Giving the Financial Industry Permission to Fail Faster

Most organizations in the financial services industry have the knowledge and the vision to deliver what will delight customers and keep their organizations relevant.  Somewhere though, the majority end up allowing fear to slow them down or even stop them from executing.  They end up asking the responsible questions of “what is the ROI?” or “will this truly meet our customers’ needs?”  The problem is that when they are truly innovating, there are unknowns.  Because of the unknowns, organizations can’t answer these questions to 100% of their satisfaction and fear then prevents them from moving forward.

So how do we solve this?  We need to give ourselves permission to fail faster – not in the Silicon Valley buzzword kind of way, but in a way that removes the fear and the roadblocks, a way that allows us to quit making the statement of “That’s the way we’ve always done it” and allows us to do something better than “which of our peers has already done this?”

Early in my career, I worked for a gentleman that was present when Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland came up with the “Scrum” project management methodology.  That mentor passed along to me a principal that, “Scrum will not solve any of your organization’s problems for you.  What it will do is, it will point them out faster.”  He kept emphasizing that your goal should not be perfection. Your goal should be to fail faster.

He didn’t mean to actually plan to fail.  He was teaching that, for a large or innovative project, you will never know everything before getting started.  Even if you did, the world changes over time and, at the end of large projects, some amount of what was true in the beginning will not be true at the end.  So don’t try to have the perfect vision and the perfect detailed plan before starting because a significant amount of that will be wasted effort.  Instead, create a plan for your vision, start executing and testing the plan in small chunks, and adjust your plan as you go.

Creating a plan for your vision

In creating a plan, take your vision and break it up into themes or large chunks.  Take those themes and ask yourself, if we only completed one, which would create most value for the organization.  Then ask yourself what would be the second, third, etc.  By prioritizing your themes in this way, if your organization asks you to pivot, as they do, you will have delivered the most valuable themes first.

Executing and testing the plan in small chunks

Next, take the themes that you will get to in the first third of your project and break them into small deliverables and start executing.  As you complete each small deliverable, stop and review it with the key stakeholder, and learn from it.  Make sure that you are building what you truly need and not what you said or what you thought that you needed.

Adjusting your plan as you go

As you deliver and review each smaller working part, you will learn.  As you learn you will be able to adjust.  As you plan the other two-thirds of your project, you will see your learnings reflected in your plan and momentum occurring, that fear would have stopped or, at least, slowed in the beginning.

Regardless of the task at hand, whether it is branch transformation or introducing a new technology to customers, it is important to get the ball rolling as soon as you can. From there, learn from it and adjust as needed.  You will be amazed at where getting past the fear and encouraging your teams to fail faster in smaller chunks will take you.

Written by Rob Mills