Why banks are not reaping the benefits of Agile Development

Although Agile software development has long been established in technology companies, banks are just beginning to understand the potential that Agile working can bring. In a world where the digital landscape moves at lightning speed, banks have not fully caught up to all the technological possibilities available today.

Many banks are certainly innovating and embracing technology; for example, the Pingit (mobile payment app) team at Barclays has adopted elements of Agile. Even with this adoption, Pingit has just one release of new software per month. Contrast that with a truly Agile organisation such as Etsy (a global craft marketplace with 43 million members). The team at Etsy performs 25 software releases per day.

The real root of these differences is not technical or intellectual. This is a cultural difference. Banks are a more traditional brick-and-mortar entity that was in existence long before the technological revolution, while Etsy has developed as a direct result of technology. Agile is fundamentally based on a set of values and principles that are almost totally at odds with the culture and the organizational structure which can be seen in banks.

Let’s take a look at three of the twelve principles of Agile (from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development):

  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project

Developers in banks often operate in a silo that has little interaction with the front, middle or back office.

  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done

Development teams may be subjected to the same procurement-led property cost savings as administrative functions. This is likely to frustrate attempts to create inspiring and collaborative work spaces. Coaching support can be underfunded and undervalued. Autonomy is restricted with multiple levels of hierarchy and decision-making the norm.

  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams

The concept of self-organising teams runs counter to the hierarchy, performance management and incentive systems that can be seen in banks.

Banks can move to an Agile way of working, but this will come with a cultural shift required to support Agile. We are working on the design of new organisational structures and cultural interventions to support Agile in a number of forward-thinking businesses that recognise the survival imperative. To learn more, contact us.

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