Don’t Go Chasing Waterfall. Agile Thinking Helps Credit Unions Better Respond To Change.

Small improvements can add up to big value for credit union products and services.

If the many conversations Callahan Associates has held with industry technologists across 2019 are any indication, credit unions might soon stop chasing waterfall.

Waterfall, of course, is a software development methodology. But it’s not the only one, and many credit unions are turning in another direction entirely to meet the demands of a rapidly changing financial services environment. Perhaps your credit union has considered adopting agile.

Callahan leaders have discussed the pros and cons of changing to an agile methodology with all manner of clients during our technology roundtables, consulting work, and strategic planning sessions. Additionally, we’ve written several case studies profiling successful credit union adoptions.

Read all about it. Four years ago, Michigan State University FCU adopted the Agile Method for its IT project management. Learn how the model helps the credit union move faster in How To Move At The Speed Of Technology only on

We’ve learned enough to understand the benefits of an agile approach, which is why Callahan underwent agile training earlier this year with a goal to fully adopt the methodology in the coming months.

What About These Methodologies?

The waterfall method has been around for many years. It means following a strictly defined plan that lays out, in advance, all the steps and players, from high-level design to maintenance after it’s all said and done. It involves big rollouts, typically.

A great example of this is the march of Microsoft’s operating system, from Windows 95 to today’s Windows 10. You also see waterfall in popular parlance calling anything Version 2.0 means it’s a big upgrade. It also could mean it was created using something like the waterfall development method.

Waterfall worked well for years, but it’s not responsive enough in today’s market. Frankly, it’s old-fashioned and inefficient. Consumers of today’s technology including credit union members and staff expect new functionality and process improvements to be here yesterday, not next month or next year.

Enter the age of agile. There are lots of definitions. Here’s a good one from the IT service management company Cprime: Agile software development refers to software development methodologies centered on the idea of iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams. The ultimate value in agile development is that it enables teams to deliver value faster, with greater quality and predictability, and greater aptitude to respond to change.

In 2001, a group of developers came up with The Agile Manifesto during a gathering at a Utah ski lodge. The manifesto defines the four core values of agile, which are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

Why Agile Can Work For You

Credit unions that have adopted agile include Michigan State University FCU ($4.5B, East Lansing, MI) and Washington State Employees Credit Union ($3.1B, Olympia, WA), two large shops that identified the need for faster rollout speeds and better ways to prioritize work. Last year, MSUFCU’s chief information officer, Sam Amburgey, extolled the benefits of agile to

You can provide a vendor all the feedback in the world, but if it doesn’t have time to make changes or it doesn’t put those changes in its roadmap, it might take years for it to get to your feedback, she says in the article.

MSUFCU used the methodology for designing and launching an online membership and loan application. It took the credit union five months to rollout a minimum viable product to membership. And rather than collecting months and months of feedback and introducing version 2.0 down the line, the credit union has quickly plugged in new updates on a faster schedule.

Callahan’s strength in helping credit unions advance their use of business intelligence and analytics is evolving, and these partnerships with clients, analysts, account managers, and thought leaders are more important than ever.

Jennifer Davis, Vice President of Information Services Technology, Callahan Associates

We’re poised to make that methodology work for Callahan, too.

In the 15 years since Callahan Associates debuted our flagship benchmarking software, Peer-to-Peer, we’ve been upgrading and updating what continues to be the movement’s best tools for benchmarking and self-analysis as if cascading down a waterfall. In 2019 that changed. We’re working hard to implement agile and we expect the users of our software products will notice the results.

As we transition to agile, Callahan will work with our credit union clients and our internal partners our analysts, account managers, and thought leaders to identify software improvements our development team can efficiently execute. Here, I must recognize the efforts of Charlotte Taft, our director of business intelligence, who has advanced Callahan’s ability to use our own data to improve our software. She’s also a key organizer of the Tableau and PowerBI credit union user groups.

Callahan’s strength in helping credit unions advance their use of business intelligence and analytics is evolving, and these partnerships with clients, analysts, account managers, and thought leaders are more important than ever. By working with these stakeholders, we also ensure Callahan grows more agile in service of the end product.

For example, a couple of months ago, we added codes to Peer-to-Peer that allow users to identify credit unions that are minority deposit institutions. We learned about that need from one of our account executives, who uncovered it while talking with a client credit union about research it is doing on community charters.

That’s one iterative improvement. Another one is our new Favorites feature in Peer. We discerned the need for that by watching users repeat searches to create, for example, peer group comparisons around a metric such as the efficiency ratio. With the favorites option, they now can simply replicate and update that research with one click.

We’re also always looking at ways to better integrate our individual software offerings with one another and to make it easier to bring in outside data sources. We undertook agile training only a few months ago, and we’ve already learned a few lessons from our internal experiences that might be of use to credit unions in their own shop. These lessons include:

  • Strive for clear articulation on how an iterative improvement adds value.
  • Visualize a grid to determine value. On one side of the square: low value and high value. On the other: low effort and high effort. Low value + low effort = no go. High value and low effort = do it first. It’s a bit simplistic, but it provides good reference points for decision-making.
  • Stick with a project until it’s done. Don’t get sidetracked. If you try to herd 10 cats, you won’t catch any of them.

Getting agile is an iterative process. We’re not completely there yet, but we’re working on it. And there’s value in the process. Every imperfectly agile project provides a teaching moment for the next project while adding value to our software and our services.

Plus, that commitment to being agile is helping Callahan ensure we remain the best-in-class provider of performance analytics to the credit union movement. This software development philosophy will assuredly help us continue our 30-year-plus record of supporting credit unions in their efforts to make informed decisions that help them thrive while providing the best possible service to members.

Read more about the agile method in Iterate, Then Do It Again, For Better Project Management

September 16, 2019

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