Remaining Agile In The Financial Sector – CRM

Business Continuity

When I was growing up, banks were the icons of conservation. They were, by design, rigidly process-driven. Their investment decisions were cautious, as compared to investment markets (e.g. junk bonds and Black Monday), and they could be relied on for prudence above all else. It was all rather like the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank from Mary Poppins.

However, banks and the financial service industry have changed vastly since the 1980s. The sector has been transformed by deregulation and conglomeration. The rise of hedge funds and the instrumentation of debt have disrupted business models. Competition is fierce and managing the public’s trust in financial institutions hasn’t been this tricky since 1927.

If that does not render the sector under enough pressure, the growth of digital technologies has forced financial institutions to further reconsider how they operate; services have been virtualised, strategy is reliant on sophisticated mathematical modelling, and internal processes are being challenged by a digital culture whose motto is “move fast and break things”.
The resulting business environment is a complicated and confusing mix of waterfall and agile operational models. Infrastructure and core banking applications tend to be rooted in waterfall best practices while marketing and online service applications tend to be more agile in inclination.

Agile CRM Implementations in Waterfall Environments

Teams that specialise in Microsoft Dynamics CRM and other business applications often sit on the fault lines between the above-mentioned areas.
Navigating the various demands of different stakeholders is tricky. As digital practitioners, we may be inclined toward agile methodologies, but we must service the client as they are, not as we would prefer them to be.

Therefore, we have to ask ourselves how we can ensure streamlined CRM implementations and optimisation without breaking ourselves in the process. Here are four suggestions for staying agile in an environment that isn’t.

Remember that agility is about priority of values, not exclusive values.

The fundamental principles of agile are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change as opposed to merely following a plan

The Agile Manifesto notes that being agile means prioritising the ideas on the left over the ideas on the right in the list above. It does not necessarily require the removal of processes, documentation, contracts, or plans. It is helpful to remember that people coupled with effective software, collaboration, and responsiveness are all valued in even the most waterfall-focused businesses. Taking a rigid stance with regard to the value statements undermines the purpose of being agile.

Focus on business fundamentals

Our clients need to have a certain level of predictability in their operations in order to manage risk effectively. As Agile practitioners, it is easy to get caught up in our own methods, be it Scrum, Kanban, or a custom approach. If we remember our agile principles, we can focus on delivering business value that enables risk management. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that:

Our customers have to deliver on business objectives, so valuing them as individuals means prioritising their needs in order to deliver value to them.
Effective CRM software is essential to meeting customer’s needs.
Collaboration builds the relationship that enables us to deliver the business value responsible for creating our long-term revenue streams.
By understanding our engagements in this way, we stay focused on the fundamentals of doing business and approach CRM projects accordingly.

Communicate your needs early, often, and relentlessly

Through the application of agile values, we focus on building a relationship in which our needs (relating to our requirements for ensuring streamlined CRM implementations) are honoured by our clients. This relies on communicating those needs as soon as the need is clear to us.

By expressing it early on, the client is able to plan accordingly. After all, one of the risks they must mitigate is that we won’t leave the project prior to completion. As we deliver value that demonstrates our understanding of their needs, they are increasingly invested in ensuring that our needs are met.

Protect your team in order to ensure delivery

My most effective CRM implementation strategy is to try to fit my team’s practices inside discreet stages of the client’s waterfall process. We will therefore adjust our sprint cycles and focus our outputs to match the phases of the client’s procedure and will also adjust our reporting to meet their stage gates.

For example, if we have four weeks to create requirements, we will adjust to one week sprints where we put together requirements. We will, where necessary, build prototypes to demonstrate functionality and raise unforeseen issues. By the time we have the requirements documented, we are pretty comfortable that we have a complete view of the work to be done with some scaffolding in place for the actual development required.

There are limits to this strategy, of course. If a CRM team is juggling both development and support functions, performance will struggle as priorities will tend to be organised day-to-day rather than sprint-to-sprint. But if the team is focused on development, they work within their normal rhythms and are able to deliver effectively. Failure to protect the team’s rhythms is the quickest way to diminish team performance.

There is no map for negotiating this environment. There is simply our skills and experience. By stepping back from the work, appreciating the client’s concerns, and remembering the values to which we are committed, it is possible to navigate waterfall and hybrid operational environments to deliver CRM projects effectively.

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