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Accelerating Your Business Through the Adoption of Agile Processes

How should businesses respond when challenged by market environments or competing priorities? Anish Bhimani speaks to Chase’s Chief Information Officer, Rohan Amin, about how agile processes can empower teams to pivot quicker and deliver results. If there’s a specific topic you’d like us to cover, email us at: tech.trends@jpmchase.com.

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Anish Bhimani (00:08):

Welcome to TechTrends. TechTrends is a podcast series that provides perspective on the latest trends in technology, FinTech, and digital. In today's episode, we'll provide insight into how you can accelerate your business through the adoption of agile processes. I'm Anish Bhimani, Chief Information Officer for Commercial Banking. Joining me today is Rohan Amin, Chief Information Officer for Consumer & Community Banking here at JPMorgan Chase. Rohan, welcome to TechTrends.

Rohan Amin (00:34):

Hey, Anish. Thanks. It's great to be here.

Anish Bhimani (00:36):

Rohan, one of the biggest responsibilities of a CIO is making sure that your business has the tools it needs to move quickly. At the same time, you want to maintain the right processes and controls and structures around the landscape in which it operates. We've talked in the past a lot about agile and the benefits of using agile development practices, et cetera, and how it can help transform a business. Can you spend a minute for our listeners just describing what that means?

Rohan Amin (01:04):

Absolutely. If you actually go back and look at what happened in 2020 and actually rewind further into 2019, I think it's actually the perfect explanation for what this really is all about. For those organizations that may have established some annual plans back in 2019 for what they were going to do in 2020, I'm sure none of those plans had anything about a global pandemic and the fact that most of the work would have to be changed as a result of what happened in the first half of 2020, but that's essentially what an agile operating model allows your organization to do.

Rohan Amin (01:39):

In my view, there's really two outcomes that everyone is after. One is speed and we'll talk more about speed, but the other one is the ability to pivot and respond to the changing environment, whether that's changing what your customers are asking you or the environment in general, just like what happened with the pandemic, and so knowing that we're in a world where change is constant, why not have an operating model that actually embraces that and make sure that you can operate in a way that change is happening and you're more comfortable with that? That's effectively what having an agile operating model allows you to do.

Rohan Amin (02:15):

It's a set of practices, and there's lots you can read about agile practices that's out there, but perhaps more importantly, it's about a culture in the organization to take big things and break them down into smaller chunks, to deliver value more incrementally to your customers and to facilitate constant collaboration between people who are building and the customers who benefit from what you're creating. And that constant collaboration and the ability to pivot and constantly iterate and improve are the main principles around agile and definitely look forward to this conversation.

Anish Bhimani (02:51):

That's an important point. I think one of the important things around this is a lot of people look at agile as purely a set of development or something that is a province of tech, right? I think one of the keys to success is a tight alignment between technology and the business, right? Can you talk about how important that was to your success and also what was involved in getting the business lined up behind agile?

Rohan Amin (03:17):

Yeah. Whenever we talk about agile, I think it's also important to bring it back to tried and true management practices that people are very familiar with, right? Anyone knows that when you're running an organization, things move quickly and you're in a better position when you have accountable leaders and they're making decisions with the input of the team. It sounds pretty basic, but that's essentially what we're talking about. One of the examples that we've used is helping people understand that when you want to move quickly, it isn't necessarily about technology people typing faster on the keyboard, it really is about the collaboration between business and tech such that what it is you want to build and create, what is it, how are we defining that, and getting that decided and agreed upon quickly is, frankly, the thing upfront that allows you to move more quickly in terms of bringing something to market and the creation of that.

Rohan Amin (04:20):

It's funny. Actually, in order to get everyone engaged on this topic, we had one of our senior leader meetings, this is in an era where you can remember where we get together with hundreds of people in a room and all that sort of thing before this pandemic, but there's a simple feature in our app today and it has to do with your ability to lock and unlock your credit card. Say, for example, if you lost your credit card, you'd left it behind the restaurant or whatever and you want to make sure that nobody can pick it up and start making transactions, you have the ability to turn off your credit card. It is literally a button in the app. You go on the app and it's like a little slider button. That's all it is. It's a very simple button.

Rohan Amin (05:03):

One would think it is just a button, just add the button to the app and it must be so easy to create that functionality, and so we created a little bit of a campaign in helping folks understand it's just a button. How hard could it be? The reality is when you take a look at that button and all the things that have to go into making that button come to life, the backend systems all of the coordination, what happens if card networks are not available? What happens if somebody calls into the contact center? What happens if they have multiple cards? All these different things, you start to understand and unravel all of the complexity around what seemingly is a simple button.

