by John Okoro
Head of Agile Practice
July 20, 2018
In the first part of our monthly series on Agile, we introduce the topic and look at how successful change can be brought about by organisations becoming Agile.
Big financial services companies are often like oil tankers – huge and hard to manoeuvre. But with digital disruption making waves, these regional financial giants might soon be encountering a perfect storm. By becoming Agile, such groups have a chance not only to navigate choppy waters, but to steer a new course, writes John Okoro
For all the talk of rapid change in financial services – thanks to fintech and altered customer expectations – we haven’t seen anything yet. Prepare to experience warp-speed change after Alibaba’s Ant Financial, China’s largest online payments operator, secured $14bn in new funding.
While the funding will help Ant Financial expand overseas and reinforce its leading position at home, it will also act as a spur to fintech aspirants to innovate in an attempt to catch up. The result: an accelerated rate of change in a sector that has already seen a revolution over the past decade.
The pace of change poses considerable problems for traditional banks. These are huge, well-established organisations with strong cultures and time-honoured practices – both powerful hindrances to change. For banks in Asia – the key focus of Ant Financial’s expansion – this is a particular concern.
In response, these big financial institutions are beginning to change course. Some have already adopted the Agile way of working – a set of principles that helps companies create a dynamic workplace that promotes trust, autonomy and responsibility to foster innovation and value creation.
The Agile way of working can be traced back to the 1950s, with Toyota and its eponymous production system. The car manufacturer’s goal was to eliminate waste, be that in design, production, delivery or management. At its core was the idea that applying learning would deliver a competitive edge. Its principles were: the goal is value, respect for people and culture, optimise flow, innovation, continuous improvement, and the foundation of leadership.
In 2001, a grass-roots movement of independent software developers came up with the Agile Manifesto. Its own principles borrow from the Toyota Production System: individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; responding to change over following a plan. Modern Agile adds the organisational Agile principles: make people awesome; deliver value continuously; make safety a prerequisite; experiment and learn rapidly.
Taken together, they allow people to become their best and help companies navigate change smoothly and efficiently. They encourage people to try new things without fear of failure. Some of these new things create value. By trying and failing, people learn fast. People will become awesome. The company benefits.
But typically, companies get stuck in the first wave of Agile, restricting its implementation to a few teams tasked with developing a new product or service. This works for small companies. But for the big guns, having a handful of Agile teams in a vast workforce is hardly a recipe for organisational change. The existential threat posed by the likes of Alibaba and others demands that they implement Agile on a far wider scale, certainly across IT departments (wave 2), but ultimately across the whole organisation, in order to change and thrive (wave 3).
Some global companies that have already adopted Agile on a broad scale have shared their experiences in case studies published by Scaled Agile, an Orbium partner and the provider of SAFe, a leading framework for company-wide Agile programmes. These include Fannie Mae, Intel, Capital One, Standard Bank, AstraZeneca, Swisscom, Philips and the UK’s NHS.
Cited benefits include $12m savings and projects coming in 18 months ahead of schedule, a halving of time to market, the release cycle cut by two-thirds, faster delivery, happier teams and increased customer satisfaction.
Similar results could be achieved in Asia by financial services firms adopting Agile at scale. Orbium, with its best-of-breed partners Scaled Agile, the Business Agility Institute and the International Consortium for Agile (IC Agile), can help.
By working with clients who want to implement Agile working at scale, we can provide the right training, coaching, leadership consulting and certification. We enable the digital delivery and transformation that allow our clients to thrive, rather than just play catch-up with Ant Financial and fintechs.
It’s time to become Agile.