Agility in Customer facing organization – the learning journey

Marin, can you start by telling us a bit about Infobip?

Infobip helps brands create meaningful, personalized customer experiences using digital communication on a global scale. A great customer experience leads to more engagement with the brand, which, in turn, results in increased business for the brands and greater satisfaction for their customers. Our core offering is the Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS), which makes it easy to add messaging capabilities to any application. With our platform, you can effortlessly reach your customers anywhere in the world, on any device, using their preferred channel, such as WhatsApp, Viber, SMS, Email, and many more. On top of that, we offer a set of AI-powered SaaS applications focused on marketing automation, customer service, and chatbot building. Our SaaS applications assist businesses in reducing marketing and customer service costs and significantly increasing return on investment. We work with some of the biggest brands, including Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, just to name a few. We are a global company with 3,500 employees in 70 offices across 6 continents.

Marin, as the VP of People at Infobip, what are your key responsibilities?

Simply put, my goal is to support the creation of a network of aligned, high-performing teams at Infobip. More specifically, my team focuses on people, culture, and promoting an agile mindset and way of working. In terms of people, we strive to create an exceptional employee journey. This includes ensuring we hire the right people, providing effective onboarding programs, offering numerous opportunities for learning and growth, and implementing an effective performance management process with clear goals and high accountability. The second area of focus is culture, which is of utmost importance to us. As we continue to grow, it is essential that we preserve and nurture the core principles that have made us successful so far. These principles include a strong emphasis on customer focus, cross-functional collaboration, continuous learning and innovation, open communication, respect, and fairness. Lastly, the agile mindset and way of working are crucial for building effective, high-performing teams. We continuously assess areas in our business where we need to accelerate execution and design teams and work processes based on agile principles. We have a dedicated team of agile coaches who collaborate with cross-functional teams across the organization to facilitate the adoption of this mindset and way of working.

Infobip embarked on its Agile journey some time ago. However, it is not very common for companies to implement agile practices in their customer-facing departments. What was Infobip’s primary motivation to adopt the Agile Way of Work?

Infobip began introducing agile approximately ten years ago in product management and engineering. With over 900 people in these departments, agile greatly helped to align and speed up deliveries. We started with Scrum and later transitioned to LESS.

On the customer-facing side, including departments such as sales, customer growth, sales engineers, and marketing, we experienced rapid growth in recent years. This growth included not only increased revenue but also a greater number of employees and organizational complexity. However, departmental objectives and KPIs sometimes obstructed cooperation and hindered our ability to deliver the best possible value to our customers. Silo walls started to emerge, prompting us to take action. Our business goals were clear: faster customer acquisition and increased expansion/cross-selling. To achieve this, we needed better focus and alignment among our customer-facing departments, a swifter flow of information, and clear accountability. This aligns well with the agile mindset and way of working.

When initiating the Agile journey, what aspects or considerations did you prioritize?

When we initiated the adoption of agile practices in the customer-facing organization, we had several key objectives in mind: improved focus on customer segments, the formation of small cross-functional teams aligned with those segments, increased transparency and accountability, a sense of shared ownership, and a commitment to continuous improvement. To achieve these goals, in the latter half of 2022, we initiated a pilot program introducing the concept of a “squad.” These squads consist of 7-12 team members and work in two-week iterations, customizing the Scrum methodology to suit the sales domain. Following the successful pilot, we expanded this concept globally, and we now have approximately 60 squads deployed across the organization. Each squad is responsible for its go-to-market strategy and executes it through two-week sprints. Each sprint begins with planning and concludes with a review involving primary stakeholders. Additionally, squads conduct pulse checks (similar to daily standup meetings) twice a week to ensure alignment and mutual support. These squads receive support from agile coaches who have tailored agile principles to the specific context of Infobip. The early involvement of agile coaches in working with the squads proved to be crucial for ensuring the adoption of this new way of working.

Dealing with uncertainty during the early stages of Agile adoption can be quite challenging. How did you manage this, and what were the initial reactions of your employees to this transformation?

This is an area where we could have done better. The transition wasn’t easy for everyone. We introduced new roles, such as squad leads and chapter leads, and people were moved to new positions. There was a perception that agile was primarily for developers, and the initial feedback indicated that we could have communicated the reasons for the change more clearly, provided more training, and better defined some of the roles. Initial reactions were mixed. Most people understood why we needed to transform our organization, but they weren’t fully convinced that adopting an agile way of working would bring benefits. Six months after the rollout was completed, there is still room for improvement. However, I’m pleased to report that our business metrics are clearly on the rise, and the majority of the squads have embraced the agile mindset and principles.

As you’ve progressed on your Agile journey, there must have been notable successes and setbacks. Could you share some of the most significant failures and successes your organization has experienced along the way?

One significant lesson for us was squad design in “multilanguage” regions. While agile “best practices” typically recommend teams of 5-9 members, in some cases, we had to create larger squads to accommodate regional specifics (such as the need for local language speakers in key markets) and to avoid a single point of failure within the squad. Another valuable lesson was regarding the clarity of roles between the squad lead (the business leader) and the chapter lead (the leader responsible for all people within the same function in the region, for example, account executives). The intention is for squad leads to focus on strategy, goals, and alignment within squads, while chapter leads handle people-related aspects like hiring, onboarding, coaching, and mentoring. We are still refining the scope and guidance for these roles to ensure our squads perform at their best. In terms of successes, the areas covered by these squads are experiencing double-digit growth, especially in the key metrics we aimed to improve with this transformation. We continually receive feedback about increased focus, improved collaboration across different functions, and greater transparency within squads, which enables us to identify and address issues more swiftly than before.

To conclude, what key message would you offer to other organizations considering starting an Agile journey?

I’d suggest avoiding a strong emphasis on the agile journey initially. Instead, start by understanding the areas of your business where performance falls short of expectations. Identify the root causes and engage with people in the organization to grasp their pain points and frustrations. Only after this, consider how specific agile principles can be applied to address these challenges. Connect specific agile practices to the specific problems you’re facing. Explain to people how these practices can enhance their job performance, eliminate inefficiencies, and reduce frustration. Weave it all into a narrative that sets ambitious goals and lays out a clear path for achieving them. Remember to take care of the people involved in the change process. Offer continuous support and keep listening to their feedback. In these kinds of transformations, things rarely go exactly as planned, so ongoing improvement is the key.

About Marin Bezic 1 Article
As the Infobip VP of People, Marin leads the company in shaping an organizational structure that fuels innovation and cross-departmental teamwork, and together with his team, he empowers the Infobip culture and behaviors. Marin is an experienced management consultant with a deep understanding of the sector and expertise in building out bluechip tech organizations. He spent 12 years at Microsoft, where he was central to product development and the force behind Microsoft's first business intelligence application. After his first eight years of working at the company's headquarters in Redmont, USA, he moved to Microsoft's London headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where he led the Application Platform business in over one hundred countries. Marin is a father of two daughters. In his spare time, he enjoys running and hiking.

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