Leading banking institutions faced extraordinary challenges as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread globally and in the U.S. Almost immediately, they had to deal with work-from-home accommodations for their entire workforce, unprecedented market volatility, and a colossal projected increase in loan modification and default notices. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities (CARES) Act a few weeks later, which included the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Main Street Lending Program (MSLP). Both programs represent critical elements of the US stimulus program and are heavily reliant on large banks for successful implementation. Accommodating all these immediate stresses represents a massive challenge for bank executives and delivery teams that are already under pressure to meet initiative and business-as-usual objectives.
The current environment presents financial services technology organizations with an opportunity to leverage their existing Agile practices and to expand their adoption to tackle new challenges that change fluidly with the economic climate and regulation. Although it can be tempting to revert to old patterns to expedite delivery, “doubling down” on the foundational principles of Agile helps maintain a focus on delivering the most critical user functionality with the optimal time-to-market.
During challenging times, it is often useful to revisit fundamental principles. The Agile Manifesto (and supporting principles) provides a useful set of principles to consider when planning and executing large programs. Although the Agile Manifesto is specific to software development, the basic tenets are applicable to other program deliveries as well.
When faced with unprecedented delivery challenges, technology and operations leaders may be tempted to form SWAT teams, comprised of select individuals with relevant skills that have demonstrated high performance habits within their current teams. Although this approach may look attractive on paper, the SWAT team approach always creates additional change and complexity to get off the ground. Establishing trust with new teammates, learning new collaboration methods, and agreeing on approaches and standards requires incremental effort. Additionally, extracting high performers from well-organized teams significantly reduces the business value in other areas. While SWAT teams often manage to achieve increased throughput and time-to-market over the short term, they often sacrifice the predictability and sustainability of efforts. Oftentimes, the decrease in productivity suffered by teams that are stripped of core members outweighs the benefits they provide to their newly formed SWAT teams.
Experience shows that in challenging business environments, leveraging existing artifacts, ceremonies and structure will reduce incremental change that development teams need to digest while they are preparing to solve new challenges. High performing technology organizations realize more productivity by leveraging existing Agile teams and supplementing their skills, where necessary. This way, delivery teams can focus on continuous delivery instead of getting accustomed to new routines and structures. Established Agile teams are often better prepared to shift direction and address new challenges when compared to newly assembled teams of high performers.
In times of intense pressure, delivery teams may be tempted to avoid frequent feedback so that they can meet their ambitious workloads. While this posture is understandable, early and frequent engagement with product owners and users is absolutely essential in this environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed businesses to change their client engagement models and diversify the channels through which they interact with their customers. Understanding the look and feel of new technologies is often key to a successful product launch and often avoids significant late-stage modifications. Doubling down on the fundamental practice of conducing frequent demonstrations enables the delivery teams to focus on the most relevant capabilities and features to the end user. When scheduling and conducting demos, it is critical that product owners and users have a realistic understanding of the scope and purpose of the presentation.
Agile teams should not strive for perfection during demos but instead assess if the exhibited work meets the definition of “working valuable software.” Demos that fail to meet this standard are disappointing to all stakeholders, but they provide an opportunity for Agile teams to self-reflect and to adjust their approaches.
Executives are encouraged to support their delivery team’s self-reflection efforts to improve and fine-tune their Agile practices. Executive self-reflection is also encouraged to ensure best practices are maintained during times of high volatility and stress. In situations where Agile teams are underperforming, it is critical to understand the root causes and to promptly address the shortcomings. In almost all circumstances, fixing existing issues is quicker and less disruptive than initiating short-lived fire-drills. Technology organizations that remain committed to their Agile practices will derive significant business value regardless of prevailing economic and market conditions. If anything, now is the perfect time to double down and unlock the full potential of exiting Agile practices.
Monticello Consulting Group is a management consulting firm supporting the financial services industry through deep knowledge and expertise in digital transformation, change management, and financial services advisory. Our understanding of the competitive forces reshaping business models in capital markets, lending, payments, and digital banking are proven enablers that help our clients remain in compliance with regulations, innovate to be more competitive, and gain market share in new and existing businesses. By leveraging our change management and Agile capabilities, Monticello guides its clients in the deployment of the latest digital technologies with confidence and resilience.