Today, pioneering brick-and-mortar companies in the financial services sector are leveraging the agile momentum to solve current challenges, and successfully too. So, the question now isn’t about whether one should scale agile across an entire organization, but rather, how to scale agile across the organization.

An agile transformation is framed by the individual constraints and goals of the company, such as corporate culture, agile maturity, and business objectives. It can take many forms, but adhering to these core principles is the first step to ensuring agile transformation success:

1. Senior management sponsorship

Successful implementation of an agile approach depends on three factors: cultural change, communication, and inclusion of everyone, starting with the board of directors. It requires commitment from the entire organization and for everyone to be familiar with this new way of working. Prepare the deployment well in advance, with a clear explanation underpinning the motivation. For a large financial services client, this process took nine months and involved 100 employees.

Frequent communication is key to uniting the team. For one of our clients, it resulted in the creation of an “agile mindset” supported by the CEO. This was the first step in gaining acceptance and facilitating assimilation of the approach. Another important step is to have the steering committee define the high-level priorities for each team and help identify the best individuals to champion agile across the company.

2. Multi-disciplinary teams (also known as squads or feature teams)

Establish multi-disciplinary teams that collectively have the skills required to produce, test, and maintain viable features and products. These teams are typically co-located and intended to be self-organizing, with their respective roadmap following the global strategy. They must have full autonomy to make decisions collectively.

3. Cross-functional collaboration

When introducing agile in a larger enterprise, many teams are required to deal with the business needs for new products. Effective collaboration and synchronization across these teams are essential to create the right solutions collectively and to manage productivity.

One of our clients, a major insurance company, managed to achieve cross-functional collaboration. It brought marketers, actuaries, customer experience and product distribution experts, IT developers, and QA testers together to form an ecosystem that focused on one specific aspect of the business and equipped them with everything they required for success. Each ecosystem was split into as many agile teams as necessary and staffed with employees originating from all parts of the organization. Team members were selected by their HR managers to meet the operational needs of the agile team. Another example comes from a banking client, who fully replaced their former hierarchical structure with a tribe model centered on the leading businesses and functions of the bank (savings, credits, customer relationship, etc.). This re-organization had employee representative buy-ins.

4. Senior management engagement and active decision-making

When working in an agile way, each period of work culminates in a ceremony called a Demo—a demonstration and review of the output achieved by a team. The benefit of a Demo is to provide visibility, clarification and rapidly gain feedback or make decisions on the work done. At a more global level, multiple teams (called trains or tribes depending on the model) also synchronize through Demos to remain aligned with the company strategy. Senior management is required to be present and available to their teams. The teams can voice their issues to management and ask all the necessary questions. These events promote agile culture and provide the opportunity to share ambitions and facilitate team management.

For example, one client brings all tribes together every quarter with senior management to share their accomplishments, project updates, and resolve potential difficulties. An alternative approach is to arrange weekly prioritization ceremonies with the presence of two rotating members from the executive committee to enable management to get closer to their teams and speed up the decision-making process.

Agile Transformation Journey

What are the main areas of change when implementing agile at scale?

Implementing an agile at scale transformation represents a significant change in culture and the operating model. In our experience, the areas that need to be addressed can be categorized into five broader groups:

  1. Balancing business demand and budgets
  2. Establishing the target agile operating model
  3. Engaging third parties in the new way of working
  4. Tools
  5. Architecture and cybersecurity

1. Balancing Business Demand and Budgets

Generating value and meeting business demand remains imperative.

a) Business Demand Management: This involves becoming client-centric with shorter cycles between receiving and executing against the demand while remaining aligned with strategy. The business community must understand how to handle project portfolio changes. Realizing how to effectively prioritize competing business or operational needs, as well as unexpected events and decisions, becomes essential.

b) Financial Control: The focus shifts to value streams rather than budgeting by department or projects. A capability-oriented approach with rolling forecasts should be adopted. Significant changes are essential to achieving budget re-allocation and adjusting traditional financial KPIs to those that have more meaning in agile, e.g., focusing on delivering value or absorbing capacity.

2. Establishing the Agile Target

a) Operating Model: Creating and implementing the new ways of working includes adopting agile methods, changing employees’ roles and responsibilities, and – crucially – changing management’s approach.

b) Delivery: In an agile world, more value is expected to be delivered faster, alongside the ability to continually adapt to changing demands and foster continuous improvement. When setting up the new operating model, teams need to determine effective alignment of business value streams, cross-organizational functions like finance, compliance or security, and the legacy organization. They will need to become familiar with new ceremonies, making these fit for their purpose, and scalable, while also finding their pace and becoming predictable.

c) New Jobs and Roles: Establishing the new operating model must include defining new roles and responsibilities. Typical challenges are identifying the required competencies, and then allocating and growing the skills within teams – especially new ones like product owners and scrum masters. Driving and maintaining this adoption requires cultural change and amendment of the staffing and training processes to support the new teams. In turn, management and HR may need to underscore these changes more formally.

d) Integration: Create multi-functional and autonomous teams. Typical difficulties include addressing the cultural differences between development and production to establish an innovative and responsive DevOps environment.

e) Support, Maintenance, and Quality: Teams or squads should become responsible for both building and running applications to drive efficient and practical support, maintenance and quality of services. The key is to establish the right balance of resources while managing the prioritization between run (maintenance) and build (projects) to ensure end-to-end quality.

f) Management 3.0: Agile requires managers to become servant leaders who foster experimentation, initiative, and cooperation among their people. They adapt to provide continuous feedback to individuals. Difficulties to be overcome include how to remove command and control habits, then make individuals more autonomous and responsible for tasks. Management and HR functions must change their performance and career management approach. Structures and measures must now reward new, desired behaviors, activities, and outcomes.

3. Engaging third parties in the new way of working

a) Engaging and managing external vendors and partners is frequently left to procurement, but for agile, leaders need to consider and plan the future role of these external parties in day-to-day activities and commercially.

b) Sourcing: Current contracts need to facilitate increased sourcing flexibility. Many providers are at an early stage of recognizing Agile in their commercial operations. Hence, potential difficulties include dealing with existing outcome-based contracts and managing T&M contracts without commitments to results. The relationship must change from being provider-centric to partner-centric.

4. Tools

Tooling underpins and accelerates cooperation, design activities, and continuous delivery. Consideration and integration of operations and service management tooling are vital to enable an active feedback loop.

To manage the breadth and complexity of the required tooling warrants an architecture that promotes off-the-shelf products with proven integration capabilities to minimize customization, configuration, and maintenance over their lifetime.

5. Architecture and Cybersecurity

Global consistency across development and operations to meet architecture and security requirements is imperative. This must span interfaces, applications, infrastructure, data, integration layers, and work across providers and partners.

Understanding these fundamentals is just the first step to ensuring agile transformation success. Let Wavestone US help you implement the most effective strategies to benefit your business.


Our team is a blend of high-quality talent from all levels who can tackle your most complex issues with a fresh approach. With a globally connected network of 4,000 employees, Wavestone is designed to help you get results. All our consultants thrive on complex challenges, enjoy blazing new trails, and are committed to your organization’s success.

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