Transforming finance through agile working with Sophie Atkinson
April 21, 2022
Sophie Atkinson is control and governance manager at The Very Group
When I tell people I work in finance, they’re often surprised that I’m not an accountant. In fact, my background is customer-focussed. That makes me a great fit for Very’s finance team, as we’re just as passionate about helping families on a budget access the things they need to live life well as anyone else in our business.
Our purpose is to create and protect Very’s future by innovating in finance. We do that by working in an agile way to create change fast. We learned from our tech colleagues, who were agile trailblazers. Their cross-functional squads work on defined products (outcomes) during sprints (short, time-boxed periods). Driven by outcome over perfection, they’ve delivered amazing results.
As a finance team, we realised we could use the same principles to transform the way we work and create better outcomes for the business and our customers.
An agile manifesto
Our new finance manifesto, based on agile principles, was created in 2020. We’ve never looked back. The manifesto empowers us to focus on outcomes over outputs, and actionable insight over reports. It’s about sharing one, holistic version of the facts and thinking about imaginative answers. We focus on what matters to the business rather than functional concerns and strive for constant improvement instead of sticking with the status quo.
Today we regularly work as squads made up of teammates from finance and the wider business with lots of different specialisms. At regular stand ups, which are short, snappy virtual or physical meetings, we make sure progress is happening. We plan how to get rid of blockers and, if a task is finished, decide what to move on to next.
Our ‘going agile’ squad, which I’m a member of, helps to facilitate our new ways of working by providing materials and other support whenever they’re needed.
Agile in action
Have you noticed that focussing on big strategic projects doesn’t leave time to address smaller pain points? Agile thinking recognises that, tackled collectively, small improvements add up to major, transformational change.
Enter ‘Big Ideas’, an initiative created to bring our finance senior management team together to share pain points and ideas. The wider team is involved with choosing which of those we pursue. Through Big Ideas, we identified improving our month end process, simplifying our planning process and developing a strategic cash approach as three key workstreams. Using agile practice, we’ve broken those down into smaller tasks and will use sprints to keep momentum up.
The beauty of Big Ideas is that teammates of all levels are involved with shaping our workstreams. Through agile principles, we can improve outcomes for our customers and our business by driving transformational change alongside our bigger strategic priorities.
Give it a go!
Agile working means you never stop learning; I certainly still am. I’d encourage any team to give it a go. It’s the best way to keep improving what you do and how you do it. We’ve already made great progress using these ways of working as a finance team. But we still have more to improve on and we’re excited about getting stuck into that challenge.
Would you like to be part of our finance team? We’re hiring! Head to our careers page to find out more.