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Private pensions: on a voyage of discovery in the spirit of Christopher Columbus

The Systems team in the area of private pensions development will be joining forces with IT’s Core Solutions development team. When developing new products, the interdisciplinary team uses the agile Scrum Method. The following report shows you what the Christopher Columbus-style pioneering spirit looks like in concrete terms.

16 september 2019, author: Michaela Schaub, photos: Helvetia

In the past, interaction between the «Private Pensions» (PV) market area and IT has not always been easy. There used to be just one team in PV that worked closely with IT on development, project work, maintenance and operations. As needs were identified via several individuals, the end result was that requirements were unclear, communication channels were long and response times even longer. The fact that the departments were in physically separate locations also often led to delays and misunderstandings. A solution was urgently needed...

Having the courage to try something new, overcoming challenges

The two teams (30 employees) had the courage to try a new approach to cooperation and project development: They decided to join forces as three revamped interdisciplinary teams. Despite some initial obstacles, such as the shift in project prioritization and the need to transfer knowledge to a large number of employees and maintain transparency in stakeholder management, the team did not allow itself to be thrown off course. Their aim is to break down barriers and tread new paths. «The reorganization is giving my staff an overview of the whole portfolio and is putting them in a much better position to understand their customers – their PV colleagues. A common understanding of the tasks provides the basis for customer-focused work,» adds Francis Koehler, Head of Core Solutions. 

Everything under one roof

February saw the team set off on its voyage of discovery – with the wind of management support in its sails: «The physical proximity, the sharing of offices, creates a new cohesion. It feels like a sailing crew all pulling in the same direction and working towards the same goal», says Application Engineer Thomas Foulk. They use Scrum as a framework coordinated with market requirements. For the first time, all requirements of a market area are being handled via a common order book (backlog). One Scrum master per team acts as a coach who recognizes the potential of the individual employees and spurs them on to further development. In addition, there are currently four product owners who control the teams and set the priorities for the sprints – this being the term used for two-weekly, self-contained development cycles.

Post-sprint is pre-sprint

For each new sprint – i.e. every two weeks – the teams set themselves new goals and plan their work. In daily, fifteen-minute «ceremonies», team members provide progress reports on their work. At the end of a sprint, clients should approve the work carried out. «The teams have a lot of personal responsibility. Being a product owner means trusting the team, letting go and not succumbing to micromanagement», says PV Product Owner Sergio Pinese. After each sprint, the teams reflect on their experiences and optimize their actions. This way they constantly develop in line with the principle of a learning organization.

Courage pays dividends

This organizational and process-related change towards an agile organization is unaccustomed and challenging for all involved. In the meantime, a sense of «us» pervades the teams. Physical proximity improves cooperation, coordination among ourselves becomes clearer, and mistakes are minimized. «Our approach has never been tried before at Helvetia. So we are bound to bump our noses and make mistakes now and again. But only by making mistakes can we learn and outgrow our limitations», says Marco Ritter, Head of PV development.And most importantly: the teams can respond more quickly to market needs. «I find it tremendously exciting to try out new forms of interdisciplinary cooperation. The private pensions market is set to change dramatically and we are keen to keep up on the technology front. That's why it's important for us to set off on our journey and have the courage to try something new,» says Claudia Aeschbach, PV Scrum Master. In his day, Christopher Columbus already noted: «Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent.»

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