Interview with Eric Bowman

Interview with Eric Bowman

Q. Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I’m Eric Bowman, VP Digital Foundation at Zalando in Berlin. I was Zalando’s first VP Engineering, and lead the growth of the tech team from about 300 engineers to over a thousand. During that time we introduced Radical Agility in 2015 to help unlock our tech teams, which seemed to get slower the more people we hired. Since then we’ve continued to grow the business and the tech teams, and now I am focused on large-scale enablement through technology and organization across Zalando Group.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

I’m talking about autonomy, since lots of people see autonomous teams as one of the keys to unlocking rapid product development, but there are a lot of potential problems depending on how you do that. I’m going to talk about how we did it, all the good and bad things that resulted, and how we pivoted our approach while keeping our aspirations intact to overcome some of the early problems, and unlock some secrets for scaling a modern organization.

Q: What do you think could be the main gain for participants in your session?

There’s a lot of good advice to help avoid common problems as you try to unlock parallelism through autonomy in an organization. We’re a bit opinionated in what we think works, now, and I think some people will resonate with those opinions, and others may disagree. Either way I’m expecting a spirited conversation.

Q: Can you give some advice to teams/organisations that are transitioning to agile?

Agility should be the goal, not agile. It is a common mistake to think that starting to use agile processes will make you agile — it won’t. Every organization is different, and you have to find the right approach for you. Happily there are some principles to apply, but an off-the-shelf solution almost certainly won’t “just work.”

Q: How do you see the evolution of agile in the future?

Agile has historically been pretty prescriptive. I like now that it has become more principles-based. Principles scale better than prescriptions. But also we are now learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t for larger organizations, and there are some good examples that are also pretty polar opposite in their approaches. So in agile I think we will see increasingly that we understand the root causes a bit better, and have a toolkit for how to remediate them at different levels, rather than just a way for teams to work.

Q: You have given many interviews/presentations about agile. Is there a question you wish to have been asked but no one ever asked you?

Not really. 🙂

Nikos Batsios