Marco Witteveen (Garanti BBVA): ‘Agile as an oil slick’

Agility has almost become a magic word in business. No wonder, because the dynamics in the market are great and companies that are not agile eventually lose the battle. Agile working originated at team level, but many organizations, including financial services provider Garanti BBVA, are now working on scaling agility to organizational and even ecosystem level: agile@scale. Marco Witteveen, COO at Garanti BBVA: “If you are not able to do this, your company cannot be successful.”

Agile@scale was the focus of the second of four CIO TV broadcasts, called Digital Leaders Boardroom, organized by ICT Media and Equinix. One of the guests in the studio was Marco Witteveen. International commercial bank Garanti BBVA, of which he is COO and board member, has undergone a profound digital transformation. According to the COO, the limited degree of digitization of a few years ago made it difficult to comply with ever changing and demanding laws and regulations. He calls the situation at the time ‘unsustainable and not scalable’: “If you want to keep up with a changing market, you will have to change and digitize your way of working.”

Value streams

The bank did not waste any time. Marco Witteveen looks back at the early stages of the transition: “We started with a design of the desired situation. We wanted to get rid of silos and move towards end-to-end processes that enable value flows.”

He continues: “We started on a small scale, with a few projects, and selected the people with the right talent for it. A good example is the onboarding process, which is suitable for all types of customers and is now completely digitized. The process has a digital document flow throughout the organization. It offers a digital audit trail and has proven itself in various audits by regulators. I thought it was very important to immediately achieve results in that initial phase, in order to be able to convince the board. Without results, transformation is a lost case.”

Proving value

The onboarding process served as proof of concept. “We chose it because there was a lot of value and urgency there,” Marco Witteveen explains, “We were able to prove to the organization that we could solve a long-standing problem in two or three months. Prove your worth first, then expand with a bigger backlog, more sprints and more POCs.”

“You cannot be successful without agile@scale”

As technology is concerned, Garanti BBVA went for a combination of cloud and low code. Continuous improvement and continuous change are high on the agenda: “Always looking at what needs to be improved, which changes we see, which incidents we want to prevent and which risks we want to mitigate. And let’s not forget: how we can achieve a short time-to-market.”

Scale up

The agile way of working, in combination with the introduction of new technologies like cloud, low code and RPA, had proven its worth; it was now a matter of continuing to introduce agile.

It all started with a small team, after which a second team was formed, and so on. “It was important to set up the governance properly,” Marco Witteveen explains, “We did that with the help of meta teams, a kind of steering committees. They determine, for example, which stories are done and assess the velocity of the teams.”

An important anchor point is a central backlog, from which stories are distributed across the teams. Marco Witteveen, “In the beginning there were some doubts about this way of working in the organization, especially whether it would be safe in terms of cyber security. But by now everyone is converted and I am preaching to the converted!”

It is a recognizable challenge for many organizations when introducing and scaling up agile and deploying new technologies. The shift from central to decentralized control by the teams associated with agile can cause a certain amount of concern.

Speed ​​vs compliance

A company that wants to be agile also often has speed as its goal. How realistic is this ambition in the heavily regulated banking world? Marco Witteveen: “Supervisors, but also your own parent organization, see that you are going fast and then wonder whether you are still in control. You should be! Just look at, for example, the increase in cybercrime and other risks. The questions that supervisors and the parent organization ask must of course be addressed, but that comes at the expense of your agility and speed.”

Garanti BBVA tries to bring the two worlds together by intensively documenting according to a certain standard. “We also propagate that standard within our ecosystem, so that all parties adhere to it, but as a smaller bank it is not always easy to impose your standard. Some suppliers see us as an interesting sandbox. That helps us in turn.”


With agile@scale, it does not stop at the organizational level. It is also necessary to look outside the walls of the organization at the ecosystem, at partners and suppliers. “That is extremely important,” Marco Witteveen agrees, “To be honest, I don’t see all suppliers moving along with this yet. They do talk about it, but they still think in the old way, for example in terms of governance and in projects. Sometimes we have to force our way of working. Other parties think it’s quite normal to work in an agile way, or are even further along than we are in this regard.”


Agile working requires a different leadership style: letting go without losing control. This is certainly the case with agile@scale. How does Garanti BBVA deal with this challenge? “The board must see the benefits of agile working,” the COO explains, “That means reporting regularly on costs, progress and steps we are going to take within the mapped out digitization program. This makes it possible for the board to adjust and stay in control. We have made sure that everything no longer comes together in the boardroom. Now every board member takes charge of a number of projects, within our agile governance. This makes it possible for board members to determine the ‘what’. The ‘how’ is the reponsibility of the teams, where the board members can challenge the chosen solution.”

“The board must see the benefits of agile working”

Marco Witteveen also reflects on his own leadership: “This is characterized by the creation of a sense of urgency. I use reports from supervisors and the like to emphasize that ‘something has to be done!’. The autonomy of teams, a characteristic of agile working, appealed and still appeals to me, because I wanted to work towards an organization that makes the most of the talents of its employees. For me it was also important to get rid of our legacy in small steps, for which agile is very suitable. You can’t do that with big steps.”

Oil slick

“Of course you have to overcome some skepticism at first,” he sums up, “You gain confidence by showing that you can solve a problem for the organization with a small team. After that you can grow to agile@scale. I call it the ‘oil slick approach’.”

In the second broadcast of the CIO TV Digital Leaders Boardroom, Marco Witteveen discusses issues surrounding agile@scale, as described in this interview. He also explains how he looks for the balance between control and autonomy and how to foster the awareness of agile in the organization. Tim de Koning, Senior Manager at KPMG, outlines the context, developments and challenges surrounding agile@scale. Johan Arts, Senior VP Sales EMEA at Equinix and Dennis Mulder, CTO at Microsoft share their organizations’ digital leadership ambitions and experiences. Watch it here:

About the Digital Leaders Boardroom

In every industry around the globe, organizations are setting the pace for growth, innovation and leadership by putting digital technology at the center of business strategy and competitive advantage. These are the digital leaders.

Equinix and ICT Media introduce to you the “Digital Leaders Boardroom: CIO TV” virtual event series where C-level executives from leading companies in The Netherlands will come together and discuss how they are embracing digital technology to thrive today and prepare for tomorrow.

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