings that we experiment experienced along the way, I'm going to tell you about the second. Okay, well, we have the game and said, each person on each team should lead an independent release. At least once these were the two experiments across two PIs. So even though later on, I will be talking about amalgamation of learnings that we got from all these experiments I'm going to actually, um, it's cool, really pertinent to this particular drive, or we were after in tons of independent releases and what we have the, the first one was in our themes. The mindset change starts to happen. And this is what re we really cared about. And the shift in the mindset was along the lines of, I've got this user story, I've got this bug fix. So a feature which release is it going into that, that means and tells us before the old care happened, I'm passing the bucket to somebody else.


I'm giving the responsibility to another team to release my staff into production and pro customer mindset shift happens during these , but this kind of thinking, I've got this bug fix, I've got this user story or feature. When can I get in front of a customer I'm responsible. I want to get it out to live. That's huge. That mindset shift then starts to raise the awareness in our teams as well, to start to think outside of the team boxes they own let's say team land and a bigger land of teams that work together. Because if I get this part of a user story working, but it doesn't join properly to make an entwined journey, let's say, work or breaks one part of a journey, then I will not succeeded. So the awareness of dependencies of services, and then twin journeys starts to happen. And there are other lessons which I will share later on, but the results that we experienced, the key result, well, after the two trials, we saw more than 75% of the teams achieving the key result, following the trials.


Now this is actually a status quo for ourselves today. Every single team, in fact, a hundred percent of them all released the production independently. So no more sweating buckets sitting in a big room, hundreds of people and big releases in a production like environment. And we flipped from one to another. I hope and pray works. This is now a new way. Uh, and it's been also, uh, given us some tremendous outcomes that even beyond our expectations, the teams started to feel empowered, excited, but that was really important. That's what we were after. We mentioned that in the previous, uh, parents begin to skyrocket, it goes from these big analytic releases before the OKR, which brought on average less than a handful, well, less than 10 to actually hundreds per quarter. And the last record showed us more than 500 in our last quarter cycle times really substantially reduced.


And really importantly, the stakeholders start to get happier. The trust, uh, improves. We had shipping stuff in from customers earlier. We can get even some pictures out to the door earlier because of these independent releases, getting to the door rather than waiting for these big packaged things all to work together. So on that note, we decide let's continue further. Let's see, what's more we can learn from these experiments. I mentioned that we've already done independent releases to production. Those were our first and second, uh, trials. We continued a little bit along that, uh, puff. And then we set to itself. This was organic by the way, uh, thinking what's the next challenge that we need to rise to. And in practical terms, it was about how do we further improve our relationship with the business? How does that trust and collaboration grows? And that's where we went off the sprint predictability.


There's a lot of experimentation on quality in terms of sprint predictability. We wanted to try and raise the bar to deliver on our commitments, but small timeframes and reduce the dependency chain between the teams, if one delays to another. So we can actually as much as possible ship things on time, but the beauty of this, as we went along the way and improved the sprint predictability from something like before the old Kara mood, around 50% predictable sprint to 75 to more than 95, we actually also allowed room for change, which means we didn't work on contract basis with the business stakeholders. It was a more collaborative negotiation. And if we needed to maneuver within the sprint and cope with change, we did. So that was really important for us. And that's where even further, the impairment all starts to shift quality was not the one we were particularly happy with in terms of results.


But okay. As I mentioned before, psychological safety and not fearing failure and failures were fundamental stepping stones for us, for the learnings, what we needed to do next. And that's when we did the next experiment and I'm going to talk about it because it becomes a big part of a driver we're going on next in a financial year, we upped our game and we said, okay, let's write. And with our teams, see if we can introduce the trial that drives a stewards for our strides, uh, who was in a sourcing, collaborative engineering, really turning the dial on quality and, um, unleashing the potential of driving scale by the phone global company. So this is the last trial. We have seen something around, uh, lots of, uh, experimentation starts to happen. And, uh, T teams are starting to get excited about this particular. They, they started to, uh, drive, uh, uh, uh, and sense of meaningfulness to them.


