The Fourth dimension on agile leadership

Learn how agile leaders and collaborative communication accelerate business results and increase customer satisfaction.

If you’ve recently stayed in a Hilton Hotel, eaten in a Café Rouge restaurant, or purchased a Subway meal, it’s likely that Fourth supported that experience. This U.K. based company is a leader in operational software solutions for the hospitality industry, supporting purchase-to-pay, demand planning, inventory and workforce management solutions in hotels, restaurants, bars and other services. Underpinned by analytics and collaboration tools, Fourth’s software is used by 1,100 customers in 60 countries.

The challenge for the organisation is to keep pace with the rapid change taking place in the hospitality sector. Evolving end-user customer needs, increasing demand for mobility, and that perennial problem of having to ‘do more with less’ means that Fourth needs to innovate faster. It needs to bring new services to the hospitality market more quickly so clients can continue to streamline operational processes, deliver a high quality guest experience and remain both profitable and competitive in crowded market.

To support that drive, Fourth began by standardising on agile methodologies among its development teams in the U.K. and in its technology hub in Bulgaria.

“We adopted agile across our global development network to redefine the way software development is planned, executed and serviced,” explains Christian Berthelsen, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Fourth. “Agile gives us the transparency and predictability we need across our entire development lifecycle, accelerating throughput and giving clients the quality they demand.”

That’s not unique though. More and more organisations across the world are already turning to agile to deliver more value more quickly. What is unique is Fourth’s innovative approach to agile – and that innovation lies in the leadership.

“Agile development can easily stall without agile leadership in place,” says Berthelsen. “Here at Fourth, we don’t lead from the top down – we lead from the bottom up. The leadership team inspires all members of staff to become agents for change. Everyone in the organisation has the personal responsibility, accountability and authority to deliver on our clients’ requirements. Once we’ve agreed on an action, we agree as a business. That open style of leadership makes the life of the product owner and the software engineering teams so much easier, as they’re not in the middle of a conflict of priorities.”

As the CTO at Fourth, Berthelsen is also best placed to unpick what the characteristics are of a successful agile leader. “It’s all about openness and collaboration. Agile leaders set the vision and give individuals the freedom to follow that vision. They create an environment for people to push decision making authority down to those closest to the information and they remove barriers so individuals can respond in real-time to unfolding situations.”

That agile leadership extends far beyond the technology function too. Everyone from the Fourth CEO to staff in operations, sales, finance and elsewhere are conversant in agile leadership; indeed many other departments work in an agile way too. Every stakeholder is trained on what agile is, why we’re doing it, and they participate in it every day.

An example from the Fourth front line highlights the direct impact that agile can make. Several high profile clients were recently pursuing Fourth to add an important new feature to an existing hospitality product. Owing to the open, collaborative communication between the Fourth senior leadership team and the developers, the development time for the new feature was reduced by 50 percent. Agile has also opened up new market opportunities. “Within one year, we have been able to enter the U.S. hospitality market with a range of exciting new products,” says Berthelsen.

Data transparency – from portfolio to execution

Carly Hodges, Head of Fourth’s Agile Portfolio Office (APO), echoes these values, highlighting the importance of the APO in that collaborative decision making process. “Our APO performs two key functions,” she explains. “The first is to ensure we have agile operational insight across our portfolio and the business. That means having agile metrics and key business data aggregated, so everyone is best placed to make timely, informed decisions. The second is to drive agile operations at a strategic level – ensuring we have the right processes and governance in place in the portfolio and programme layers. Together, this ensures the APO provides the transparency to align strategy with execution, determine how well we are performing against our service delivery goals and how we can continually improve.”

CA Agile Central plays a critical role in this innovation strategy by aligning the teams and providing the transparency needed to be able to share key information with stakeholders and customers. “CA Agile Central gives Fourth the power to see progress across multiple teams, projects and programs from a single system of record – and collaborate for better results,” says Berthelsen.

A dynamic organisation like Fourth doesn’t stay ahead by standing still. The business is growing – and that means Agile has to scale too. “We challenged ourselves 12 months ago to double the size of our software engineering teams,” Berthelsen concludes. “The agile methodology and data governance, coupled with the Scaled Agile Framework we use and our agile leadership strategy, collectively enabled us to add those engineering teams successfully. It means our clients are getting the high quality hospitality solutions they need to lead their organisations into the future.”


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