Agile in People Operations

by Sarah Guerrier, Samir Keck - 26 Jul 2018

Applying agile frameworks to HR processes

At Zalando we set up multi-disciplinary teams to develop our products. We do not have a central tech unit, but tech is distributed everywhere. This means that the way our techies work together has also spread across the company. Everywhere in the organization people have touch points with agile frameworks and practices.

The team of people operations are the backbone of our HR processes, managing a high number of tickets around sick notes, working contracts, job references, work permit support, SAP data maintenance or similar topics. The team consists of 80 people. You might think this is not the first use case to apply agile practices and frameworks. But we decided to try it out.

To realize our goal of implementing agile practices within our team, we applied three principles:

  • Visualization
  • Manage the flow
  • Continuous improvement

Visualization


What did we do?
In order to manage something properly, it needs to be transparent. We first started with a big board and then with a big screen, measuring and displaying all relevant data, e.g. open tickets, lost calls, employee satisfaction, etc. Measuring straight away already made a change, because we needed to think about ticket categories and immediately discovered improvement points.

What impact did it generate?
As a result the team now has complete transparency about tickets and they can manage them using the two following agile principles.


Manage the flow

What did we do?
We process the tickets differently now. Before the change, all tickets went into a big bucket and teams looked for their topic based upon keywords. If a keyword was misleading sometimes the ticket was delayed or an important topic was discovered too late. After making the data transparent, we now use a dedicated role (the Channel Manager) to dispatch tickets three times a day. The Channel Manager is able to see patterns and build or change new keywords in direct contact with the internal users. The motivation for this role is to become as automated as possible.


What impact did it generate?
Moving from only managing teams to managing the flow of work items, we achieved faster cycle times and reduced our backlogs. We can prioritize very easily and time-critical tickets can be managed adequately. All of this happened through structured improvement.

Continuous Improvement


What did we do?
We rearranged our workplace, so everybody has a clear view of our big screen. Every two weeks we have a standup for around 10 minutes at our screen, looking at the numbers and briefly sharing patterns and improvement points. After the standup, we move on to deep dives on an individual level. Looking at the visualized and omnipresent data, the team members see very clearly how and where they can improve themselves and have easier access to bring in their improvements. The same goes for the leadership team, having transparent results, gives rise to the team understanding what impediments they need to remove for the teams on a more systematic and holistic level.

What impact did it generate?
We are constantly improving and the level of tickets dispatched in an automated fashion is increasing every month. Through this, we have managed to reduce our backlog and cycle time every month. We also set up our own way to discover and tackle our issues quickly. Less big “improvement projects” eating a lot of resources, and more weekly improvements based on KPIs and numbers.

Of course, there are still improvements to be made and we are not adapting all agile principles directly. Nevertheless, it is a good example for us on how we improved the work of a people operations team through agile working.


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