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Interview with Financial Services Company About Their Agile Transformation
Industry: Financial Services
Company Size: 265,000
Location: CA, US
With the pressure of financial application complexities, this company realizes faster releases and predictability are needed in order to keep up with the constant changes in the industry. They call upon Cprime to help create a collaborative culture within the company.
Straight from the Program Manager’s Mouth
In an effort to understand our customer’s experience with Cprime, I’ve set out to conduct several interviews with key clients to understand the reasons for why they chose to go Agile, why they selected Cprime as a vendor and what they have noticed as the biggest benefit from performance improvement since the engagements.
The interview below is with the Program Manager of one of the world’s largest financial services organizations. The Program Manager orchestrates all the development and direction of all applications in the Capital Finance group. Here is their story.
Creating Better Communication Within a Complex System
“The biggest challenges were the communication between the teams. There was degradation in communication, in the culture of the teams. They were definitely really down in the doldrums I guess you could say.”
“We have quite a few products, and just getting them all on the same page for a release was difficult with a very waterfall fashion. It was very structured and if anybody was behind, it created almost a domino effect.”
“Because there wasn’t a lot of transparency either and that really hurt the teams because we’re removed from each other. You start to assume some incorrect things about people and about what’s going on and then, you extrapolate.”
Complexity of Systems
“Since it’s a financial system of record, it adds another layer of complexity on top of having the application work with five other applications.”
The Capital group knew they needed a change and a change fast. They had a dysfunctional environment and it was hurting their performance. They decided to do something about it.
“We had actually got a focus group together because everybody was down in the doldrums, and when I was running through that focus group, all these pain points were listed on a big spreadsheet of what everybody was dealing with, whether it was poor communication or mistrust or the releases were inflexible.”
“One of the ideas that we threw out there was to try a new process because anything’s better than what we got right now.”
The Program Manager of the Capital Group evaluated three agile services companies. They chose Cprime because:
“I wasn’t looking for the cheapest. I was looking for someone that’s going to do it right because this was my opportunity to make a change. I rather get it done the right way.”
Understanding of Unique Needs
“The half-day assessment was something that the other companies didn’t have baked in. Cprime wanted to understand our special circumstances.”
“I’m told from my senior manager, “Make it happen,” so even the responsiveness of having someone email you back within a day was really helpful.”
The Value of Coaching
“One of the pitches wanted to do a standard two-day training session, but they didn’t actually talk about doing coaching at all and the value of that afterwards. Cprime didn’t seem to either upsell or try to downplay the importance of coaching. They just put it out there and said, “Hey, here’s what you really need to do this and to do it right.”
Finding a Plan and Executing
Cprime prescribed a full transformation for Capital Finance group with 80 people total.
They conducted an initial assessment to understand the pains of the group and formulate a transformation backlog. They presented their findings to the teams and to get buy-in from executives and stakeholders.
Cprime lead training courses for 45 people on the west coast and 30 on the east coast. They conducted three main pieces of training to align the Capital group’s teams:
- Agile for Teams
- Requirements Workshops
- ALM Tool Training
After the trainings, they received ongoing coaching for their sprints after the training. Coaching reinforced what the teams had learned in training.
“We tried to make sure that we got everybody on the same page and it was really helpful we could get the same coach to help us out in a consistent manner”
What was the Outcome?
“I would say the biggest benefit is more predictable releases right now and there’s definitely more of a cadence with the team.”
“There’s better communication and the culture has definitely improved.”
“That transparency is increased and that’s helped even when there are issues. That’s helped to at least make them acceptable or a bit more understandable when you understand that each day, you’re getting an update on what it is and how it’s progressing.”
Coordination Among Teams
“Probably the biggest thing that we took away is really the most practical of things, meeting on a daily basis, meeting in between teams and having that coordination, using better tools such as using JIRA as an example to help keep people on the same track.”
Evaluation of Cprime
Cprime1: It would be great if we got some background about what you do, your role and what your Group does inside of (Financial Company) just to start us off.
VP/ PgM: Sure. My role is the Program Manager for (Financial Company) Capital finance group. Basically, I help direct all of our project managers and lead them in terms of compliance, strategy and direction for those teams, and that includes also our Scrum Masters. We’ve looped that into that particular mix, too, and then also a role that we’ve got we call Application Project Manager, which is essentially a dedicated project manager for applications. Since there’s so many different interdependencies and milestones and different timelines that they have to juggle, having a project manager dedicated to each application helps to organize that complexity with one person and coordinate. Essentially, they’re like a big orchestrator for the groups.
Cprime2: I haven’t heard that one from you before. Is that new?
VP/ PgM : We added this role too and it hasn’t really been fully adopted just yet amongst all of our product teams, but it’s something … it’s a model that we’re starting to go with and see if it works. Again, it’s just because between the Scrum Master and the product’s owners, there’s a ton on our Project managers.
VP/ PgM: Yeah, and our product owners aren’t necessarily fully dedicated to one product, which we would like to have. Sometimes they’re managing two products. This just helps because if they were managing one product, it might be a little easier, but it essentially helps take that project management side of the world of a product owner’s plate and puts it off to the side.
Cprime2: Naturally, as you went through the transformation and then, we did the retrospective after everything, that was one of your biggest challenges, right, was trying to get enough bandwidth and enough for the product owners so you solved it a different way.
