Jerome Ruwe, Head of Agile Delivery Practices, Fidelity Investments’ Personal Investing Division
I remember it like it was yesterday. “If this goes sideways, you have nowhere to hide,” I said. That from my initial conversation with the Personal Investing team at Fidelity Investments as they described their commitment to what would be one of the largest agile transformations I’d have ever been a part of (and one of the largest agile projects in the financial services industry).
Fidelity Investments’ Personal Investing division is a wildly successful business by anyone’s measure with 20 million clients, $2.5 trillion in client assets, an award-winning brokerage platform, and six successive years of record business growth. More impressive was the team’s sheer dedication to its clients and helping them reach their lifetime financial goals. Are these lofty goals? Yes, but Fidelity was founded with the spirit that everything we do can be done better, that the possibilities for our clients are endless. It was clear that this team never stops looking for new ways to develop meaningful solutions and drive value.
One of the firm’s biggest goals? Continue driving the company’s transformation into a truly digital organization that can deliver a customer experience on par with the best companies in the world – in any industry. Of course, agile processes have been used in Fidelity’s technology teams for years, but this would be the first time it truly was used across the Personal Investing organization. And this team’s willingness to back-up words with significant and deliberate action would evolve not only the company’s business processes, but transform its very culture into something revolutionary in the financial services market.
They had me at hello! What an amazing opportunity to work with the team from the ground up.
Having been in the agile transformation space for nearly twenty years, I expected to struggle in the typical areas: acceptance by “the business” that agile isn’t just something IT does to deliver more rapidly against requirements documents, engagement by Human Resources to understand that an agile organizational structure far more closely resembles amoebas in a petri dish than a neatly structured network of vertical silos, approval from Finance for funding products instead of projects is the only way to break the dreaded annual operating planning cycle – you know, all the usual suspects.
Instead, I was stunned with a smile on my face upon my first interaction with senior leaders to find every single area not only present and accounted for, but actively supporting our transformation in their own way. The business now embraced their new role and partnership with IT, HR had thoughtfully advocated a de-scaled organizational structure which would bring our agile teams closer to the clients they supported, finance was leading the charge toward funding product teams rather than discrete projects and even compliance was adamant about how we must still “protect this house” but must do so in such a way that allows for efficient and highly automated paths to production.
Any trepidation I’d had about my decision to join Fidelity quickly disappeared.
All the pieces were in place. When our journey together began, we identified four key dimensions as pillars for our success. We needed to know what we would rally around.
Reaffirm a Shared Purpose or Goal
My experience has taught me that an organization focused on profit only will likely lead you to short-term thinking, sub-optimization, and low client engagement. At Fidelity, we’ve clearly defined our client(s) and focus on delighting them in new ways by delivering an even more consistent flow of value and proactively incorporating their feedback into the product development process. Profits are simply the natural bi-product of adding value and delighting our customers.
Simply put, the world has become less predictable and far more complex. The availability of options today in even the most benign of places can cause future shock. As an example, take something as simple as social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. It’s no wonder when firms say they need to work on their “online presence” it easily spins into such a daunting task! Over the course of my career, I’ve found that “legacy reductionist management models” based on “predicting and controlling” are wholly incompatible with this complexity. Agile organizations such as Fidelity create structures that embrace change and address complex needs iteratively and in small batches. By constantly incorporating client feedback we can find opportunity in what other firms perceive as chaos.
Empower Autonomous Teams
High performing teams have a clearly defined membership, strive to be cross-functional, trust each other to deliver on commitments, have autonomy within their area of focus, and have strong shared purpose. They move adaptively towards refining and executing against the overall team mission. At Fidelity, we quickly recognized that these small, high performing teams are our single greatest weapon. We’ve also created progressive, human-centric work spaces so that teams can do their best work together and achieve at their highest potential.
Enable Transformational Leadership
Complex systems are a challenge for even the most effective leaders. Transformational leaders seek to create an environment where everyone focuses on engaging and delighting customers, removing friction from the system, and developing their own personal leadership effectiveness. At Fidelity, every voice is engaged in addressing complexity and delivering client value in creative and innovative ways. As a result, leaders regularly are asking their teams, “What can I do to help you?”
To all who are looking to embark upon their own transformation, a few parting thoughts based upon my cumulative experience…
• Think iteratively! Delivering client value in small batches each and every iteration not only accelerates your ROI, it can shorten the critical client feedback loop and fully engages clients in the development of the products which will ultimately meet their needs – perhaps in ways they may not yet even realize.
• Obsess over your clients! So much of what passes for work is actually just activity. Critically assess each item on your backlog, and if the answer to the question of “How will our client benefit from this?” isn’t readily apparent, perhaps you’d be best served by not doing it, aka just say “no”. “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
• Don’t Wait! There’s never a perfect opportunity to begin an agile transformation. Prioritize pace over perfection – and course correct once you’ve got critical change inertia working in your favor.
• Lastly, know there is no finish line, no “done state”. Agile is about constantly refining your business model, your organizational structure and your value proposition. Important though is to celebrate your milestones and your successes along the way. Agile is a journey, not a destination. Take the time to enjoy the ride.