Adopting an Agile Approach to Scale Digital Finance Transformation

November 24, 2020
5 Minute Read

Finance teams that embrace digital to optimize operations and deliver valuable business insights are better able to anticipate and respond to disruption. And by adopting an Agile approach, they’re able to turn up the digital volume—and deliver benefits their organizations can take to the bank.

Consumer-facing innovations like mobile payments are more familiar, and advanced capabilities like blockchain grab more headlines, but digital finance transformation within your organization is also crucial as you transition to the Industry 4.0 era—and beyond.

Research from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and Oracle1 found that Agile finance leaders are much more likely to report shareholder-pleasing impacts to both their top and bottom lines. According to the study, agile finance organizations that have adopted cloud-based platforms and technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) are more likely to report positive revenue growth (89% vs 63%) and increasing profitability (95% vs 70%).1

Conquering Complexity and Fast-Moving Consumer Demands

This promise of strong business results drove our client, a Fortune 500 fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, to launch an Agile finance transformation program that would enable them to stay ahead of fast-moving customer demands.

Even before the 2020 pandemic, our client was facing competitive pressure, as consumer expectations raced ahead and start-ups coming to market with fresh ideas and products. To more nimbly respond to these challenges, they needed to adopt a more Agile mindset and implement methodologies such as Scrum.

Agile coaches and Scrum masters act as servant leaders to the teams. They motivate, reward and empower them to unlock their potential.

Working as Agile coaches and Scrum masters, RGP’s Business Agility team helped them scale their transformation across global finance teams by coaching them on the fundamentals of Scrum, facilitating the Scrum ceremonies and applying a Scrum of Scrums approach where product owners across teams would pursue the following goals:

  • Reduce costs and create greater value by automating complex, manual processes.
  • Take advantage of data analytics and real-time reporting to support data-driven decisions and predictive financial modeling.
  • Compete more effectively with the increasing number of start-ups and scale-ups.

This alignment between the product owners (Scrum of Scrums) kept the Finance teams focused on a clear vision—answering, “why” and “how” we are doing this?

Human-First Approach Paves the Way for Agile Success

While it’s essential to begin with the end in mind, successful transformation also requires that you thoughtfully navigate the journey and proactively consider the human impacts of change. When comparing our experience in Agile finance transformation programs with traditional transformation journeys, we’ve observed several key differentiators for delivering value:

  • Properly inform people about the “why” and “how” before beginning the journey.
  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities.
  • Establish the values that everybody will live by, including trust, respect and transparency.
  • Thoroughly explain the tools, techniques and processes you’ll use to deliver high value.
  • Build a roadmap for the journey, which then translates into a product backlog for every team.

Agile coaches and Scrum masters act as servant leaders to the teams. They motivate, reward and empower them to unlock their potential—both as a team and as individuals—which in turn leads to higher value at the end.

Here’s how our human-centered approach set our client up for success:

Solve the Right Problems

It’s important to think through challenges with empathy for end users or customers: What is their experience and how can we make it better? We used a design thinking approach, in conjunction with Agile, to focus first on finding the right problems to solve and explore what’s possible from different perspectives.

To ensure organizational alignment and support adoption of our client’s transformation program, we included company leaders in the first workshop where, as a group, we defined the scope of the finance transformation. The first iteration revealed a large set of pain points, which we then narrowed down to a handful of areas with the best opportunity to add maximum value, including optimizing processes like record to report and procure to pay and implementing predictive analytics.

Our group identified organizational pain points from multiple points of view, interviewing internal customers, finance team members and finance senior managers to explore their pain points and expectations. And with first-hand insight into their challenges, we defined the benefits they would see.

Organize Agile Teams Around Value Delivery

After studying our users in detail, we formed squads for each of the areas where we wanted to unlock value. In addition to finance, squad members brought in expertise from a variety of other functional areas, including machine learning, HR, analytics and enterprise IT.

Details of the roadmap might change at the end of every sprint, but the vision stays the same throughout the project.

We subsequently ran visioning workshops to sketch out a clear view of the problems we would solve and the future state for each value stream. Once aligned around the vision, we identified the key skills required for each cross-functional squad to deliver and asked them to identify the objectives and key results (OKRs) that would determine the roadmap and serve as milestones along the way.

Details of the roadmap might change at the end of every sprint, but the vision stays the same throughout the project.

Maintain High Team Morale

High-performing Agile teams rely on two key pillars: trust and respect. Both require a lot of work to build—and only one false move to vanish. Adding to this challenge, we completed our work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home created challenges for employees balancing multiple roles at once while missing day-to-day human interactions in the office.

High-performing Agile teams rely on two key pillars: trust and respect.

This meant we had to step up our role in the project and find new ways to maintain high morale.
We openly praised every milestone our teams were achieving, no matter how large or small. And when they weren’t performing at their usual level, we listened to the needs and struggles interfering with their work. Online meet-ups—including virtual coffee moments, free-flowing conversations and learning sessions—allowed us to celebrate successes or just get to know each other better.

Create a Learning Culture Led by Leadership

A key tenet of the Agile approach is to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) and then test and learn to improve it in a series of iterative “sprints.” But adopting this test-and-learn mindset a huge culture shift, which wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our client’s leadership team.

To support this, we shared scenarios from successful startups to show this approach works. For example, Deliveroo, a $2 billion+ food delivery service based in the UK, began by allowing hungry colleagues to order takeout via text messages and charging a small delivery fee.

A classic way of illustrating the concept of an MVP is the process of developing a car. Rather than starting with a single wheel that can’t transport anything, you build a simple yet effective mode of transportation—like a skateboard—and then add functionality, bit by bit, until you have a fully featured vehicle.

Think and Act Like a Startup

Many start-up companies are known for their “fail fast” work style and culture. To proactively compete against the upstarts disrupting their industry, our client needed to think and act more like they do.

The leadership team supported the idea of testing different use case scenarios to find the best-fit solution for the problem, rather than betting all the money on one solution.

The leadership team supported the idea of testing different use case scenarios to find the best-fit solution for the problem. In one value stream, the team came up with a hypothesis for four different ways of solving the problem. After a quick validation, two solutions were dropped while the other two made the cut, with one working better for some geographies while the second worked better for others.

With this validation cycle, the team reduced risk from early on, rather than betting all the money on one solution and hoping it would work best for everyone, everywhere. This wouldn’t have been possible if leaders hadn’t embraced the idea of investing in an MVP and running a test-and-learn cycle.

Like any big change initiative, Agile finance transformation involves a significant shift in organizational processes, technology—and culture. Change is hard—especially in the midst of a global pandemic. But the potential benefits more than measure up to the challenges and flow well beyond the finance function.

As our colleague Andy Jones writes, innovative finance leaders will use the pandemic as a catalyst to drive their organizations forward—now is the time for finance transformation.


This article was co-authored by Illias Pappas and Can Huzmeli.

1Agile Finance Revealed: The New Operating Model for Modern Finance, AICPA and Oracle

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