I know few people more in love with the principles behind Agile and Lean than yours truly. I’m sure more exist, but in our side of the woods, where we do banking, (some would add: “by the numbers”), we think of Agile as just another method conveniently confined to IT and the way they make software.
In reality it’s immensely far from that confined definition and it means much more than that.
Agile is not only for IT
In fact, our beloved “growth” is heavily contingent on agility across the board and the ability to use data and technology to quickly and flexibly respond to new market reactions.
Countless figures support the fact that businesses who use agile in every type of endeavour set themselves up for being on the right growth path, and that is no different for a bank.
There is no reason why every project in a bank be it regulatory, operational, digital proposition or the annual BBQ can’t be run on a Kanban board. Banks who can’t see that as at least a goal, are not only missing on the possible results, but containing the practice to only one part of the organisation which is simultaneously a pity and a signal that they think of it in isolation and on a small scale.
Agile is not project management or software development, agile is a transformative new way of looking at how we do things. All the things.
Agile is not reorg
While good for business for us in Emotional Banking, the number of de-facto air quotes around various transformation efforts by some of the banks we work with, is nothing short of staggering.
Invariably the story is the same. A couple of years ago, the bank has bought into some consultancy’s pack and decided to “become Agile” and within months has let people know they no longer belong to the existent structures such as departments and groups but are now part of tribes, own products or are all “engineers” -at least two examples come to mind where banks are mighty insistent on the blanket title change-.
Armed with courses to become Scrum masters, YouTube videos on XP and a Jira corporate license, armies of people now pray for the daily stand-ups to wrap up already so that they can go back to business as usual.
Agile is not a set of practices
This bit should be immensely self explanatory considering the Agile manifesto but all too often it isn’t. Using the supporting software and practices that Agile uses simply for the sake of ticking a box, in lieu as a means to support a thought pattern, is ludicrous but sadly widely spread.
Tools and processes in the absence of a strong purpose foundation are dangerous indeed as they tend to take over and guide how people do their work in all aspects, in an inertia of practice that ultimately accomplishes nothing.
In one bank we work with who is particularly implements heavy and practice light, we’re messaging around “You can be Agile with just pen, paper and good will” hoping to reset their people’s mindets.
Agile is a religion
If we stop and break down what the ideas behind these methodologies are, we inevitably find they hinge on people. Collaboration, empathy, good will, purpose, they are all in-built in understanding that to make all the intended greatness happen, this is the fastest and most organised way.
That principle must be sacrosanct for Agile to work. One must believe strongly in the possibility and desirability of accomplishing things faster by working together, staying alert and responsible, and driving forward with emotional investment.
Organisations that don’t and implement it as a meaningless fad, inevitably fail to see results. Banks that have their people lead tribes as a second job, those that think of the agile practice as a hobby or extracurricular activity, while expecting everyone to still function as usual will have sorely missed on the promise.
Agile is a way of thinking and a state of mind
One of the things I say to the new people in my team as well as to bankers is that “unless you have a Trello board for your house chores you don’t get Agile”.
Having an intensely personally relevant A-ha! moment where the advantages of doing things in this new way are glaringly obvious, is a sine qua non condition to making the most of it.
Which is why, organisations that simply mandate it and do nothing to elicit those moments in each and every participant end up having massive Agile shadow organisations composed of armies of consultants and coaches to help them go through meaningless motions and wonder why they can’t accomplish Google velocity.
In a way, Agile is like Yoga (I recognise this comparison will lose you burly, weight-lifting types but stick with it) – it doesn’t change who you are, it places you into new positions where you take shapes you didn’t know you could, in order to access the parts of you that were great to begin with, but have been encumbered with dogma and process. Furthermore, just like Yoga does with timing, breathing and movement, Agile too involves continuous intentionality and affirmation.
To push the comparison even further, doing a spot of Yoga by the sea on the beach of your all-inclusive hotel on vacation while waiting for the others to wake up, doesn’t mean you have a practice and the flexibility and results that come with having one.
Let’s go back to basics, the Agile Manifesto’s values are:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools AKA “People First”
Working software over comprehensive documentation AKA “Making things”
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation AKA “Empathy and Purpose”
Responding to change over following a plan AKA “Flexibility and Acuity”
All the goodness that banks have chased for so long: software delivery that supports customer centricity in a timely manner by using the human capital, AKA making things that clients love, fast, by using their people, is contained in this manifesto. And it’s not a new fangled thing we’re only trying out in banking either, it has served everyone from tech giants to big organisations in other industries immensely well for years, with mind blowing results.
For all my eternal moaning against acronyms these are two I hold dear- WOT – Way of Thinking and the sine qua non condition to the WOW – Way of Work that Agile heralds. Having seen the wasted potential that comes from trying to gain one without altering the other, we’re adamant “You can’t have WOW without the WOT” and we repeat this ad nausea to bank execs on a daily basis together with the coveted velocity, RTF, NPS and proposition ROI metrics. We do this because we need them to “get it” – truly, genuinely, get it. Use it. Practice it. Trust it.
Which brings us to the crux of the issue. TRUST.
Can banks trust Agile to be one of the few silver bullets to give them a shortcut to a competitive consumer proposition that ensures they retain the relationship in a time where they are under attack by other proposition makers who are more nimble and willing?
Can banks trust their own people to undertake the hardest task given to them in their professional career and send them a message to:
“Please embrace this, stop waterfalling in your head to pass the time in the stand-up meeting, stop wondering whose departmental P&L this is, throw away what you know of this organisation and start taking personal responsibility, act with purpose as if this is your own shop, keep an eye on the helicopter view, you’re part of it, rely on others, make things fast, be willing to take risk and fail, believe that you will not be held back or punished for it, have passion for what you make, understand how every item on the backlog translates to real life goodness for the consumer and above all keep practicing courage“?
More importantly, can bankers trust their bank to mean it?