What does being agile mean at Air New Zealand?

03 Jul 2017 Digital


By Michelle Ross - Senior Manager, Digital Transformation at Air New Zealand. 

Michelle Ross


Change is a part of my DNA. As is travel. So when I decided to join Air New Zealand, I was thrilled to combine two of my passions and become part of the journey to being a leading digital organisation. Fast forward 18 months and it’s exciting to reflect on the progress we’re making, and in particular, how agile ways of working are a key part of our achievement so far. 

My role as a change leader in the Digital team is all about people and culture, and it’s refreshing to know that at Air New Zealand, culture is a top priority. Our team works hard to support our digital organisation, and put in place what we need to improve how we collectively work smarter to create value for our customers. 

Like many others, we believe that agile is less about what you do and more about your mindset. And whilst the agile manifesto may have its roots in software development, it can be applied ubiquitously. With that in mind, our team combines the super-powers of change management and digital learning with agile and product management coaches to nurture a culture that’s thriving. To make this happen, we’re focused on:

·         The key capabilities and skills we need to have an awesome future

·         How we create deep organisational agility, and;

·         How we inspire people to continue to learn and grow

My favourite bits

Reflecting on the past year, there are three parts of the agile puzzle that really stand out:

1.       Self-management is where it’s at

Commonly framed up as emotional intelligence (EQ), the “soft stuff” is having its time in the sun as organisations shift traditional IT departments to well-oiled, customer value machines. Transformations typically take a long time because people struggle to open their minds to being different, and oftentimes struggle to prioritise learning. At Air New Zealand, we tackle this head-on by promoting healthy team dynamics, inspiring people to think differently and supporting them to work smarter together. I encourage people to be themselves and bring their personality to work with them because the way we feel drives the way we behave, and the way we behave affects how we influence the people around us. Obviously that can work both positively and negatively, so the ability to look below the surface and recognise what others need from you as both a leader and team mate is critical to winning relationships and a high performance environment. If you have a healthy appetite for personal improvement and you’re prepared to invest in understanding and growing, it will pay dividends.

2.       Wicked planning is everything

I often hear people say “we don’t need to plan, we’re agile!”. When I hear this, I cringe because nothing could be further from the truth. Putting the jargon to one side and assuming it’s done well, agile planning is some of the most detailed and specific I’ve seen. Traditional approaches require large amounts of planning time up front (exactly when you know the least!)  and that has always made little sense to me. But agile teams think differently and are ok with less certainty. We have a bias toward value and action – getting on with the bits that are better known, over perfect planning. And we're flexible; responding to change when the environment calls for it. So no, agile doesn’t mean we don’t plan, it means we get close to our customers and users, we shape our priorities together and we refine the detail, when the time is right.

3.       Support at the top makes all the difference

All too often we look to delivery teams to go faster when actually we need to put the whole system under scrutiny. And to review the whole system, you need advocacy – top to bottom. Creating agility in a big corporate means commitment to examining everything, rooting out bad habits and challenging the norm. “That’s the way things are done around here” no longer cuts it when it’s your mission to always be better. Change can be uncomfortable and that discomfort applies to everyone in an organisation at some point – but when the value associated with enterprise agility is deeply understood AND role-modelled in leadership, then the magic happens! 

When I look to the future, I’m intrigued to think about how the travel industry and customer expectations will have changed. But more interestingly, I’m excited to think about how our agility will have empowered us to drive and shape that change.


Join our crew: we’re currently recruiting Agile Coaches. If you want to be part of shaping the future of this iconic kiwi company, then please check Digital career opportunities.




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