Even Santa Needs to Go Slow to Go Fast | ON THE MARK
17th December 2019 Admin

Even Santa Needs to Go Slow to Go Fast

In an exclusive interview last year, Nicholas Christmas, the CEO of Father Christmas Ltd., gave us detailed insight into how his organisation introduced Santa’s Agile elF environment (SAFe). The goal of SAFe was to rapidly develop solutions that would deliver St. Nicholas’ goal of a 50% reduction in carbon footprint. Today we reveal the details of a conversation we had with Nicholas following their post-implementation review (PIR). Even Santa knows how to best utilize agile teams during the holiday season! Edited highlights of last year’s interview can be found here. 

OTM: Nicholas, thank-you for agreeing to share some of the key findings from your PIR. Can you give us a brief overview of what you set out to achieve and how this was done? 

NC: I wanted the organisation to work together to deliver a 50% reduction in our carbon footprint. I set the goal but did not tell them how to do it. The team broke the solution down into products and formed Agile Reindeer Teams (ARTs) to deliver these products. The ARTs formed multi-skilled scrum teams that broke the work down further and incrementally developed the solution for their assigned part in 2-week dashes. After each 2-week dash the scrum teams within the ART met to integrate their work and set their targets for the next 2-week dash. The final piece of the jigsaw was Santa’s Solution Team (SST) which met every six weeks to review the progress of the ARTs and integrate across them. 

Santa's sleigh and reindeer illuminated by the moon.

Santa showcasing his new technology.



OTM: When we left you last year you were about to test drive the new Reindeer-and-Sleigh™ technology and you were expecting a 75% reduction in carbon footprint based on what the ARTs had reported. How did it go? 

NC: In all honesty, not as well as I had hoped. In those early trials we did have a reduction in our carbon footprint, but we were so down on power that we would never have completed all our deliveries on time. The global impact of Santa not delivering before dawn on Christmas Day was too horrific to even consider. After those initial tests I was tempted to revert back to our trusty old model. 

OTM: Oh deer (sic), what went wrong? 

NC: From a product point of view, it was easy to see what went wrong. When all the components were put together they did not work as well as expected. The fuel was not quite right for the engine, therefore the exhaust gases were not quite what the recycler expected. On top of this, the sleigh was heavier than expected and as a result performance was awful. It would have been easy for me, at this point, to take control and tell the teams what to do. Fortunately I resisted that temptation. It would have destroyed any chance of the organisation ever moving to my vision of an agile organisation if I started issuing orders from the top.  

OTM: So, what did you do to get the organisation back on track without you telling them what to do? 

NC: That was fairly easy, I asked them to take a look at the operating model that they designed through the lens of The OTM Applied Star model, and to follow the work. You see, I hadn’t forgotten all that OTM taught me about Organisation Design and Business Transformation all those years ago. 

OTM: That’s good to hear, what did they learn from doing this? 

NC: Well, that’s probably easiest to answer by just walking round your Star because there wasn’t just one thing. The good news was that the direction was clear, ‘reduce the carbon footprint of our Reindeer-and-Sleigh™ technology by 50%.’ However, things went downhill from there.    

There was no overall view of the work, which led to work falling down the cracks between the ARTs. It was only when the team stepped back, that they saw the missing work and realised the ART product sub-boundaries they created were wrong. Old world thinking led to boundaries being created around current products, leaving no room for innovation. By the time the SST got involved they were looking at the big picture from a high level and didn’t see the small changes that would eventually lead to a poor solution.  

Whilst all this was going on, the line managers of the scrum teams were ‘interfering’ in the work at both the scrum and ART level. This was well intentioned, but was in fact causing friction with the scrum leaders who were managing the work.  

Overall, it was a lot of little things that built on each other resulting in a well-intentioned operating model failing to deliver the direction that had been set. 

Cat waiting to catch a glimpse of Santa.

Cat amazed at Santa’s agile capabilities.

OTM: That’s interesting, so how did these problems manifest themselves. 

NC: It was only when we put everything together at the end that the problems became visible. It took a heroic effort from everyone to unpick the changes, fix, develop and rebuild.  We did end up with a final product that had sufficient power and delivered a 47% reduction in carbon footprint. 

OTM: I guess that the important question is what have you leant, what would you do differently? 

NC: We fell into the trap of thinking that agile means that everything has to be fast. We forgot the OTM wisdom that sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.  We leapt into SAFe without thinking about all the impacts across The OTM Applied Star Model. We didn’t spend enough time on the highlevel end-to-end value stream, we drew structural boundaries based on Old World thinking, we ignored the impact on the role of leaders and the management mechanisms, and we didn’t consider changes to our reward, recognition or people management processes. It is all easy to say with hindsight particularly having seen the amount of rework we created for ourselves, but we should have remembered that even in an agile world you sometimes have to: 

“Go Slow to Go Fast.” 

OTM: Will all be well for 2019 Christmas deliveries? 

NC: You can rely on us to deliver the Christmas you expect. 2019 has been a year of continuous improvement. We are now confident that we can deliver a 60% reduction in our carbon footprint. When we return from our New Year break we are taking a fully participative approach to reviewing the current state of our operating model before deciding whether we need a further redesign. 

Dog pretending to be Santa.

Santa shared some of his agile capabilities with this Christmas pup.

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