Rohan Amin (05:49):

We use that as a way to help people understand the reason why the collaboration, the reason why, the details going into everything and designing it in the right way allows you to actually get faster over time as opposed to just a requirement that you throw over the wall that is, "Hey, I want to have this button in the app." Yes, but like many things, there's always a lot to unravel, and breaking down the work into all those different chunks and then continually improving and iterating on that is quite important in terms of that collaboration and getting the outcome that we all want, which is speed and better benefit to customers.

Anish Bhimani (06:28):

Right, yeah. I think you hit on a couple of points there. I think that one of the keywords in there is "iterative," right? It's the you have a general direction on where you want to go and you take your first step and maybe you're doing the outline of a drawing, and then you have feedback: "Hey, could you change this one thing here?" Then you do the next round and, "Change one thing here," et cetera, as opposed to, "Here's the specifications, we'll see you back in six months," or nine months or whatever it is around that, right?

Rohan Amin (06:52):


Anish Bhimani (06:53):

Now, you hear a lot in places like the Valley about the benefit of two pizza teams and small groups and other things like that. You run a very large organization, we're a very large firm. How do you think about doing this at scale? A lot of us, sometimes it feel like you're weighted down by whether it's annual planning process, or as you point out, right, building these multi-year plans, et cetera. It would seem to be somewhat anathema to moving quickly and iteratively and other things like that, so how do you do this at scale?

Rohan Amin (07:24):

Yeah, so first, I think it's important to understand when we're talking about the difference between running in a project-based world versus running in a product world, so maybe just a second on that.

Anish Bhimani (07:34):


Rohan Amin (07:35):

First, in a project-based world, you're trying to scope out a project. Typically, it's very large, and sometimes you might be deciding what projects to do on the basis of financial returns or financial benefits and you try to organize people around the project that you have defined. Then you have a plan and then you start measuring your variance to the plan as you execute throughout the year, and typically, the projects are on a yearly basis. That's how the traditional project-planning process is happening.

Rohan Amin (08:05):

In a product world, you have the realization that a product is a living thing. It's a thing that your customers are constantly using, it's a capability that's long-lived, and I always hold up my phone as an example to people and say, "This is a product. It's a living thing that people are using and interacting with constantly and it's always there." The product, in order to function, there's a variety of things you have to make sure you're taking into account: The security of the product, the reliability, making sure it has the right controls in place, all of those various things. It's not just about implementing a specific new feature as a project, and so I think that distinction is actually quite important to understanding what the operating model really is, which is breaking down your organization.

Rohan Amin (08:54):

Anish, you were asking, how do you take a big thing and breaking it down? It's exactly this, which is what are those long-lived capabilities that you need to provide to your customers, and identify them. Those are the things that you organize around. We always have to have, for example, an account-opening product. We're always going to be opening accounts, so it's not a project for us to improve this aspect of the account-opening experience and then organizing teams around that.

Rohan Amin (09:28):

What we're seeing with the product model is that we know that account opening is always something that we're going to be doing. We should be constantly improving that experience forever and we have a standing team that their job is to do just that and is to improve the account opening experience, and so that's all they do. That's their focus. They're not worrying about some other project the next week. They're focused on account opening every single day, day in, day out, and they're obsessing over the customer feedback and they're obsessing over the experience and they're just making it better and better and better.

Rohan Amin (09:58):

That's the difference, really, between a project model where you might be doing something and you're off to the next assignment and a product model where you have everybody focused around that one particular capability and all of the functions lined up, risk and communications and marketing and technology and operations and all of the people necessary to make account opening work are organized around that particular mission and purpose, and that's fundamentally the difference that we're talking about, and that's, in my view, how you break it down for a very large organization, even as large as Chase. We've identified where all those capabilities are and we've now taken our thousands of technologists along with business product owners and structured them into these smaller teams and they just go off and they have their particular mission and they know what they have to go do. As opposed to trying to organize a bunch of projects and bring people to those projects, we now take the work and bring it to the people. It's actually quite a different way of operating.

Anish Bhimani (10:57):

Yeah, and that product-operating model, I think, is a crucial concept that a lot of people maybe don't spend enough time trying to make sure they understand, right, because really, what you're saying is it's not just about having the developers to build something or the technologists to do something, it's about having a standing product management team, if you will, who is focused on, okay, what is the product, whether it's a product that you're offering to your customers, or an internal product that you're using to support those external products, or a supporting product behind that, or whatever, and you treat it as, all right, look, you have people that consume it and what are the KPIs that you measure the success of and how do you measure customer feedback and all that kind of stuff as well, right?

