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April 27, 2021

Better Ways of Working at Nationwide Building Society

By IT Revolution

Nationwide Building Society is the world’s largest building society, with 16 million members. In 2020, Patrick Eltridge, Chief Operating Officer, and Janet Chapman, Mission Leader, discussed their continued journey to better ways of working at the DevOps Enterprise Summit London-Virtual.

As a larger, older organization, Nationwide faces a number of challenges. As Patrick Eltridge puts it, they are part of a “hyper fluid and hyper competitive environment.”

Like many organizations, they started their transformation in the IT department, mainly around change activities and using Agile practices in IT delivery, seeing measurable but limited benefits.

“We deliver well and reliably, but slowly. We need to get from start to finish more quickly and to surprise and delight our members not only with the quality of our products and services, but the speed at which they are delivered,” Janet Chapman said.

Today, with the help of Sooner Safer Happier author Jonathan Smart and his team from Deloitte, Nationwide is in the middle of an organizational pivot from a functional organization to one fully aligned to member needs underpinned by stronger Agile and DevOps practices to bring run and change activities together into long-lived and multi-skilled teams. They call it their Member Mission Operating Model.

Typical ways of working in most large organizations is the result of years of evolution. Specialist functions are gathered into departments and the work passes between them with queues at every step. 

“Currently, when we process a mortgage application it gets broken into parts among all the functional teams. We all do our bits, and then reassemble the outcome, test it to see what we got wrong, and then see if it fits the needs of the member and fix it if it doesn’t,” as Eltridge explains. “And when we want to improve performance or reduce cost we seek to improve the efficiency or reduce the capacity of the teams of individual specialists. What that way of working doesn’t do is optimize the flow of work to our members from beg to end right across and through those teams.” 

In order to optimize flow, Nationwide made it easy for members to tell them what they want. Then they brought together all the people and tools necessary into a single team to make that want. Everyone on the team can see all of the work, and they are able to organize themselves in a way that smooths the path of the work and optimizes the delivery of the work in a safe, controlled, and sustainable manner. If a bottleneck does appear, they add people or change the process. What they don’t do is add a queuing mechanism as a first response.

By moving from functional teams in silos to long-lived, multi-skilled teams, Nationwide has seen throughput improve dramatically, risk and quality improve, and costs fall away.

They had a unique opportunity to place these new ways of working to the test with the COVID-19 pandemic. As the UK went into lockdown, Nationwide’s call centers were quickly swamped due to staff absences. They needed to enable contact center staff to work from home and enable branch center staff to take calls to relieve pressure.

This was an initiative that Nationwide had been discussing for years. But it would have taken nine months and cost more than £10 million, so it never got done.

With an urgent need to reduce call center volumes, Nationwide gathered everyone necessary around the same ‘virtual’ table and worked through, in real time, how to enable an agent to work from home. It took the team only four days to complete.

Next, they looked to see if they could direct calls to the branch network, but they couldn’t without the recording necessary by regulation. So instead, they only directed calls to branch networks that didn’t need the regulatory recording, which helped a bit. A small improvement on a longer path. This again, took about four days.

But over the weekend, they were able to solve the recording problem as well. Another four days.

“Afterwards, I asked the team how many corners we’d cut? How many policies we’d breached? How many security holes we now need to plug? They looked at me and said, ‘well, none. We had all the specialists we needed to do it properly right there. We stuck to the policies, it’s secure, it’s fine,’” explains Eltridge.

“When everyone you need is aligned on the most important task at the same time, you get real pace and real collaboration on solving problems. That in essence is what a Mission is to us,” says Eltridge. 

Nationwide is now aligning people from their old, functional teams into these long-lived, multi-skilled Mission teams, as well as their underlying value streams. They are evolving governance and financial management to support local decision making and continuous funding of consistent teams. They are integrating run and change activities into these long-lived teams to enable continuous improvement of the work. And they’re applying systems thinking to identify and remove failure demand from these flows.

“I think of Agile as our means and DevOps as our target. This is very much a work in progress and we’re consciously allowing the issues and opportunity to merge as we work to implement this. We’re not following a templated approach,” explains Eltridge. “It is most important to people to go on this journey of learning and unlearning, often with coaches, but not having the answers handed to them by a central team of experts.” 


To watch the full presentation, head over to the DevOps Enterprise Video Library.

And of course, for the latest stories, attend DevOps Enterprise Summit Virtual – Europe, happening 18-20 May 2021.

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IT Revolution

Trusted by technology leaders worldwide. Since publishing The Phoenix Project in 2013, and launching DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2014, we’ve been assembling guidance from industry experts and top practitioners.

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