More Details on Zalando’s Radical Agility Re-Organization

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The newly implemented ‘radical agility’ is credited by the company with how fast some things get executed at Zalando. Both the Zalando main app and Zalando’s mobile marketplace Fleek are heavily affected by Zalando’s radical agility approach.

Which in itself is impressive. Think about it: Over a very short time frame (about a year) Zalando reorganized main parts of the company and aligned itself towards a new (platform centric) strategy, whilst as well growing tremendiously in staff, revenue and processes.

diginomica talked with Philipp Erler, senior vice president of technology at Zalando, about the company’s reorg:

Dig beneath the surface at Zalando, and many Agile principles are still there: daily ‘scrums’ at Zalando’s tech hubs in Berlin, Dublin and Helsinki; small teams, working in short ‘sprints’; a focus on iterative development. (…)

But Erler insists that Radical Agility goes further, with a strong emphasis on increased autonomy and continual learning, with tech staff allowed to spend 20% of their time on developing their skills. He says:

“Radical Agility is centered around small teams of three to seven people, who own a topic, or a technological aspect of the platform, from end-to-end. We arm them with purpose and clear insight into why they’re doing something and how we believe the end result should look from the customer’s perspective, but it’s up to them to take it from there. We trust them, give them autonomy to take decisions on their own, but also expect them to be responsible for those decisions.”

Erler:

we’ve introduced some concepts that work as a sort of social framework. We have a Constitution that lays down basic rights and reports for teams. And on that foundation, we’ve built a set of rules to play by, centrally issued, that let teams know what compliance requirements have to be fulfilled, what kind of testing they’re required to perform before something goes live and so on. And we have an audit department that continuously checks compliance with these rules. What we’re trying to model here are things that we know work well in civil societies.

​It looks like Zalando has learned from some of the mistakes Zappos made with Holacracy and has implemented some safeguards.

Every organization is to some degree a work in progress; Zalando’s even more so than others at this point. As I said, it is impressive how much Zalando accomplished on so many different levels in such a short time frame. The flipside with this is though, that it is going to take some time until we can assess wether this is sustainable. Zalando’s tech workforce is about to double, from 1,000 to 2,000, by the end of the year.

Right now, everything looks good from the outside, but the big challenges are still ahead.

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