Anish Bhimani (11:41):

Can you talk about the process you went through? You and I've had this conversation before for both of our businesses on this journey about defining those products, right, because I think a lot of people when think about products, they think about, "Well, these are the products that we sell. These are the products we offer to our customers," but it is a lot more than that, right? It is about taking your entire business and breaking it down into those capabilities that define a product in the agile sense, right?

Rohan Amin (12:06):

Yeah, and I think the first thing to keep in mind about all this is that you should be organizing it based on the customer first, and so the customer's lens is the most important lens about all of this, not your internal silos or internal structure, it's the customer lens which matters most, so how does the customer interact with your organization and how are you organized around that customer value stream? There might be a journey, for example, that a customer is going through that spans multiple parts of your organization, but that's what the customer is seeing, and so therefore, we should organize around the customer's experience and not organize around how we might be structured functionally inside of the organization, and so there are a number of ways to structure the products, but the most important principle, I think, is to do it through the lens of the customer and the journeys the customer is going through and obsess about that and organize yourself around that. That'll get you the outcomes that you're after.

Anish Bhimani (13:06):

I think another important thing to think about is when you have these product managers or product owners, I should say, in the agile sense, they're responsible, as you point out, for everything end-to-end around that product, right? I think there's a tendency in a lot of organizations where you have business folks or product folks that are very focused on new functionality or other things like that and maybe don't pay as much attention to what I might call the "health and hygiene of the product" and things like stability and resiliency and what we'd call "non-functional requirements," right, so a lot of discussion about the importance of keeping your environment modern, or keeping up with new capabilities or the modernization of an environment, right?

Anish Bhimani (13:52):

There's a lot of systems that have been around for a long time because they were treated as projects, right? "Hey, we built it. We're done with that. Now, we can go do something else," and you're not keeping up with that, right? The analogy I use you got to paint the bridge every year to make sure it doesn't rust, and when you're done painting the bridge, you got to start over and paint the bridge again because it's been that long before. How important is it that the product managers and not just the technology team have a focus on those non-functional kind of requirements?

Rohan Amin (14:21):

Your point is spot-on. That is actually one of the challenges with operating in a project-based model, which is that success is defined by completion of the project, not necessarily the thing you've created and now what is the ongoing impact of the thing that now lives, and that is an important mindset. The reason why modernization is so important, not just for the technologists, but frankly, for the product owners and the team and the business, it goes back to the outcomes that we were talking about in the very beginning, which is everyone's focused on speed, everyone's focused on being able to pivot and respond, and the reality is is that when you have a well-defined software architecture and when you've thought about how your systems are designed, your ability to make the next change might, in fact, be that much quicker if the system was designed in that way.

Rohan Amin (15:15):

Often, what happens is that teams are so focused on hitting some milestone: "I know I need to deliver this thing in Q1," and that's how everyone determines and defines success, completion of this particular milestone, but the next change and the next thing after that might be slower and slower and slower just based on how the system was designed and built, and so by focusing on having a modern platform, a modern set of engineering practices, that might mean that you get durable speed over time, the durability to make more and more changes, the durability to increasingly pivot and respond to customers becomes incrementally more efficient over time.

Rohan Amin (15:55):

That's the difference is that it's not just about the next change, it's about all of the changes that you want to make over a period of time, and that you can actually get faster on that path by focusing on modernization as well, in addition to all the other things that you would expect in terms of cost efficiency and benefit and all that, but to me, it's about being able to fuel the acceleration of change. We're in an environment where a lot of change is really the mode of operation going forward, so you got to have an operating model and a technology environment that supports a lot of change, and that, to me, is the ultimate objective of modernization.

Anish Bhimani (16:31):

Yeah, it's a little bit, sometimes it's sort of go slow to go fast, right? You take the time upfront to make sure you do the design work right, that you build the foundation right before you just go off and build things, right? I think to that point, one of the other things that comes up is, especially in larger organizations, when you look at these products, you start to worry and think about how do they all fit together and things like that. One of the principles that I know you've adopted and we have as well is around the concept of domain-driven design and thinking about the boundaries between products and all that. Sometimes, there is a desire, the business will say, "Well, why are you spending all your time doing that? Can't you just hurry up and go around that?" Can you talk about the value of doing that architectural work and that design work upfront?

