Number crunching in an agile environment

A picture of Head of Finance Karen Lindop

In November last year I moved across from Co-op Group Finance to Co-op Digital to set up a finance function. I’m now looking for a digital finance manager to support me. I’ve written this post to talk about how we work in finance at Co-op Digital and to show the difference between accountancy in a traditional environment and in a digital one. For anyone who has accountancy skills but hasn’t worked with digital teams before, I’d like to give you an idea of the challenge we face when we’re juggling (limited) pots of cash in an ‘agile’ environment.

Long term versus short term planning

When I moved over to Co-op Digital I knew I’d have to adapt the way I worked because digital teams work in a different way to other areas I’d looked after before. During the budget process, I was used to understanding everything an area of the business wanted to do that year, discussing all the costs and working up a detailed, line by line budget. Then we’d track progress against that budget.

But instead of having a detailed plan for the next year, digital teams work to much shorter timescales. They prioritise what they’ll be working on based on user needs and they reassess their priorities every 2 weeks. It’s all part of working in an agile way. A team’s budget needs to be flexible because the digital service or product changes direction as the team learns more about what the user needs.

Juggling pots

We have around 8 digital product or service teams as well as all the Data, Membership, Brand and Social Media teams. Obviously, whenever we give one team an extra slice of the budget, it has an effect on what’s left for the other teams. This means you’ve got to be super proactive. You need to be really plugged in to the teams so you can find out how their plans are changing and what’s coming next so we can account for, report on and forecast costs as we go.

The good news is that Co-op Digital is full of great people to work with. Everyone understands the challenges we face in the finance team and we work together to overcome them.

Adapting to agile

One of the interesting areas I’ve been involved in is making sure we’ve got the right financial controls in place. This means giving teams the freedom they need to deliver while making sure they stay within the allocated budget. Because the Co-op has traditionally used a longer term planning approach, a lot of the controls aren’t suited to an agile way of working. Obviously we need to maintain the same level of control, so we’ve been working with other support and governance functions within the Co-op to come up with something that works.

I’ve been working this way with Co-op Digital for pretty much a year now, and so far things are going well. At the beginning of 2016 we committed to meeting the existing budget, and by the end of the year, that’s what we’ve done. In fact, we’ve also delivered an awful lot more than we originally set out to do which is pretty satisfying.

What the job ad doesn’t tell you

Being able to balance the books for a group of teams who work in this way is really rewarding. It’s also a skill that’s likely to become more sought after as more traditional organisations start looking to digital to see how it can help make their businesses more efficient.

You can find the Digital Finance Manager job advert over on our jobs page. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Karen Lindop
Head of Finance