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Transforming your financial services organisation? Maximise the chances of success with agile ways of working

It’s hardly a secret that delivering change in the financial industry is a tall order. Unravelling the complexities created by siloed business units, rigid governance and fragmented platforms can be slow and painful.

This means that apparently minor changes – such as preparing this year’s ISA launch – often call for adapting multiple systems across a range of technologies and customer channels. That can cause something close to panic among developers and create frustration among P&L owners who won’t necessarily recognise nor agree with the associated complexity.

In the circumstances, it’s no surprise that growing numbers of banks and insurers hope that agile ways of working will help them achieve the Herculean task of enterprise-wide transformation. In our new research on organisational agility, we spoke to 100 financial services companies and found 78 per cent of them had agility as a top strategic priority.

Did you know the top 10% of financial performers are 30% more agile than the rest?

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But moving from theory to practice can be intimidating. Where should financial firms start?

We believe the answer lies in ‘stacking the deck’ and committing to giving agile teams the best chance of success. This means doing three things.

Start with the right problem

Target agile efforts on the areas with the greatest need for change. Agile thinking means, in part, moving away from thinking about change as one transformation, and more as continuous improvement. So, work with business units to find the priority areas. This varies by firm – it could be the greatest commercial opportunity, the newest product or the most rapidly changing market.

Build the right team

Agile teams should have the people best skilled to meet the chosen challenge, not just those who are available. Adaptability is as important as ability. Team members must be ready to learn new techniques, work in unfamiliar areas and be put off balance. Mixing diverse types of experts can create tensions, but the right coaching teams will help them learn from each other and develop shared insights.

Focus on the right functions

Concentrate on the most important goals – such as adapting the most often used components of systems. Narrowing functional scope makes it easier to assemble the right skills. That helps teams collaborate and take responsibility, boosting momentum.

Of course, the flipside of this kind of focus is that firms won’t become agile right across the organisation on day one. But that shouldn’t deter them from setting ambitious goals. Small, high quality teams and projects create bubbles of agility. These pockets can then expand over time, rolling out agile ways of working across the organisation.

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