Financial Services Blog

All firms are striving to increase innovation and speed-to-market through digital transformation― no industry is immune. Yet despite a plethora of transformational technology at their disposal, many may not be able to achieve the benefits they envisioned.

Financial services is no different. In a previous post, I explained that although technology adoption is critical, it is simply not enough―moving from “doing Agile” to “being Agile” is the key. I also pointed out that according to research undertaken by Accenture, only 13% of financial services firms are investing in Agile, despite 70% of executives believing it’s an important competitive advantage.1 Yes, there are clear roadblocks that slow scale, but why the investment delta? I believe it is more from fear than lack of desire: fear of failure, fear of “chaos” that increases risk and security anxiety, fear of loss of control―all resulting in “analysis paralysis”.

No analysis in the world can fully alleviate emotion. As Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”2 In this post, I’ll share four techniques to effectively launch your Agile techndigijourney. Experiment, collaborate, iterate―just get moving!

Launch a full attack―break down the walls

Re-grounding, in its purest form, is all about removing barriers. The idea of an Agile transformation can start in any of the areas presented in the graph below, and all the objectives are clearly beneficial. However, breaking down walls is difficult. Even with a substantial initial investment many firms cannot scale one wall, let alone all three. With sub-optimal effort, the program stalls, investment is curtailed, and the project is deemed a failure.

Source: Accenture, September 2019


So, what can you do? Our experience has shown that the following four techniques should be applied simultaneously, versus looking through just one lens, for effectively completing your transformation:

  1. Leadership and Structure: Initiate the cultural shift
  2. Holistic Pilots: Develop pockets of faster change first
  3. Cross-Functional Teams: Build new ways of working
  4. Modern Engineering: Facilitate the “last mile”

Initiate the cultural shift through strong leadership and an Agile structure

Leaders play a crucial role in your Agile transformation by defining a common vision and modeling the right behaviors that demonstrate commitment, enthusiasm and confidence in the journey. By establishing a formal operating committee staffed with change advocates, leaders put a stake in the ground in making a sustainable commitment to the initiative. Together, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and business leaders act as change drivers in developing a common vision the entire business can get behind. Finally, delivery leaders act as change agents in building enthusiasm and confidence among the employee base that change is achievable.

An effective transformation depends on an organizational structure that can amplify speed-to-market and quality. This is possible when the entire organization moves on the same cadence, fueled by frequent learning cycles and feedback loops. The overarching theme here is “everyone sprints toward a common goal.” In this structure:

  • Leaders are responsible for the vision and values.
  • The transformation office establishes enterprise goals and prioritizes the actions to attain those goals.
  • Execution teams focus on removing impediments to progress and improving delivery flow.
  • Delivery teams prioritize the work to be done and drive toward continuous improvement.

All of this takes place within a transparent and ongoing feedback loop that improves and accelerates problem solving, solution development and execution.

Develop pockets of faster change first, through holistic pilots

While pilots are test cases, in this situation they should be holistic test cases that cover every aspect of full-scale enterprise agility. They can’t be one-off experiments that only test one part of the Agile continuum, such as DevOps or Agile development methodology. They should also extend outside of a digital group, so as not to create a divide and reinforce the view that ‘experimental teams and new technologies’ can do it, but not legacy. While you’ll want to be careful about your first pilot in terms of not putting a critical system at risk, to have legitimacy these pilots should be visible and touch on important aspects of the organizational flow.

Build new ways of working through cross-functional teams

In an Agile organization, building an “optimal” product is not just one person’s or group’s responsibility. It’s a business-wide commitment and every stakeholder should have input to a cohesive team that performs analysis, coding and testing. Product management represents the voice of the business, software engineering represents the voice of technology, and user design represents the voice of the end user. Together, these three groups can lead the organization to better products, built with speed, stability, and quality. Building cross-functional teams can be easier than you think and doesn’t require months of planning, reorganization, or structural changes to HR and performance management processes. This technique can also put you on a solid path towards a portfolio and product structure that transforms the way the entire organization works. A workshop approach grounded in a solid team structure with defined roles is a good kick-off point.

Facilitate the “last mile” with modern engineering

As I touched on in my previous post, organizations can falter at Agile by not focusing on true, end-to-end speed-to-market―and iterating to deliver it all along the way. Many industry articles focus on the need for organizational and cultural change – clearly important. But without addressing the ‘last mile’ for rapid deployment, no culture or agile methodology truly works. It’s not pretty, but truly unlocking value requires the full suite of modern engineering practices, including:

  • Design thinking that understands the path from idea to impact always includes humans.
  • A focus on lean agility, not on how things have always been done.
  • A commitment to quality that’s embedded into every point of the product lifecycle.
  • Continuous value realization that encompasses everything, across the factory.
  • Automated operations that deliver high reliability.
  • A software-defined intelligent and self-healing infrastructure that reduces down time.
  • Modular and enterprise-adopted platforms and reference architectures.

Top performance―now THAT’S competitive advantage

If you ever doubt whether becoming Agile is worth all the effort, don’t. In an Accenture survey, we were able to identify Agile “change leaders” based on measurable impact on financial performance. We discovered that when compared to industry indicators, top quartile profitability performance almost doubles under these leaders. But financial metrics don’t tell the whole story. For example, within financial services, organizations led by Agile change leaders outperform their peers in the following areas:3

  • Collaboration and innovation: 82% versus 62%
  • Improved change outcomes and benefits: 83% versus 57%
  • Faster project delivery: 86% versus 56%

Just imagine, there’s a path to getting the best from your people, amplifying impact, capturing first mover advantage, and making a step change in financial performance. Yes, agility requires investment, and nothing gets better without a little pain and effort. But the evidence is clear and tangible, so I say again, Don’t Wait – Just get started!

Next time

While this blog series lays the foundation for what an organization should do to become truly Agile, we understand that there are likely to be many roadblocks along the way. I’ve invited some of my team members to contribute to future blog series, where they’ll share their real-life experiences in helping our clients become Agile and offer key learnings that could be very helpful to you in your transformation.


  1. “Technology in Financial Services, From Hype to Growth,” Accenture – Oxford Economics study, 2018
  2. Gurteen Knowledge website, quotations. Access at:
  3. ”Agile Organizations & Enterprise Agility – Thriving in the new,” Accenture, February 2018

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