The cultural aspects starts to turn on within the engineering and the five trials. One of these kind of experiments. We now have kind of a land where we are going on next into in-app digital engineering world, as well as I'm going to talk about it globally. Next, we upping our games and we have twinned okay, ours as our navigational systems, the Crowsnest how we are doing who was the north star. We go into words, we still have KPIs. They're important, but we don't have a hundred. We have just five. And they are key indicators that are telling us is our navigation system working? Do we need to adjust? Is the Ocala potentially wrong? Oh, do we need to change the initiatives underneath that? Or is there an impediment that we need to really tackle as we go along this kind of, uh, scaling, we, uh, not forgetting our friends across entire border, a phone and globe we're sharing these lessons, sharing the journey sharing also where the pain was experienced, the failure.


What did we learn from it as we go towards eventually using this way of working as actual navigational system for the entire Vodafone. That was, it's a very exciting ambitions that Ben mentioned earlier. No, in terms of the actual summary of the lessons that we've experienced, they were quite numerous, but I will just extract one of the big key overarching ones. Okay. Is definitely, we believe drive cultural change. We have seen that kind of mindset shift, empowerment dial, but not only just empowerment, it's not like just a cowboy style land. Let's just do everything and entity and see what works. We also went for alignment. So kind of concept of aligned autonomy. So we, uh, eyes together on what our north sties. Once we turn the empowerment, we tap into the ground, we drive the change we go for across several layers, uh, helping us to resolve the problems we wanted to resolve or create new opportunities.


The real important bit here is the creation of the psychological safety zone. The, the, the leadership style that drives it is kind of, uh, agile, lean, servant type leadership, uh, of the people and setting the tone around not to be, uh, fearing failure. Failure is actually a good thing as lovely as the learn frost. And we implement on our journey together, those lessons we carry on, and this is what kind of really for us to unleash the willingness to even take the first stride and not just do it in hackathon land, but actually all the way through every quarter after quarter challenged, the status quo, can we do it better and feel safe in that experimentation land? The next lesson is the old Cara must be meaningful. Not every single one was, and this is what we learned the first most meaningful what's the actual independent releases.


Great predictability was also a very good one for us. We understood the Trump comes from that kind of predictable interim interaction with the business on a smaller scale, growing trust. Some of the ways, the way we positioned the quality, uh, OKR was not maybe necessarily meaningful at the time to the teams, but we definitely went for it in terms of the inner source in strides. We're seeing already the beginnings of some greatness, uh, and we are onto something here internally. And celebration part is really important. There was almost like team comrades a little bit about, we show off how much we've achieved, especially when it came to the independent releases and celebrating and keeping that kind of competitive spirit going in a healthy manner. The next things that we also experienced, there were some failures along the way as we trial the maybe not being so clear about the measure.


The first one was a very easy one. Independent releases, either all a hundred percent of the teams achieved the independent release or not. So it was pretty clear to say how much of the percent of the way we were towards that kid, adult predictability. Wasn't that clear? Neither was the quality one, what we learned from it. We adopted it. And now where we come and share and collaborate around these, okay, I was at the forefront of our thinking is actually the, we even have the measures. Can we get these measures that we clear on them in terms of, uh, how are we going to prove that we actually achieving the result we ask them and the final one, but not the least important, really key to us. We take impediments seriously. We act on them. Uh, we surface them and we address them and not just within the team level, beyond the teams in a larger scale, so that we can come together on this journey, overcome these challenges and really feel like we touching and we can achieve annual star on that note. This is the summary of our okay. Our journey. And I'm going to hand over to Ben


When you're on mute, this is the praise of 2020 to happen.


Uh, yeah, thanks very much to be here and thanks everybody for the, for the time. Uh, really appreciate the chance to walk you through our story. Uh, I'm really very much looking forward to some of the other sessions, uh, across the event, uh, of the LVS days. Um, and especially those that are showing how technology and commercial teams are working together, uh, end to end, really trying to, to, to change the ways of working the relations, uh, under methods, uh, in order to drive value end to end as quickly as possible. So I know that there were a number of sessions on that already that I'm keen to be diving into, but of course any, I'm also looking forward to the Q and a, uh, and learning as much as I possibly can while we're here, uh, from, from all of you as well. So once


Again, thank you very much, uh, and I'll see you soon. Thanks very much for me too, looking forward to see everybody at the Q and a.