Seven hard truths about project management in financial services

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Change is relentless. Keep project solutions tailored. Don’t overdo the ‘agile solutions’. The key takeaways from APM’s recent high-level financial services roundtable.

  1. Agile is hugely overdone

There are brilliant use cases for agile in financial services and even for agile techniques blended into other PM methodologies. But too many senior decision-makers – especially from an IT background – have seized on it as some kind of panacea for a range of projects. And in most cases, it just isn’t right. That’s particularly true of financial services where documentation, rigour and discipline are key to delivering reliable functionality from projects that will be scrutinised by both customers and regulators. But at the same time, FS sees itself delivering a premium with speed. “Risk and regulations are a big chunk of our work,” said one guest at our APM financial services roundtable. It's not sexy – and it can’t be rushed. 

  1. The best project management approaches are always tailored

Even within a sector such as financial services, different organisations have very different structures, resources and requirements. Expecting two similarly sized banks to undertake the same kind of project in the same way is crazy. Add in the different sub-sectors, up-and-coming fintechs and legacy businesses that might have very different profiles, and this need to tailor becomes even more urgent. 

  1. It's tough to find the right balance of control and agility

For many in financial services (and more widely), there’s a tension between having in-house resources and bringing in contractors for project workload. If you resource your project teams well, suddenly everything looks like ‘a project’ because managers see an opportunity to offload workload from their budgets. If you rely on contractors availability and cost became big factors – not least if your in-house ‘bench’ is limited. 

  1. There’s no such things as 'the PMO'

Of course, we’ve always known there are lots of types of PMO (well, at least three...). But the way PMOs run, their outputs and their mandates vary hugely in financial services. One irony is that many senior stakeholders will militate for agile methods to be applied – but still expect a structured report on project portfolio progress, even when they haven’t resources a co-ordinating PMO. It’s tough out there... 

  1. Financial services desperately needs change projects

But it’s also ill-disposed to change, both in terms of technology and culture. (As a sector, it’s hardly alone in that condition.) Leadership buy-in is often great, but as you head down through the organisation, managers need more specific coaching on the need for – and how to execute – change projects.  

  1. Project management can be a product

For one delegate at the roundtable, clients are specifically buying project expertise – their needs are typically unique, so while the company’s expertise is the sales point, the value comes from tailored project execution. Showing your discipline and accreditation in these situations is no bad thing... 

  1. We need to stop calling them ‘soft skills’

This isn’t news. But in financial services, like in other sectors, the PM’s ability to influence, coach, communicate and include are now tremendously important. Project managers in financial services need these ‘business essentials’ to make progress. 

APM’s Corporate Partnership programme facilitates regular sector-focused roundtable where project managers can share experiences and discuss challenges.  You can find more detail about this event in the Winter 18 issue of Project, the official journal of the APM. APM members can read the full issue. Or you can request a copy.

Richard Young

Posted by Richard Young on 9th May 2019

About the Author

Richard Young is the consulting editor of Project
Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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