Standard Chartered’s CIO On Managing Agile Transformation

James Dolphin, Chief Information Officer for Retail, Private Banking and Wealth Management at Standard Chartered, reveals how his bank has embarked on their agile transformation journey.

Interview with James Dolphin

IBF: What prompted Standard Chartered to introduce the agile way of working?

James Dolphin: We are focused on rapidly delivering excellent digital experiences to our customers. To do so we are leveraging the Agile software development methodology, which focuses on getting quality products to them more quickly than traditional approaches. That’s the number one reason – quicker time to market.

The second reason is just as important. We are all involved in a battle for digital talent and obviously I can’t hire a great technologist unless we are working using the Agile methodology.


IBF: What are some specific examples of how your organisation has used the Agile methodology?

Dolphin: I can give specific examples of where we have already taken advantage of this methodology. As is the case of large organisations starting to embrace Agile, it is easier and quicker to start that journey with the technology that is directly used by the customer. So you traditionally find that companies are more successful and quicker at adopting Agile for mobile or browser-based applications. Then gradually the methodology extends into the company’s technology stack to address complicated areas like mainframe computers.

In our case the very first area to embrace and use Agile was our mobile team – the team that supports our browser-based experience and then in areas dealing with sales and trading environments, where our programmes are developed to sit very closely with the business.


IBF: What are some of the most important elements in this transformation from a traditional to an Agile way of working?

Dolphin: The most important element is talent. To create highly skilled cross-functional teams, you need highly skilled people. It’s about cherry-picking individuals and reflecting the fact that you can achieve more with ten people then you can with a hundred.

So, we placed a very great emphasis on attracting and retaining the best talent – whether it be in software engineering, user experience and design and human-centered design.


IBF: How do you demonstrate the effectiveness of using the Agile way of working?

Dolphin: One way is to use a lot of deck and powerpoints, I don’t subscribe to that point of view, because it actually won’t work. Therefore it’s really important to find and celebrate examples of the kind of pioneering stuff I was talking about. So I seized some of those early pioneering examples and just alleviated and celebrated those.


IBF: What corporate culture attributes may hinder a successful adoption of the Agile way of working?  

Dolphin: The transformation to an agile way of working is both a mechanism of change in corporate culture and it also needs to be enabled by this change. It’s really hard to be successful in being an agile team if you are in an organisation that doesn’t value certain cultural attributes.

For example, informal but frequent conversations form the bedrock of what an agile team does. This would be a problem in a corporation that prefers to communicate via email or telephone. Therefore, I am keen on co-locating my teams, to have them around the same table, every single day, so as human beings they understand and learn about each other. It becomes a team instead of being a collection of individuals.

The hierarchical nature of large organisations can also be a problem because you need the delegated authority within an Agile team to make decisions quickly and then execute.

Essentially, command and control doesn’t work for an Agile company.


IBF: This was obviously no easy feat so what are some of the risks and challenges you faced when starting this journey?

Dolphin: The biggest risk is it just doesn’t work and everyone says “haha, I told you.” I’ve seen that so many times. It challenges every element of how companies do business and therefore a lot of people in the company will almost hope it doesn’t work. It’s a lot easier to carry on doing what we’ve been doing the same way. Therefore, the biggest failure is you don’t do it well enough and with enough passion to actually get it to the point where people take it seriously.


IBF: What are some of the other skills or knowledge that you look for when hiring a candidate?

Dolphin: We certainly need excellent technologists and software engineers. We need people who are very competent around the cloud-based infrastructures. We need people that are absolutely fanatical about customer experience. We need people who are great at designing the flow of an application – how it works on a mobile screen which is a very different skill than constructing an experience that would work on a web browser. So you take a wide variety of these skill sets and you create a team from them. Then they will create amazing stuff. If you have a weakness in any area, it will be apparent so it’s about achieving a balance of all of those competences versus over indexing on one or the other.


To learn more about how you can embrace the agile way of working and other skills needed for the future of finance, visit IBF.