Rohan Amin (17:19):

Yeah, it's another really great point. To go fast, you have to go slow initially, which is what you were saying just a minute ago, and especially in this environment now where we're talking about building in a modern way and we're talking about building smaller components that we stitch together to provide functionality, architecture becomes critically important in that environment. How do you know what you're building? Are you building the right way? How do the pieces connect together to provide some functionality that you're providing to a customer? That is really important to making sure that you have good design. No one would go build a bridge without having a well-led design in place only to realize later on you've you screwed something up and you've got to go back and retrofit it. Now, this is obviously a lot more dynamic than that and there will be things where you know you have to take a shortcut because they're trying to get to market, but the point is you know about it and you can go back and deal with that later on. But that comes from having well-led principles around architecture and how it should be designed.

Rohan Amin (18:27):

The other thing which is really important is that it's really important that we don't ship the org chart. This is something that I talk a lot about with our teams, which is that if you don't have a basis in architecture, what ends up happening is that the organization starts to operate and the organization is what the customer ends up seeing as opposed to the customer experience that you actually want to have, and so we need to be very careful that we don't ship the org chart to our customers and don't have the various lines of business or various functional groups in your organization somehow get represented in the experience that your customer sees. Many companies have that challenge and by organizing around an architecture and thinking about the customer first and using things like domain-driven design, that you are putting the customer's context first in mind and then organizing around that, and then that helps prevent your internal structures being exposed out to your customers.

Anish Bhimani (19:22):

Yeah, I think that's a great point, right? We talk a lot about, not shipping the org chart is a great way to frame it, but when you put these teams together, these agile teams, whether they be product teams or the technology teams working together, that's a cross-functional team that could be from across businesses. You don't want to be limited by your current environment around that, right? You talked about speed, right? Speed is one of the big benefits around this, right? Everybody wants to move faster, but you got to make sure you get your practices set up right, you get your design setup right, et cetera, around that. Can you give an example of when your teams were able to work fast, but frankly, wouldn't have been able to had you not done all that work upfront?

Rohan Amin (20:04):

Yeah. Look, I'd go back again to what happened in 2020 with the pandemic and all the things that we had to do to be there for our customers when they needed us the most, whether it was the PPP program and supporting small businesses, which you were obviously involved in quite a bit as well, or the fact that we had payment assistance, making sure that we helped our customers with their ability to pay their credit cards or home loans or auto loans, as an example. All of those initiatives were not on the plan back in 2019, were not things that people have contemplated, but our ability to pivot, our ability to get super-focused on a very clear set of customer outcomes that we had to deliver, and we had everybody organized around those, and so all the decisions that had to be made were being made, I call instantly, and so therefore, we were able to implement and deploy at a rapid scale.

Rohan Amin (21:01):

If we just go back and look at PPP, as an example, how quickly we had to go from zero to billions of dollars of loans out to our customers and how quickly we had to turn around requirements that we had received from the government and make it into a solution that we could make available to customers, all of that enabled by agile operating principles and thinking about getting all the cross-functional people organized in a way that they're focused on one outcome. I think having done some of that work enabled, certainly, our ability to scale, in addition to having modern platforms that allowed us to actually scale to meet the requirement, and so, because we had a modern platforms in place, we were able to adjust and pivot and meet the demands of what we needed to do at that time. I think that's further validated the reason why the agile operating model, a product-based operating model allows us to do what we want, which is move with speed and react to the changing environment, and that's really a great validation of it, and the fact that we're just going to deepen that approach.

Anish Bhimani (22:03):

Right. I'd say that is a great example where requirements are changing very frequently, right? That was a perfect example of we're not going to spend a month putting the other requirements and then a couple of months building it and then things change. That never would have worked in that environment, right?

Anish Bhimani (22:17):

A lot of companies are at various stages of their agile journey, right, and a lot of our listeners work for firms that are much smaller than a JPMorgan Chase maybe don't have the resources that we do as well. What advice would you have for companies that are maybe either just embarking on their agile journey or now trying to revisit in the current environment with everybody being remote and things like that as well in terms of keys to success?

Rohan Amin (22:42):

There are so many lessons that we've learned as we've gone through this, and I've mentioned a few, but really, I think it's really important to think about organizing around the customer is really the most important aspect of this, letting go the functional organizational silos and other things that may exist in the organization and really thinking about organizing around your customer and your experience first and foremost.

