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The Collaboration between Banks and Service Providers in the Digital Era

By: Philipp Buck, Digital Banking Expert and Manager, Soranus

Philipp Buck, Digital Banking Expert and Manager, Soranus

Traditional and agile methods repeatedly clash in contemporary projects. Yet, few project managers fully identify the associated challenges and develop an approach by which they can be managed.

In many projects, there is frequently a disparity between the approach adopted by the bank and that favored by the service provider. This creates a lack of agreement between the stakeholders as to whether progress should be measured by milestones or the product backlog, and there is often ambiguity surrounding whether the project should be managed by a detailed specification, common project vision, or clear governance. I have repeatedly witnessed how this ambiguity can remain entrenched in a project to the end, thoroughly disrupting the collaboration in the process.

Collaboration Principles

Project teams should agree upon three collaboration principles at the outset of the endeavor:

Shared Vision: What shared vision guides the project?

Detailed Specification: What deliverables are due at what time?

Structured Governance: What are the project influences?

However, a lack of focus or time commonly prevents the development of an efficient and structured collaboration between the parties involved. The following collaboration principles need to be taken into account:

A shared vision guides the development of a solution for a given business problem. It ensures goals are defined and prioritized correctly and engenders a more in-depth understanding of the project objectives.

Absence of a common vision leads to misaligned project goals and priorities. In such a situation, the provider may develop efficiently but not effectively.

In this case, the bank’s vision should be specified via detailed business requirements that clarify how and in which quality the requirements are handed over to the provider and integrated into the development process.

Detailed specifications enable structured project planning that helps the bank prepare for the associated organization changes, ensures stakeholders are informed, and allows end- users to be involved early and trained accordingly.

Setting goals that prove volatile may necessitate extensive re-planning. This leads to dissatisfaction among stakeholders and can lead to a withdrawal of support for the project.

In the absence of detailed specifications, it is important to provide the stakeholders with a clear project vision and involve them in efforts to make this vision a reality. Expectation management supported by clear governance may also minimize stakeholder dissatisfaction.

A structured governance enables the stakeholders to provide informed feedback. Service level agreements between banks and providers should clearly define how the solution will be provided, how feedback will be managed, and what response times will be required for each priority.

If governance is absent from a project, the bank may have unrealistically high expectations as to how their feedback will be managed. This might be mitigated with a concise specification, a clear vision, and corresponding goal monitoring. If the specified functionalities effectively support the common vision, the need to adhere to highly structured project governance will decrease.

Collaboration Models

The three collaboration principles can be combined in different ways to fit the needs of a project. This combination can be visualized in the “SGV-triangle.”

The higher the value of the vision axis, the higher the level of congruence between the vision and the proposed solution.

The higher the value of the specification axis, the more detailed and more forward-looking the functionalities will be specified.

The higher the value of the governance axis, the more organized and institutionalized the mutual influence will be defined.

Not all three dimensions need to be defined to the maximum degree. A pragmatic optimum will focus on two dimensions. Accordingly, three potential collaboration models can be derived: “Agile,” “Waterfall” and “Iterative.”

The most suitable collaboration model for each project can be determined by following four basic steps:

1. Create transparency around internal project governance processes at the outset.

2. Demonstrate the advantages and constraints of these processes.

3. Assess the three collaboration principles (specification, governance, vision).

4. Decide in collaboration which model is best suited to the collaboration.

Many projects operate per contractual terms that are agreed by salespeople. Project stakeholders then maintain individual interpretations of the contract. This is often ineffective. As early as possible in an IT-project, the stakeholders need to participate in a transparent and pragmatic discussion regarding the project’s vision, specifications, and governance. It is only through doing so that stakeholders can establish a collaboration model that avoids pitfalls.

Agile

The collaboration focuses on structured governance and a common vision. Developing a detailed long-term specification at an early stage is of low importance.

As early as possible in an IT-project, the stakeholders need to participate in a transparent and pragmatic discussion regarding the project’s vision, specifications, and governance. It is only through doing so that stakeholders can establish a collaboration model that avoids pitfalls

Waterfall

This approach focuses on governance and specification, but is less concerned with developing a common project vision.

"As early as possible in an IT-project, the stakeholders need to participate in a transparent and pragmatic discussion regarding the project’s vision, specifications, and governance. It is only through doing so that stakeholders can establish a collaboration model that avoids pitfalls"

Iterative

The emphasis is on developing a detailed specification of functionalities and establishing a common vision. The need for clear governance is deprioritized.

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