The Need for Agile in Corporate Finance
As I continue to study, learn, understand and share my lessons on the value of the Agile framework, I realize that the journey's destination is a lot further away than I had expected. Well, that's Agile for you!
I recently had the experience of managing an infrastructure move project for a large financial services corporation. It was an experience that I won't soon forget as I realized that all of the tools that I've mastered in both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies don't really matter if the culture of the company, or any of its departments, are not ready to adapt them. This particular project was dormant for eight months before my arrival. Let me put it another way...the project was in a coma for eight months. I was the third project manager assigned to it and the project was still in the brain storming or concept phase, with no clear scope, schedule or budget agreed on by the stakeholders and the sponsors.
That's fine for me. This was my opportunity to apply skills, experience and insight to get this project out of its coma. I was able to do that within a three-month period but not without a major realization of the topic of this post. We frequently hear of cultural transformations in departments, divisions and companies from Waterfall to Agile. When we drill down to the functional departments we hear about Agile methods or the Agile framework in software development, product development and process improvement delivering value early on. [What does that mean "...delivering value early on"? To put it simply, the concept of Minimal Viable Product is something that can be put to use and reap a return on investment as soon as it's put to use. This helps keep project costs down and also allows for the project to fund itself. The best example is the construction of a multi-tenant building which will have rentable/leasable units before the total construction is complete. In other words, complete one of six units and lease it immediately, which will help in recovering the investment and help finance the rest of the project. Each completion and renting/leasing of the six units can be considered as a Sprint and has the added benefits of a lower Internal Rate of Return and Minimizing Financial Risk.]
The project that I worked on was no different than most projects in that I had to be mindful of the triple constraint (Scope, Schedule and Budget). What I soon came to realize was that it was the Budget leg of that triangle which had the least agility. For this project, the Corporate Finance department, which feeds the project financially, was also its biggest threat by not "feeding" the project and starving it out of existence. To this day, there are many companies that have finance departments that are predictable and monolithic, meaning their budgeting practices are mapped to the fiscal year at the enterprise level. If a project's budget cannot meet the deadlines required of estimation, execution and management within a certain timeframe, then the funds are withdrawn and the project management team MUST go through the entire process to secure project funding again.
When I asked some of my Agile colleagues about this, they introduced me to the concept of "Beyond Budgeting" ( https://www.toolshero.com/financial-management/beyond-budgeting/ ) There are twelve principles of Beyond Budgeting and Four Benefits. Two of those benefits are Shorter Response Time and Lower Costs . These two benefits would have also minimized an unforeseen risk, that became an issue having negatively impacted the Project Schedule as well as the Project Health/Performance. This unforeseen risk is the current pandemic that we are experiencing right now - COVID-19.
In conclusion, had the Corporate Finance department of this organization adapted the principals and practices of Beyond Budgeting when the rest of the organization went through their Agile Transformation in 2016, then it is reasonable to say that this infrastructure move project could have been completed in the eight months before my arrival and the organization would have reduced their exposure of financial loss once COVID-19 came upon us.
By Nicholas Tufaro, PMP at August 12, 2020 © Nicholas Tufaro,2020