Saahiti Prayaga

Author: Saahiti Prayaga


As the newly cold air welcomes the grace of winter time, another long-awaited IPM event arrives! On November 3rd, thirty-two participants of different backgrounds spilled into the brightly lit halls of the Credit Suisse towers, eager to learn the secrets that run the office life from within, as summarized by the event's promising title: "Agile is simple - It just isn't easy". 

The event opened with a surprising speech by Sangamitra Prayaga, who is part of the Switzerland chapter Zurich events team and working as Scrum Master at Credit Suisse in Payments domain. She announced that not only one, but two high-profile speakers would take the stage that night: Stephanie Hoogenbergen, a Managing Director of Credit Suisse and COO of Global Technology Operations, and Hans Martin Graf, Managing director of Credit Suisse and head of Corporate Products and Operations IT. They would be answering questions from the audience together in a fireside chat, which made this event unprecedented and exciting. 

Stephanie first walked us through the transformative journey that Credit Suisse underwent, which accelerated the implementation of agile across the organization. This included making agile principles, which are usually accredited to the IT sector, work on every level: Enterprise, Organizational, and Team. Concretely, this means moving from program organization to product organization, by having IT and Business work together on challenging issues. It requires bringing work to the people - instead of bringing the people to work, dissolving roles that were previously there, and going from being told what to do to being empowered. Restructuring the chain of management to adapt to these principles was the leap that Credit Suisse dared to take, which wasn't easy ( ;) ), but resulted in pioneering success. 

With colorful metaphors, Stephanie then explained the Agile Manifesto to us: It is often misunderstood that agility equals speed, but agility was created to give you a steering wheel, not a gas pedal. Its core values are about swiftly steering to adjust to the clients' needs, and to not be afraid of embarking on unknown paths.    

After Stephanie's speech, a fireside discussion with Hans Martin Graf opened, who is a passionate leader in the Agile- and People-skills domain, and contributed to changing the mindset of people towards agile - a unique opportunity for an audience to pose challenging questions to two high-ranking executives of a company. Kudos to the PMI Switzerland team for managing to put this together! 

The discussion was moderated by the charismatic Patrick Taylor, and it wasn't long before the audience got in on the fun. It was refreshing to see that the PMI Switzerland team created an atmosphere where people were not afraid to ask hard questions. The speakers were peppered with valid questions about the possible limitations of an agile approach, which they both answered honestly and frankly. Past failures were positively reframed as an opportunity to learn, and yet another agile principle was put in the spotlight: 

The fact that impediments aren’t in your way, they are your way. As Stephanie put it, “if you can move the stones on your road, you can be faster!”

As Hans Martin and Stephanie spoke with calm and eloquent encouragement, one could notice that they were practicing what they preached: They had the mentality of humble leaders, someone who knows that knowing it all isn't what matters, but rather the readiness to constantly learn and evolve. This is exactly the difference between doing agile - which can easily be learned through training - and being agile, which is a lifelong practice, since it requires constant reminders to be aligned on a vision and strategy, and to not fall into your old ways of acting. 

The discussion was wrapped up with some advice to current and future Project Managers:  

"Make sure your business is sustainable, help us broaden the movement, become an interested party, and try to adapt your own thinking and own way instead of just taking historical principles per se”.

All in all, the agile program can be summarized with the following sentiment: Skip the search for the guilty, the punishment of the innocent, and the praise and honors for the non-participants. 

Finally, the audience was invited to get to know each other over an Apéro - a perfect networking opportunity accompanied by delicious food and pleasant ambience.

On a personal note, when I first took my seat in the front row and watched the room fill up with project managers and high ranking executives, I couldn't help but wonder if I, being a simple Computer Science student, was a bit out of place. Little did I know that merely 12 hours later, I would be recounting all the facts I learned at a job interview the next day! I find that a nice testimony to how agile principles can be found anywhere.

Furthermore, as a first-time volunteer at the event, I was impressed by how welcoming and reassuring the PMI Switzerland team was towards new members. I was taken seriously and encouraged to join, experiment, and most importantly, fail! So if anyone is still on the fence about volunteering for PMI, I can highly recommend trying it out, as it is an incredibly supportive platform to expand your comfort zone :)

Looking back, I can attest that the evening was full of pleasant surprises and inspiring people. What a truly exciting way to celebrate International Project Management Day!

P.S: For anyone who would like more information about how Agile and Data Science could go hand in hand, this article by Malou Ockenfels could be an interesting read:

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