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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Radical Agility – The Core Of Zalando Tech

This is a guest post by Tuomas Kytömaa from Zalando Tech. Photo: Zalando

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Exactly one year ago, global Zalando Tech organisation was reorganized according to the principles of Radical Agility. Since then, applying Radical Agility has become the hallmark of everything we do. It’s inspired by Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive.

In short, Radical Agility is built upon three pillars: purpose, autonomy and mastery.

Purpose means that people know and understand the bigger picture and how what they are building contributes to that. Autonomy means that teams are given the freedom to make decisions that are relevant to their work.

Finally, mastery means that people are continuously and systematically taking steps towards achieving mastery in their own craft. All this is bound together by trust instead of command and control.

For us, Radical Agility directly contributes to building agile, empowered and motivated teams. I will share with you three real-life examples of this philosophy:

First of all – last fall, when we had reached the size of about fifteen software developers at the Helsinki Tech Hub, we realized that we were getting too big to function as one development team. It was time to split up the team.

According to the Radical Agility principles, we let our developers choose which team they wanted to work in and ended up with a well-balanced setup. Talk about autonomy and giving people a chance to impact their own work!

Secondly, building software is fundamentally about understanding inherently complex dependencies and making the right decisions when solving problems. Having a clear picture of what you are set out to accomplish helps when making the seemingly small decisions that together contribute to the overall outcome.

This is why we take extra effort ensuring effective communication between the product team and the developers. Once a developer understands the purpose of her or his work, she or he can independently make better decisions. Now multiply that by 40, and you understand the impact a team with a clear purpose can have! In fact, our VP of Engineering has given our developers the right to not implement something if the product owner cannot explain the purpose for it.

And third, we take professional development seriously. In our organization, there is a role of a People Lead. It’s her/his sole responsibility to work together with engineers to build personalized and actionable development plans for every developer. We call these plans Tour of Mastery – it’s kind of like a roadmap for your career. It took us a little while to find the right person for this demanding role, but I’m excited to announce that our first People Lead will be starting in a few days!

To sum it up, we are now six months into the journey that is establishing the Helsinki Tech Hub, and can already see how Radical Agility has become an integral part of the Zalando culture here in Finland. During my twenty years in the software business, this is by far the most empowering environment I’ve experienced.

Though, the journey is by no means over. Culture is like a living organism that requires constant care, and I feel extremely lucky to be part of shaping this elastic environment.

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