Ivan Skender: How did Vipnet create agile culture by introduction of A1 brand

In the last two years more and more teams of today’s A1 Croatia move to the agile manner of work which, for a company with over 2000 employees and two million users, is quite big, maybe a painful, but necessary step.

In front of the public, Vipnet has recently undergone tremendous changes – the entire Vip brand which has been built for almost two decades, obtained the new name, appearance, shape … Yes, I point out to the “new form of life”, motto that follows the company announcing a new era for Vipnet, now A1 Croatia, its employees and users.

But, the significant and required change within the company has started a long, long ago. Although this telecom will always be keen on strong start-up culture and innovative spirit, which they believe were maintained when they appeared on the market as a kind of challenger twenty years ago, however, the structure consisting of more than 2000 employees and 2 million users can hardly be flexible and agile as it used to be.

And in the meantime the situation on the market has been changed – there should be faster than ever reaction on the habits, wishes, and needs of the users, with a high level of service quality. Solution? Buzzword which whispers along the halls and screams on the meetings of probably all the corporation: digital transformation.

How to introduce digital transformation with as little internal challenges as possible?

Ivan Skender, General Business Transformation Director, will not hide that the digital transformation of Vipnet in which the company started more actively two years ago, was followed by certain challenges. They were primarily of internal nature, which is understandable. Each big change is followed by creating a so-called corporate immune system aimed at relying on novelties and maintaining the existing level of comfort. Even the status quo which on a dynamic market may mean long-term, but slow-down business death.

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To obtain that at the beginning, Vipnet has launched a platform called DigitalAll HUB, Skender remembers himself in the conversation. I myself had the opportunity to participate in some of the activities organized within the platform and see onsite effort to explain to the entire structure, in particular, the middle management, the changes that are in front of the company and make the transformation as painless as possible

We have organized internal meetups, monthly meetings of colleagues where we have openly discussed the internal projects, a place for asking questions and finding how to digitalize the sectors by themselves. Inside that platform, we have hosted inspirational teachers such as Sophie Lindblom, former head of innovative development in Spotify, founder of Infinum, Luku Sučić, and then head of HUB385 etc.

F…k up nights… sorry, afternoons

That statping spirit which in this way wanted to “revive”, does not pass without acceptance of the failure as well, and internal events F…k up afternoon (not “night”, as it is usual for such type of event, because they had to occur within working time, hadn’t they?) have started then. The acceptance of failure for big companies not being prone to it presents as well big change of mindset, continues Skender.

We have initiated as well Digital Academy, a program for development of advanced digital skills, and more than 20% of the company’s employees have passed the education. Within more than 7000 hours of training, the employees have learned different methodologies such as Design Thinking, UX Design, Agile & Scrum, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, Big Data etc.

Following two intensive years, I have to admit that big changes appeared.  The employees proactively want to work agilely, those who have passed the education appear for roles of internal trainers in order to transfer their knowledge to their colleagues, they come to meetups prepared with questions as well as with proposals for new topics.

200 persons educated for work in agile

When talking about the agile way of work, the first multidisciplinary teams in then Vipnet have been formed even in May 2017, ten of them, and from then that number is constantly increasing. Skender explains how did they solve the priority tasks inside digital transformations –  one team has worked on enabling the users to order all the services of this telecom by mobile phones, other on enabling the work of employees in user service, the third team on increasing the automatisation process in selling channels, the fourth on advanced analytics of users, fifth on skills and knowledge that should have been developed for the purpose of becoming successful in future…

We continue on with the same pace. For nearly two years almost two hundred colleagues have been educated for work in agile work, and today we as well have new professions such as product owner and scrum master we have helped in the process of certification.

It’s all part of the response to the challenge of today’s digital environment, where business needs to function, but as well to develop. Skender summarizes the organizational culture Vipnet, now A1 Croatia has been building for the last two years:

The entrepreneurial spirit is part of our DNA, we continually experiment with new technologies, intensively cooperate with students and start-ups, develop new digital experiences for our users. We are not afraid to make a mistake, and agility allows us to move things fast, learn from mistakes and change direction if needed.

4 lessons A1 Croatia has learned in 2 years of agile business activity

I would like to stress out the four major lessons they have learned in those two years. The first is actually very obvious and logical – the focus on the user.

A1 has developed a number of innovative solutions to digitalize the key user processes, from digital assistants to digital service portfolios, robotization, or user support automation, and steadily improving the process of redefining user travel. We constantly test our ideas and prototypes by talking to users. We find the best practices all over the world and map a user’s journey through workshops with all key stakeholders.

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The second referred to the fact that they must resist holding a fixed plan, rather than responding and reacting to changes, and because of that the agile way of doing business is increasingly “pushed”. And the third lesson showed how important it is to empower teams and employees.

In an agile way of thinking, the role of a manager is to enable the team to use their full capacity, talents, and abilities, all in order to generate top value for users and remove obstacles sometimes found on the road. The team leader provides clarity on goals and roles and shows trust in team members so they can implement projects independently.

Of course, this way of working also permits mistakes, which is the last lesson Skender stands out.

Failure is a key part of every business. Agile mode allows mistakes, but also fast learning on them, and thus improves future actions and decisions. The biggest failure is actually to repeat the same mistakes. It is therefore important to create an environment where we can talk freely about our mistakes and bad approaches, to learn the lesson and to be smarter next time.

What does all this mean to the end users?

And all of this is for the purpose of accomplishment of the needs and wishes of users, Skender ends his discussion, giving one of the newer examples – My A1 application which was released on the market in a new form, at the same time with the rebranding of the entire company.

The agile teams have created the digital service My A1 aimed at human-centric access, quality performance that suits the needs of the users. Apart from the new, simpler interface, the application and its functionalities the team has tested the entire portfolio of A1 services and tariffs and different types of users that may use the application. After thousands of test steps, the beta version of the application was released and a number of A1 colleagues tested for several months and real users and applications were completed based on their inputs, that is, after they told us first-hand what is good and what we can improve.

The result is a product that makes it very easy for the users to manage A1 accounts, and last month the app ranks first in the Play Store according to user ratings, in front of Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger…