Amid today’s rapid pace of change in financial services, many credit unions strive to make their operations more nimble so they can pivot their products and services to meet members’ evolving needs.
"Agile" methodology provides the perfect framework for that capability, according to Melanie Gillen and Andy Schuman of CUNA Mutual Group.
They’ll tag-team on a preconference workshop at the upcoming CUNA Lending Council Conference that explains Agile’s advantages and offers a pathway for credit unions to use it as a project management tool. Registration for the workshop, which carries an additional fee, remains open through Nov. 12, the day it will be held in Nashville, Tenn.
“When you start with an idea and want to create value, this methodology and mindset is critical,” says Gillen, a capability leader director. “We’re approaching two years of using Agile within our Transformation area, and it has enabled our teams to bring value to our credit union clients and their members much faster. We are focusing on the right things because we’re constantly working with customers to validate and test our solutions.”
CUNA News recently asked Gillen about the methodology and some of the concepts she and Schuman, CUNA Mutual Group’s Agile transformation director, will address in the workshop.
CUNA News: How would you describe Agile in layman’s terms?
Gillen: It’s a way of thinking, acting, and delivering. I usually compare it to traditional waterfall methodology, where you set out to build something, get a huge budget, spend three to six months on planning and design, and then spend another 12 to 18 months building it. Then you bring the solution to market and it’s not what the customer wanted, or it arrives too late for the customer.
With Agile, you’re thinking in terms of small increments of value: What is good enough? You have a strong outside-in viewpoint. Teams are empowered and adapt; they’re very open to feedback and collaboration.
You develop projects in increments, and you have a continuous improvement focus while eliminating wasted-task efforts.
CUNA News: What are the benefits of Agile over traditional project management styles?
Gillen: Waterfall is great if you are doing something with clear steps. For instance, you have to follow a set process when building a house.
Agile is great when there are a lot of unknowns or speed to market is critical. It creates an environment where “failure” is positive and learning is priority.
CUNA News: When transitioning from traditional project management to Agile, what are the key principles to keep in mind?
Gillen: Keep three principles in mind: Mantain your focus on the customer, drive scope of work to minimum viable customer and business value (i.e. "thin slicing"), and develop in an iterative manner.
The hardest challenge by far is the concept of thin slicing. We’re drawn to envision and create a full solution when maybe just a slice of it will do.
Project teams have to keep asking themselves if they're slicing the solution thin enough to test and learn before they build the whole thing and find out it’s wrong.
CUNA News: Could you explain the concept of “minimum viable feature” and how the “tasty cupcakes” exercise you’ll lead in the workshop applies?
Gillen: This exercise is designed to get attendees to break down an end-state product or capability vision and “thin slice” the scope into a minimum set of product or capability features that provide customer and business value. This concept is known as “minimum viable feature” (MVF) or “minimum viable product” (MVP).
Specifically, this concept is driven by defining a product hypothesis with questions such as, Can the product be built? Will people use it? Will someone pay for it? Is the product scalable?
For the exercise, we’ll ask participants to think about opening up a cupcake business and how they would approach it using MVF or MVP.
CUNA News: How do Agile methods drive employee behaviors?
Gillen: We use “Scrum” as our agile methodology and we have a transformation lead on each project team to help oversee scrum “ceremonies,” or meetings.
Scrum outlines project team roles, meetings, behaviors, and terminology that drives the behaviors. It takes time and coaching to evolve.
CUNA News: What's the first step for implementing Agile?
Gillen: It really depends on the scale at which they want to adopt it. We get asked this a lot when credit unions come to visit and hear what we’re doing.
I would suggest they first become familiar with Agile, start small with one project team or area of focus, and hire/contract with someone who has Agile experience and can navigate the organization through its journey. It’s big change management for leadership, too.
Read more coverage of the conference from CUNA News, and get live updates on Twitter via @CUNAJennifer, @AdamMertzCUNA, @cumagazine, @CUNACouncils, and by using the #LendingCouncil hashtag. Learn more about the CUNA Lending Council, a member-led professional society for credit union executives, by visiting cunacouncils.org.