What needs to be done first when beginning a transition in a field such as finance?

Coaches are usually joining a project following a request for help from an organization. There has been an entire internal process before calling upon our services. The project managers usually have a preconceived idea of what they wish to accomplish with Agility. And their requests are clear:

  • I need a Scrum Master.
  • My project is not running smoothly.
  • I now want it to be executed using an Agile approach.
  • We do not deliver fast enough.
  • I want Scrum to be used in order to have a release every 2-3 weeks.

My first interventions are usually focusing on conversations with the managers, but also the teams in order to perform a diagnostic. Here is what we want to find out:

  • What is the situation in the group undergoing the transformation?
  • What are the problems and what are we seeking to achieve using Agile approaches?

This way of doing is common to all industries. However, in the financial field, I will keep an eye on the corporate culture as well as on the managers’ willingness and ability to change.

I do not want to fall into the trap of cliches, but the years I spent accompanying teams in the financial field comforted me in many aspects:

  • It is an environment where performance is valued and where the culture is rather conservative and controlling.

Furthermore, the Agile transformation is often occurring in the IT department, which is in most cases not the core business of the organization.

Read more about the challenges of Agility in the world of finance, discover our Agile finance special feature

Therefore, I will explore with the managers their ability, in the organization, to support and influence change.

  • Are they in direct contact with the lines of business in order to facilitate communications with the clients?
  • Do they have the latitude to recommend to the PMO new ways to improve project governance and budget tracking?
  • Are they at ease with the values of transparency and continuous learning promoted by Agility (i.e., the right to make mistakes)?
  • Are they ready to explore a new leadership style and let their teams self-organize?

Thus, the first focus when beginning an Agile transition in the field of finance will be the corporate culture in order to set the winning conditions right from the beginning.

What is the biggest obstacle when adopting an Agile approach in the financial field? What is my recommendation to reduce its impact?

The Agile approaches are usually associated with information technologies. Yet, in the field of finance, it is infrequent for ITs to be the core business of the organization. The exception: certain organizations such as Bloomberg, which transitioned to Agility several years ago.

Restricting Agility to ITs is the first stake. The benefits obtained have a marginal impact on the organization as a whole. The focus remains on the execution teams, and it is difficult to include the lines of business and promote Agility throughout the organization.

We may end up implementing an Agile culture and Agile approaches in a single part of a project, which may increase the communication and collaboration problems instead of resolving them. For example: “Agilizing” a project when the governance structure remains traditional with a project manager—who’s frequently a consultant—, with project reviews mainly based on budget monitoring and documentation, as well as with the difficulty to involve teams before the project analysis and estimation.

In order to mitigate these risks, I want to provide managers with a clear picture of the impact the implementation of Agility will have on the teams, the structure, and even their leadership style as quickly as possible. I will need both their support and availability to ensure the implementation of these changes in the rest of the organization.

And if, for the time being, we do not have the winning conditions, we will work to get them rather than putting effort and budget in a reduced transformation comprising more challenges than gains. Or else, we will have more realistic ambitions and focus on a limited number of teams.

How do we help managers assume their leadership during a transition?

The role of the manager will greatly evolve during the Agile transformation. In a rather hierarchical organization, the managers are considered the unique persons responsible and accountable for the results. This often results in a team management style that is more directive and controlling.

Agility relies on self-organizing teams. Promoting self-organization requires a different leadership style. It requires managers to be at the service of their teams, increase their responsibility, let them make operational decisions, and no longer organize their work for them. Managers can now focus on strategic decisions.

Agility brings a major change in managerial posture, which can cause anxiety and have managers question their role and value. Especially since during the transition, the organization still hold them responsible and accountable for results. Thus, managers need to be aware of these questionings and to acknowledge these difficulties. Especially during a transformation where teams are neither ready nor at ease with their new responsibilities.

It does not mean to no longer make decisions, but to be aware of the impact of their decisions on the teams’ commitment and accountability. And decisions must be visible to the teams and management. At the beginning, together with the manager, we try to identify the decisions that can be easily delegated to the team without any major operational risk in order to throw a virtuous loop and show that it is possible. This requires constant work between the managers and their teams, since the managers will not be able to change their style of leadership if their teams are not also coached during the assimilation of their new roles.

Approaches such as Management 3.0 provide tools and allow to realize that it is possible to do things differently. I invite managers to discuss with other managers that are going (or went) through an Agile transformation.

Finally, the success of a transformation depends on the leadership of the manager supporting the change as well as on the influence they have (or don’t have) on their teams and the rest of the organization. In fact, limiting the transformation to the implementation of Agile frameworks to be used by the teams without providing coaching services to the managers is limiting the gains that can be made. I try to make sure that the managers are aware that they are an integral part of the transition. Together with them, I build a relationship of trust and get their permission to coach them.

What is the best example of a successful Agile transition in the financial field?

The best example I had the opportunity to observe is of a group who, within 3 years, went from 15 individuals working on a single project to over 80 individuals working on various projects and fields while keeping a strong Agile culture.

Several criteria contributed to the success of the transition:

A few months through the transformation, the first teams were at ease with the Agile values and practices. Therefore, when the teams grew bigger, it was natural to transmit these values to the new members and to require that they be applied.

The team’s manager was fully involved in the transformation and open to coaching in order to adapt his leadership style and support his teams. Moreover, top management supported the transformation, and he had the budget required to get coaching services.

Right from the beginning, the managers took on the challenge of self-organization. This allowed to rapidly adapt the process and structure through the growth. Plus, each team was invited to work with the others in order to form communities of practice and centres of expertise to build a strong relationship, ensure consistency in the solutions and approaches used, and break down silos.

This success had a domino effect on the rest of the organization. It was demonstrated that a management approach based on a different culture could give incredible results, even better performance! It also demonstrated that change requires time investment and a willingness to change that is supported by top management.

We now have the opportunity to work with the organization in order to implement overall corporate Agility that includes all lines of business.


guillaume soyer

Project and IT team manager since 1999, Guillaume holds PMP and Scrum Master certifications. Having acted as developer, integrator, architect, project manager and manager of quality assurance as well as research and development teams, he masters the mechanics of software development.

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