Is Agile Project Management Effective For Financial Services?

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Last updated on
24th Nov, 2022
06th Jun, 2018
Is Agile Project Management Effective For Financial Services?

Working in the Financial Services industry for the past 13 years as a project manager has had its challenges.  My organization is a weak-matrixed structure, so project managers really have little to no power from resourcing to managing costs.  (I’ve never had to manage a budget in my entire career as a project manager – how is that possible?)  Throughout my career I’ve learned that PMP is only valued if you work in IT performing Waterfall projects.  As the company gravitated from Waterfall to Agile projects, the thought process shifted from PMP concepts to our own handpicked, homegrown ways of tracking projects.  I only learned about Agile by being a part of a program where I resided in IT as a project manager, 13 years ago. Since I returned to the business side, IT has become extremely Agile and reinforces use of PMP concepts around the appropriate PMBOK knowledge areas.  

For the past 5 years, I am managing business projects and challenges exist around the adoption of Agile and its primary concepts.  PMOs are relatively new to my organization (less than 5 years) and based on our weak-matrixed structure, not much direction exists around the best practices that our IT partners utilize to show the value of ‘their’ projects.  I’ve seen many projects never reach the completion stage and if they do; there is no value provided to senior leadership around ROI, IRR, etc. as it was never tracked properly (if at all) or they wanted to determine ROI after the project closed.

For the past 5 years, I have worked on a program in the business to assist with implementing new Marketing Technology throughout my global organization.  The constant question I would be asked from my business partners is, ‘What value are you providing to us in this effort?’  First, let me provide some context.  The group I work in is considered shared services, so we never charge our business partners for our ‘services’.  My group also relies on the business to provide the budget and resources for implementing these new technologies.  I believe this is another reason why it has taken 5 years to implement just 1 technology and we have about 4-5 more in the pipeline waiting for funding.

Here lies my challenge – how do I answer the question about how my group is providing value with the work we are supporting and leading?  I’ll use an analogy.  The approach my group has found to be most viable is as simple as teaching a child how to ride a bike.  Until they are comfortable with the training wheels, the parent needs to keep their hand on the back of the bike seat.  Once the parent feels the child has the confidence; they let go and the child doesn’t even know the parent wasn’t supporting them.  Step 1 complete!  Next step, the wheels come off and the process is repeated.  Once the child has mastered balance, the parent let’s go and the child knows how to ride a bike for the rest of their life.  Step 2 complete!

Same is the case with a project manager and his team in the initial days and after a certain period of time. This is depicted in the figure below.

Project Manager Team Road Map

Since I don’t have a budget and resources to manage, my group goes back to the basics.  Step 1: Riding with training wheels.  We ask our business partners if they are using the new technology and what they are using it for.  In other words, are they using the data they are getting the right way?  For example, In order to assist our business partners with this, my team partners with an analytics insights group within my department to consult with our business partners to help them see the value they may obtain by successfully running a marketing campaign to drive a conversion – such as purchasing or investing in a specified product.  Step 2: Remove the training wheels.  Once the business recognizes they can see the value out of using the data properly, they are off and running with a few touch points for consulting in case they want continue to obtain more value from the data.  It’s that easy, right?  Well, not really.  

In my organization, most of our business partners do not know how to take the next step to gain more value; such as tying in all channels – web, mobile, advertising, print, email, etc.  That is where hiring the right resources with the right skillset for roles and possibly bringing in external resources to grow the business in that knowledge area is critical.

I feel, in my organization, applying PMBOK knowledge and running projects using many of its recommended standards would be helpful in this endeavor.  First and foremost, with being able to utilize the right resources in-house or external resources who have the skillset you need to be successful is one simple step in the right direction. Secondly, implementing ways to capture value by performing initial analysis through project selection to determine ROI, IRR, NPV, FV and cost-benefit analysis.  Third, during the project life cycle, utilize Earned Value Management and other budgeting techniques to hold the project team accountable for their progress and quality of work.  To me these are basic concepts that my organization isn’t performing well at all levels.  By becoming a balanced or strong-matrixed organization we would be able to leverage the PMO to start recommending standards to head in the right direction.



Denise Aronson

Blog author

Denise Aronson has worked in the financial services industry for 18 years, gaining experience in digital marketing, data analytics, and project management. As a seasoned digital project manager, she has a proven track record of implementing $5M+ enterprise level marketing technologies.  Most recently, she managed a Leadership Symposium event bringing 2,600 global leaders to the U.S. for a 2 day conference.  She is passionate about advancing the use of data and analytics to drive business decisions and successfully managing projects. In addition to project management, she is also involved in the Digital Analytics Association Women in Analytics group and her PMI local chapter group. Outside of the office, Denise enjoys attending concerts, sailing, and making artisan breads.