VP/ PgM: Yeah, I wouldn’t say we’ve solved the product owner’s bandwidth because there’s still often many, many directions. Yeah, our product owners, and to Cprime2’s point, the way we reorganized is that the product owners themselves actually have, they have a set of team members that report into them so they do spend a significant amount of time with administration with those team members. Some of those team members themselves are product owners so that also adds to the complexity and stretching them really thin.
Cprime1: Yeah. Can you describe what you feel like your biggest challenges were before your big reorg and transformation? Describe what you were aiming to accomplish by moving to Agile and working with Cprime?
VP/ PgM: The biggest challenges were the communication between the teams, how that shook out because to the point of how many products we have, there’s quite a few products, and just getting them all on the same page for a release and it was very waterfall fashion. It was very structured and that it was almost like a domino effect. If anybody was late to UAT or late with their development, everybody was impacted, and that’s a big struggle for the teams.
Cprime2: I happened to be involved in the assessment. It was so long ago, too, but I just remember the communication was to the point where … and, Greg, from your words, but remember, everybody was blaming everyone, too. I think it was just a really dysfunctional environment.
VP/ PgM: Yeah, it really was. Because there wasn’t a lot of transparency either and I think that really hurt the teams because if you don’t have … really, we’re removed from each other, you start to assume some incorrect things about people and about what’s going on and then, you extrapolate. Yeah, definitely, there was a degradation in communication, in the culture of the teams. They were definitely really down in the doldrums I guess you could say.
Cprime2: What about quality? Because remember, even during the assessment, I remember quality coming up in that.
VP/ PgM: Yeah, quality was really difficult and it still is, to your point, Cprime1, it still is a current challenge. Being in a bank, we’ve taken on many, many legacy systems and so you have to support a lot of times technologies that are antiquated or very fragile and so that’s still … it’s more so technological growing pains rather than process, but it’s impacting the process. That’s just something we’re just working through right now.
It’s very difficult when you have a low amount of code coverage from an automated testing perspective to do Agile and to iterate quick and then, have to worry about how tightly integrated the applications are with each other, and still getting things tested, and making sure because we got a lot of SarbanesOxley applications that are under SOX. We’ve got to test them to a certain amount that we might not have to do if it was just a website, but since it’s a financial system of record, it adds another layer of complexity on top of having the application work with five other applications.
Cprime2: One other last previous challenge, remember, they had just merged with (Company name), Cprime1, so that was a huge deal. You doubled in size and didn’t you triple in size, Greg?
VP/ PgM: Yeah, we integrated two legacy (company name) businesses and one legacy (company name) business, each of them comprising about a third of the business and that had a lot of complexities. Even to this day, we’re still integrating the applications and it’s a continually changing environment. It’s just that with Agile at least …
I’ll step back a second, we were actually going to do a release every three months and so it was getting a little bulky for the teams, and to take into account obviously not having the automated testing and not having transparency, and we started to put on a little too much risk on the teams. Even just the simple fact of breaking it up into smaller releases and how do we do that in a more timely fashion, that was a big help to the teams.
Cprime1: Yeah, when you made this push to go Agile, what drove that? Did you already know we need to get more Agile-like and you already had that in your mind?
That’s the way you wanted to go or were there people that told you should go that route?
VP/ PgM: I would say there’s various pockets, some that wanted to stick with a very waterfall process. We had a couple of people who were … and a very small select few that were familiar with Agile, and so you had a smaller group lobbying for it. What really came to a head was this was before we had met with Cprime2, we had actually got a focus group together because everybody was down in the doldrums, and when I was running through that focus group, all these pain points were listed, which is what Cprime2 saw. There was a big spreadsheet that listed out what everybody’s dealing with and whether it was poor communication or mistrust or the releases were inflexible.
One of the ideas that we threw out there was to try a new process because anything’s better than what we got right now. The next step was okay, how do we do that? That’s where we led to let’s bring in an Agile coach to help us out in that respect. It was something we had tried about a year and a half before on a much, much smaller scale, and just even pitching the idea and it fell flat on its face and it never had management support.
So this time, we had a lot of traction for it because there’s obviously a lot of visibility to the spreadsheet that we generated and wanting to improve the culture for the teams so it started to gain traction with senior management. We also had reorganization around that point in time, which gave us a senior manager that bought into it.
Cprime1: How did you hear about Cprime?
VP/ PgM: When I was running the focus group, one of the things that I set about doing was just going online and looking around. I had gotten a couple references for some other companies. One was Davisbase who had worked … Davisbase Consulting I think. They might have I think headquarters on the East Coast, but they had worked with a couple of groups and they were one of the ones originally pitching, again, about a year and a half before we engaged Cprime. I wasn’t a part of that particular one.
To read the full interview, download the PDF below!
An Alten Company, Cprime is a global consulting firm helping transforming businesses get in sync. Cprime is the partner of choice for Fortune 100 companies looking to achieve value and agility. We help visionary business leaders compose solutions, execute implementations, and exceed business goals. With our key partnership recognitions, including Atlassian Platinum, AWS Advanced, and SAFe Gold SPCT partner, our industry-leading software and services work in synergy to deliver transformations.Want to share with a colleague? Download the PDF