Janine Russell makes ATB Financial more agile

The scrum master sparked an entirely new way of working at the company.

By Danny KucharskyJanine_Russell_22-03-05This story was originally published in the 2022 Spring issue of strategy magazine.

Few have been able to “deeply influence and shape” a whole new operating model, organizational structure and way of working for their company. According to SVP Carol Shmygol, that’s exactly what Janine Russell did for Alberta-based financial services company ATB.

Last year, the company’s senior scrum master, reputation and brand operations implemented an “agile” practice – common in the software development world but slowly being adopted in marketing and advertising – within the company’s reputation and brand department, which consists of 85 employees.

“Everyone understood there was probably a better way of doing things” than the previous “hurry up and wait” working model, says Russell. “The idea of agile is that you work in smaller increments, in periods of one to four weeks, and the team focuses on a specific piece of work,”  she says. “It’s about incremental change and improvement.”

As part of an agile practice, a scrum master supports and coordinates the team and eliminates impediments to ensure work is done as smoothly as possible. Curious about the practice, Russell travelled to San Francisco on her own dime to become certified as a scrum master. Soon after, she was tasked with implementing the agile way of working for her department. (At press time, Russell reached the highest level of scrum certification and was named a Certified Scrum Professional – Scrum Master.)

Some of the changes she brought to the ATB department included a new organizational structure, with “squads” (teams) supporting ATB’s key business areas, such as brand, everyday financial services, business banking and wealth management services.

As campaign work is broken into bite-sized pieces every few weeks, there is a sense of accomplishment “which is very novel in the advertising world, where you run flat out and then you’re onto the next,” she says. The risk of failure has also been reduced significantly. “You’re not investing everything in one campaign that takes six months to launch and then doesn’t hit the audience the way you hoped it would.”

Russell says teams are now being built to trust each other, communicate better and enjoy working together. Previously, employees were siloed, says Russell, which was a detriment to the work because there was a lack of communication.

While there is usually a challenging learning curve when it comes to adopting the practice, within just six months, more than 82% of the reputation and brand team said they had a good understanding of agile principles and 74% said they were finding new ways to work collaboratively. Both results exceeded expectations.

“Through Janine’s leadership in standing up an agile practice, our team has moved from a limited understanding or capabilities in this space to it now being the foundation of how we work,” adds Shmygol. “It’s difficult to quantify the ROI, but beyond the positive adoption metrics within the reputation and brand team, our relationships with internal clients have never been stronger and our work never more powerful.”

Now that the new way of working is entering year two, adds Russell, “I’m excited to see where we can go next. Our practice is going to get so much better.”