Ari-Pekka Skarp

How does the path to change feel? - Occupational psychologist Ari-Pekka Skarp joined as an Agile Coach within the midst of organisation reform

Agile Coach Ari-Pekka Skarp came to OP recently, promptly diving into the middle of a major organisational reform. Since the outset of 2019, Mr Skarp has been an integral part of OP’s transformation towards an organisation-wide agile mode of operation. Mr Skarp holds degrees in Industrial Management and Psychology. He has previously worked as an Agile Coach in the software industry. A lifelong learner and student of human nature, Mr Skarp combines his expertise in psychology and agile coaching in an exciting way in his work.

What does it mean to be an Agile Coach, now and in the future?

OP has just taken the first steps on its journey towards an agile organisation. Mr Skarp joined the company after hearing that OP planned to invest heavily in an agile mode of operation. ‘It was exciting to be part of the change process from the get go. I enjoy looking at things from the perspective of organisational development, combined with a hands-on approach to working with the teams,’ Mr Skarp says. ‘In this job, my work revolves round these issues precisely.’

According to Mr Skarp, his job description as Agile Coach is in constant flux as OP’s journey of change progresses. Right now, his work is focussing on developing an agile organisation, such as planning and leading various training sessions. While the agile mode of operation is being planned and polished, new Agile Coaches are being recruited to move the change forward. ‘As Agile Coaches, we have been involved in recruiting and interviewing our new colleagues, and we have, for example, designed simulation tasks for applicants,’ Mr Skarp says.

‘In one year, we have most likely shifted the centre of focus towards working in tribes and teams. We will coach the teams and work in close co-operation with tribal leadership. Still, developing and polishing the model of agile operations will remain an important part of our work,’ Mr Skarp explains.

Background in psychology brings valuable human skills to an agile organisation

Mr Skarp relates that he gets particular enjoyment from coaching and understanding people, as well as developing in these skills. Mr Skarp began his career in the software industry in the early 2000s and quickly noticed that he was most excited about people management, organisational development and coaching. His areas of interest quickly began to show in the direction of his studies as well: First Mr Skarp became a supervisor, then a psychologist. Currently, he is studying to become a psychotherapist.

Mr Skarp began his career as an Agile Coach at Nokia, before taking the leap to a new career and training to become an occupational psychologist. ‘I thought greatly about how I could take what I have learned as a psychologist and apply it to agile coaching,’ Mr Skarp says. ‘I also found myself drawn back to working on a team and organisational level, in contrast to the solitary work of occupational psychology.’

According to Mr Skarp, coaching is a great example of how the understanding of psychology is an asset in a core aspect of his work as an Agile Coach. A psychological understanding of the processes of teams and organisations as well as individuals brings depth to a coach’s work. Experience in occupational psychology has also given him insight on the inner workings of an organisation. In issues such as these, piercing the surface to see things at depth is key.

‘As an occupational psychologist, I have developed a good understanding of what it looks like when things don’t go as planned in an organisation,’ Mr Skarp says. ‘For example, good, hard-working employees – vitally important to any organisation – easily get buried in work and fail to notice the approaching exhaustion. These issues should be identified as early as possible and taken into account when planning duties.’

Mr Skarp is interested about health and well-being, and through his work as an Agile Coach, he believes he can influence and put the spotlight on these themes when coaching an organisation. ‘I believe that fundamentals such as these become highlighted further as we transition to a self-managed, agile world. As the practical distance between supervisors and employees widens, understanding of well-being must be distributed across the entire organisation in order for us to look out after one another in our daily lives.’

How does the shift to an agile mode of operation work in a large corporation?

According to Mr Skarp, the transition to an agile mode of operation at OP is accelerated by the fact that the reform has strong support from all levels of the organisation. The reform is also given genuine resources to ensure success, as the company has hired new employees and continues to recruit new Agile Coaches. In other words, the basic building blocks seem to be in order.

‘Changes in mode of operation are rarely very fast-paced in large organisations. As Agile Coaches, we have an important role in getting teams and tribes to adopt methods that improve work efficiency. Little by little, this process will improve agility in all our operations,’ Mr Skarp says.

One of the keys to an agile organisation is also that agility is not an end goal to be achieved but a continuous process of adapting and applying new. ‘Pre-packaged procedures, ceremonies and roles are not alone enough to generate agility. Applying them in practice is what makes us agile,’ Mr Skarp sums up.

What will the agile transformation look like in one year?

When considering how success in the journey toward agility might present itself in one year, Mr Skarp lists two things:

  1. Development of products and services have achieved an iterative mode of operation

    ​‘We have formed a routine of providing continuous feedback on how our work is going on and how we develop end products and services. We are agile to give and receive feedback on what tribes have been doing right, and we can use this feedback to constantly adjust our map for the future. We can develop our products and services on a fast cycle.’
  2. Individuals find their work to be smoother and more rewarding

    ‘My second point has to do with the human experience of work. The agile mode of operation has changed our work to be smoother and more self-managed. We are able to make agile changes in our direction and scope of focus according to need. As a result, our work is more efficient, rewarding and quick to produce visible results.’