How to grow your workplace with a lean and agile mindset

Many workplaces talk of the benefits of a lean and agile mindset. Yet the journey from theory to practice can often be anything but straightforward. Below, we tell the untold story of Ericsson Finland’s 10-year journey to reshape company culture and provide a foundation for innovation. Read on to find out more.

Working in an agile and lean way

Change takes time. Although we launched our initial studies in 2005, the real work to become lean and agile began four years later. At this time, we held high-level discussions to determine how we would lead the transformation and benchmarked ourselves against Reaktor, Kone, and some other companies.

It was at this time we established our first Scrum team – a group of developers who were keen on cross-functionality. Every Friday, they shared information about the team’s progress and lessons learned, communicating them to the wider business.

Soon, more Scrum teams appeared, and so did the first teams to use Kanban. Pull mindset, empowerment and continuous improvement quickly became part of everyday activities for all teams.

The rest of the cross-functional teams were formed using a Rainbow exercise. In this self-designing teams’ session, people were called into a room with lists of desired roles on the walls. For example, ‘one developer with strong knowledge of component X, and two with knowledge on component Y’. Lists were then presented and discussed, and everyone was asked to find a team for themselves. After only an hour, fifteen new cross-functional teams were born.

Adopting agile and lean principles wasn’t only about changing the way we work. The transformation was also reflected in our physical environment. We moved to a new premise and reorganized the office space. Suddenly, instead of sitting in their own rooms, people were working together around a team table surrounded by whiteboards, flip charts, and information radiators.

Ericsson Finland Lean and Agile journey

Creating a learning lifestyle

A learning lifestyle is a community driven initiative. The community sets the agenda and provides the content. Assigned coaches and managers support the learning lifestyle by creating opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing, for example, through talks and hands-on sessions. At Ericsson, we run hackathon events, which also support a ‘learning lifestyle’.

These hackathons were launched in Finland in 2013, and since then have been rolled out across the business globally – with several international events taking place each year. The internal hackathons have been so successful that in 2018 we decided to organize our first external event in partnership with Junction, Europe’s biggest hackathon.

However, not all of us code, so to make it possible for all employees to participate we started calling the events hackathons / non-hackathons. In the first ever non-coding hackathon, our learning lifestyle initiative was actually born.

Later, we wanted to enhance the learning aspect of hackathons by offering learning sessions throughout the 28 hours of a hackathon. In the end, it turned out that the employees participating in the hackathons were usually asked to teach the people who wanted to join the hackathon to learn. Therefore, we could not have the hackathon at all. But we did have our first ever learnathon instead.

A learnathon is not a conference. Participants define what they want to learn and want to share. The goal is to get people to meet: matching people with specific needs with those who can help them. Instead of an event organizer making the agenda, participants create it themselves by volunteering to share knowledge and voting on proposed topics.

We’ve now launched both local and global learnathons across the business. In 2016, we also invited external guests to participate in an open learnathon. Almost 650 people turned up. They joined the event from 26 Ericsson sites all over the world. Europe and Asia started together during the early morning hours for the European time zones. Americas took over the relay later and after 15 hours we passed the finish line together with some European participants still online.

In 2017, it was time for real hacking, and our first ever internal pentest (penetration test) hackathon was organized. At this event, employees tried to hack Ericsson’s own products for 24 hours. The aim was to discover and fix unknown security vulnerabilities, and also build upon individual competencies.

Since these internal pentest hackathons, we’ve moved forward. A couple of weeks ago we participated as a partner in the 5G Cyber Security Hackathon organized by Traficom (the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency) and Ultrahack. Other partners included the University of Oulu and Nokia.

The E³ - enabling, empowering and emotional

In 2013, we strengthened our new culture and mindset with an intensive internal coaching program, that was later named as . The aim is to create a culture that supports continuous change and empowers people to discover their full potential. Since its inception, E³ has evolved and spread across Ericsson globally. Sessions are now held in 15 sites and over 1500 people have participated.

People jumping in snow

E³ sessions are for individuals, but we wanted to provide teams with similar training. In 2014, we started organizing E³ team camps. Thanks to positive feedback from participating teams, the concept continued to spread throughout the business.

Interest in softer values and skills has continued to rise, and the number of initiatives that support E³ has grown.  

Mindfulness sessions started from an E³ wellbeing module called ‘calming down your mind’. The goal is to provide employees with tools that facilitate clear thinking to improve creativity. Mindfulness exercises are also a simple way to lower stress and help us focus on the present moment. Participants said that they felt energetic and focused, so we started running mindfulness sessions three times a week.

Collaboration is the key to success. In 2016, we started running sessions about non-violent communication and are still running them regularly.

Google found that psychological safety is the key to team productivity. We conducted a study about building a stronger team climate and found out that self-compassion is behind psychological safety. As a result, we organized mindful self-compassion training, which helps people combine mindfulness and self-compassion to enhance capacity for emotional wellbeing.

People attending a session

The journey continues

In 2019, we celebrated the first 10 years of our journey to a lean and agile mindset. But the journey is not over yet! Our learning lifestyle and E³ will continue to carry us on our journey into the future, towards a lean, agile business.

Want to be part of our journey? Check out our latest open positions on the Ericsson Careers page.

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