The Steps to Success: Embedding Agile Effectively in Investment Management

Anna Skylakaki, Adam Starkey-Smith, Thomas Goldwater

We are often asked about the journey a firm needs to go on to bring agility into the organisation,  and adopt/embed agile ways of working.

Our experience tells us that this type of transformation is not something that is “done to” a firm, but has to be owned and driven from within. That said, firms do need help along the way to accelerate the process, and support the change that this inevitably requires.

Based on this extensive experience, Alpha have developed a framework for the effective embedding of agile within the Investment Management industry. This ensures that the changes you want to make land well and are sustainable. One thing we have learnt is that “agile can be fragile”, so this approach is designed to deliver a transformation that can last and produce the right kind of benefits.


Laying the Foundations:

We’ve found the ability to effectively embed agile in the long run is greatly impacted by how well you implement the ‘basics’ at the start of your journey. As outlined in our Enterprise Agility Framework, here are a few tips to get things going:

  • Articulate pain points & create a sense of urgency:

    The agile transformation must solve important business challenges that are recognised by Senior Management, such as reducing time to market and making best use of scarce resource. Otherwise it is much more likely that the transformation will falter when it hits roadblocks, as it invariably will.

    Alpha Accelerators: conduct a Lean Enterprise Maturity Assessment to rapidly identify gaps that need addressing across the operating model
  • Build a guiding coalition & strategic vision:

    This guiding coalition will need to have buy-in from across technology and the wider business, including HR, CIO, CFO and COO, and these stakeholders must be willing to demonstrate the desired behaviours and ways of working. Their goal is to set the strategic vision for the transformation.

    Alpha Accelerators: align long standing teams to the way the business delivers value to customers using our industry Value Stream Patterns for guidance
  • Enlist a volunteer army:

    For large-scale change to occur, there needs to be a critical mass of people who rally around a common opportunity. To enable the cultural transformation, it is important to have a mix of internal (the future evangelists) and external (agile and change experts) resource.

    Alpha Accelerators: harness our Engagement, Training & Coaching Framework to ensure a lasting cultural shift amongst staff

Embedding Agile

Once the foundations are in place and the implementation begins in earnest, the following steps are repeated iteratively until the transformation is complete, and “continuous improvement” is embedded into the culture.

  • Enable action by removing barriers: It is crucial to remove barriers swiftly once they are raised, to maintain credibility and morale within the teams. These commonly include:
    • Lack of senior support
    • Technical challenges and delays posed by legacy architecture
    • Project-based funding models
    • Dependencies and handoffs between teams


  • Start Small: Test as much of the future state model within one area, and measure success based on the initial driver for change, then communicate this across the organisation to increase the “pull” to change from other teams


  • Scale Fast: in order to sustain acceleration and reduce the complexity of running two operating models, the target state should be rolled out quickly. This requires:
    • Buy in from across the guiding coalition
    • Regular communication to Technology and Business teams
    • Communities of Practice to drive improvements across individuals with similar skill sets
    • A training and coaching framework to get the right mix of mass scale and dedicated support


  • Institute Change: There are a number of different practices that need to be institutionalised to embed continuous improvement, the most pivotal of which are:
    • A measurement framework that drives transparency and a focus on value
    • Changes to reporting metrics so that they align to the new ways of working
    • Ceremonies that drive inspection and adaption e.g. retrospectives
    • The right mix of internal and external resources that provide the skills and knowledge to improve

Does the above resonate with you? What else is essential for embedding Agile?

To share your thoughts or if you’d like to discuss the challenges faced by your organisation, please contact our Digital Practice.

About the Authors

Anna Skylakaki
Anna Skylakaki
Senior Manager

Anna is a Senior Manager at Alpha with over five years’ experience within consulting for Financial Services firms. She has helped clients deliver cultural and agile transformations, across design, implementation and embedding, and is active in Alpha's Digital & Agile and People & Culture propositions.

Adam Starkey-Smith
Senior Manager

Adam is a Senior Manager at Alpha with over six years’ experience in the Financial Services sector. He has a broad range of skills and experience, including operating model design and implementation, agile transformations, project management and process improvement. He leads the agile proposition within the Digital & Agile practice and is active member in the Distribution practice.

Thomas Goldwater

Tom is a Manager in the Digital Practice at Alpha with over 6 years' experience working on Digital and Agile consulting projects. He has helped design and implement agile programmes of work, as well as holding roles within agile teams, working as a Product Owner for a leading UK financial institution.