Rohan Amin (23:05):

The second thing is the shift that we're talking about from project management to product management, it doesn't mean that projects are going away, but it does mean that it's a different skillset, and I think it's also important to acknowledge that as well. It's a new core competency for many businesses, just like you have people who have deep financial experience or technology experience or operations experience, product management is a discipline just like those, and you had to think about that, and so if you want to go down this path, you've got to think about the talent, you've got to think about having that discipline in the organization as well. I'd suggest that organizations keep that in mind as they go through the journey. You can't just anoint people as product managers. You've got to invest in it as a core competency for your business, just like you have other functional roles in the organization.

Anish Bhimani (23:58):

Right, yeah, it really is, it's a discipline and a profession, right, as opposed to just a different way of getting people to work differently, right?

Rohan Amin (24:09):

It's not a relabeling of project management. I think that's the important thing to keep in mind.

Anish Bhimani (24:13):

Finally, Rohan, just building off of that, right, this is, like so many other things, this really begins and ends with the right people, and at some point, becomes a talent conversation, right, especially on the back of 2020, a lot of discussion about the importance of diversity and inclusion and equity really took center stage last year. I think we'd all agree that more needs to be done on this front across society, but even specifically in technology. What can we do to attract, retain, develop a greater number of women and minorities in technology?

Rohan Amin (24:50):

Yeah, so I think first it's, I think, important to frame it as a business problem, right?

Anish Bhimani (24:55):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rohan Amin (24:57):

We want to have banking services and solutions and technology solutions as a result that serve the communities that are our customers equally, and so if we wanted to do that, then it starts on the inside with having a team that looks like and represents our customer base, and as a result, having a leadership organization and structure that looks like our employee base that looks like our customer base, and so that, to me, is sort of like the business context first, and then once you realize that, okay, that is the business context and there's value in doing it, which there absolutely is, and we're very committed to that journey, then actions and how you go about tackling it.

Rohan Amin (25:37):

One thing that I've been super proud about is our focus on bringing in emerging talent into the organization, and so what we've done is that we've partnered with a bunch of nonprofits, boot camps, and other organizations across the country and are bringing in individuals who don't necessarily have a four-year traditional computer science background and bringing them into the organization. We're up-skilling them as well as they come in, in addition to the great training they already get at some of these nonprofits and boot camp programs, and they come into the firm and they become a full member of our teams and they're contributing in a meaningful way. The great thing about it is that the diversity of that group tends to be quite different and much better than other channels that we use from a recruiting standpoint.

Rohan Amin (26:30):

Letting go of the traditional notion that you need to have a four-year degree from a computer science background and you've had to have graduated on an academic calendar and have a GPA and all of those things that have been in place for years and letting go of that and focusing on the skills and focusing on the core competencies that we're looking for from individuals, we have gotten fantastic talent and diverse fantastic talent through that way, through that mechanism, and we intend on doing that even more, so I think changing some of the mindset around some of those things and opening the aperture as far as where you get your talent and how you develop, it allows you to focus on diversity and inclusion as an objective and meet the business objective that I laid out in the beginning, which is, if you want to serve your customers as best possible, it starts on the inside and making sure you have a team that looks like the customers that you serve.

Anish Bhimani (27:20):

Yeah, I think another angle on that that people don't always think as much about is, not just diversity from the racial or gender perspective, whatever, but people that have different backgrounds that have come from, whether it be different fields or different upbringings, realize that bring different things to the table and it rounds out a lot of the discussions that has come at it from different perspectives. The more diversity of thought you can bring to these teams, the more creative they're going to be, the more responsive they're going to be to what's going on in the world or the environment or other things like that as well, right, and we've done episodes in the past about things like design thinking and other things like that and you want to round out the diversity of the team just to provide a better product, right?

Rohan Amin (28:06):

Oh, that's exactly it, and your point about diverse experiences is spot-on. It's not just people who come from a strictly technology background. We welcomed our first class of 150, these early emerging talent professionals into our organization just in the fall and a lot of them are coming from liberal arts background, people who were working in retail industry and whatnot, they were a variety of different backgrounds, and they went through some of the training, they've gone through and re-skilled themselves, and we've brought them into the organization and we're investing in them, and you know what? The outcomes that they have from the day that we can see is that they're great contributors to the organization and the objectives that we have, and so it is about those different backgrounds, not only the diversity piece, but just in terms of all the different experiences they have and what they brought to bear in our thinking as we move ahead.

Anish Bhimani (29:01):

Well, Rohan, thanks very much for joining us today, and thanks for providing your insights on such an important topic.

Rohan Amin (29:04):

Thanks so much, Anish. Really appreciate it.

Anish Bhimani (29:07):

To all of our listeners, remember, if you enjoyed today's episode, you can subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Tune in next time.


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