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Revisiting Credit Union Phase Two Syndrome


In This Episode:

  • An introduction to Phase Two Syndrome, what it is, what causes it and who is responsible.
  • Replacing the traditional waterfall methodology with agile to address Phase Two Syndrome
  • Continuous updates / continuous delivery as a solution to Phase Two Syndrome
  • How agile sprints allow your organization to implement continuous updates and address the challenges associated with applying patches and updates.
  • How to start implementing continuous updates in your organization to drive both new product implementations and continuous updates, and why these are two separate processes with different team members.
  • Where to start? Want to learn more about Agile? BIG can help your credit union design an agile digital strategy to address Phase 2 Syndrome.

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What Is Credit Union "Phase Two Syndrome"?

For a long time, I worked in credit unions and I couldn’t understand a simple problem. It seemed like we were really good at cranking out the ‘big bang’ project. You know, converting a bill pay or converting to a new credit card provider. But afterwards? We would struggle. We would struggle to do updates to those products.

It seemed to me that when we got the product together we were really good at reaching parity, meaning that the product we were changing to was 80% the same as the product that we had, and it was 20% different. That 20% difference was usually in features. Sometimes it would be cost. But most of the time it was features. Somewhere along the way, while we were implementing the product, we would learn that we could get the product out on the timeline that we had and get to parity, meaning that it did all of things that the old product did. That was sort of the bar. Then, later on, we would make a promise and we would say, ‘We will come back and do the rest.’ And we would usually call that Phase Two, which would lead us to ‘Phase Two Syndrome’.

Diagnosing "Phase Two Syndrome":

Symptom #1 - There is a general distrust between the departments in your organization and Information Technology.

Symptom #2 - You are frustrated with most of your digital vendors because you need new features or have paid for new features and they are not out yet. Then, when you go to find out what the problem is, every single person points to the other person.

Symptom #3 - People from other departments are sneaking around Information Technology with cookies and free food in order to coax programmers and implementation people to do their bidding.

If any of this sounds like you then you likely have Phase Two Syndrome.

How Do You Fix "Phase Two Syndrome"?

Well first, you have to understand the root of the problem, and if you’re Executive leadership at your Credit Union, I hate to say this… you’re part of the problem. The challenge is this: when you have a new product and you implement it, there’s a big difference between what I’ll call Phase One; implementation, and then Phase Two; which is continuous improvement. We’re all really good at Phase One, but it’s really hard to handle Phase Two. This is what creates distrust.


Here’s a scene from a conference room somewhere in your Credit Union. Two people are sitting around the table. It’s likely a manager from credit cards or another processing area, and an IT manager.

IT Manger: So I see we have a new project on the books.

Department Manager: Yes, yes we do. I’m very excited.

IT Manager: Okay, well let’s get moving with it. I was looking at the timelines, and we can only get A, B and C done. We’re going to have to push off E, F and G.

Department Manager: Yeah, that’s what you said last time when we were implementing project X, but we never got back to that.

IT Manager: Oh come on, you know that we had those regulatory issues come down and the NCUA was in and we just didn’t have time to do it.

Department Manager: Yes, I know, but when are we going to get to it?

IT Manager: Oh, I have plans for that.

Now, here is the interesting thing: the IT manager sincerely has plans for this. He is not in the wrong. He is doing what he can to get this done. The department manager isn’t in the wrong here, either. It’s fair of her to expect these features and to expect a timeline for Phase Two. The challenge is that Phase One implementations require a different mind set than Phase Two implementations. Phase Two implementations run along a practice we call ‘continuous improvement’.

Now, let’s just talk about that for a minute. Continuous delivery and continuous improvement. There are companies like Facebook, Twitter and Apple that continually put out releases to their products. Have you ever had an app on your phone automatically update? Keep an eye on it. You’ll see the big players that I mentioned above all deliver continuous updates. This is important because this instills a trust into their consumers and members. If you have one of these products and there’s a bug or an issue with it, you learn to trust that there will probably be a new release within the next few days, so before you complain you’ll sit back and wait to see if it gets fixed. You can then install the new update as soon as it’s available.

However, what I’ve determined in the Credit Union world is that these releases are few and far between. If you have a mobile banking product or home banking product, it’s not likely that you will even push out yearly fixes. If fact, bi-annually would be good. So, how do you resolve this?

Well, continuous improvement and continuous delivery requires a separate project management track. It’s a different mind set. It uses agile, and because it does that it means that you’re going to continuously be pushing to put out new things.

What About Vendors

Now, many of you are going to say, “Yes, but we are at the mercy of our vendors for these improvements.” I would argue that most vendors have improvements waiting in the wings for you right now. The challenge they have is getting on your schedule to get it out the door. However, if you knew that you were going to do a release every quarter, and you knew that you had a capacity within IT of X amount of hours, you could plan for that and you could always be continuously improving your world.

This would also help to restore trust. The distrust between the departments and IT that sometimes occurs is really synthetic. It’s not real because the reality of the situation is that IT wants to perform and deliver, and the department also wants to deliver. They’re put at odds because you’re trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. The continuous improvement process allows the group that is iterating on the platforms you have to focus on those iterations. It also allows the groups that are instantiating new product, which by the way is much more far reaching, to focus there. It changes whole processes within your organization. It can change your call center and it can touch all areas, which is why these projects are so difficult. Think of a core conversion. Think of a home banking change.

But, something little like fixing a bug or adding a small new feature? You can learn to master the art of the little and do small releases. I would even recommend for most Credit Unions, if you can just work towards a bi-annual release as your first step you would see a tremendous improvement both in the relationships of your departments and your relationship with your members. Once your membership learns to trust that you’re going to do regular releases, continuously deliver updates, you won’t see the types of reviews that we typically see in iTunes. And, once the staff begins to trust that there absolutely will be a Phase Two they will calm down as well, and IT will be happy.

The Cost Of Fixing The Problem

What does this cost you? Well, it’s going to cost you some resources. It’s going to cost you some implementation time and some training time. The passion that drives me and our whole team here at BIG is developing fintech solutions and digital strategy to help credit unions achieve continuous improvement and delivery.  

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