March 2018: Turning the ‘Yes, Buts’ into ‘Yes, Ands’

“Changing the culture of a large organization is hard and takes time. It is a battle you must fight on many fronts. The obstacle is not new technology—it is the willingness to try a new approach."

Victor Anderson, editor-in-chief, Waters

Victor contemplates how organizations can turn “yes, buts” into “yes, ands."

Within every organization there are two types of people: The “yes, buts” and the “yes, ands.” The “yes, buts” are those who tend to focus on maintaining the status quo and finding reasons why change is unnecessary, while the “yes, ands” tend to be more pragmatic and sanguine about change and embrace any possible solution that might positively impact their day-to-day lives. They also tend to find additional opportunities through which change can permeate the various strata of the business. Needless to say, the “yes, buts”—the heel draggers and those who dismiss arguments in favor of change with a “yes, but”—are exhausting to be around, while the “yes, ands” tend to be energizing.  

This scenario, albeit peppered with generalizations, was alluded to in James Rundle’s cover story on Mike Urciuoli, CIO of JPMorgan Asset and Wealth Management. The crux of the interview centered on the challenges Urciuoli faced when he moved from the investment bank to JPMorgan’s buy-side business unit and assumed its technology reins. 

“Changing the culture of a large organization is hard and takes time,” Urciuoli explained. “It is a battle you must fight on many fronts. The obstacle is not new technology—it is the willingness to try a new approach. When you have the pressure to deliver for your business, moving out of a comfort zone is hard for people.”

Urciuoli certainly had his work cut out for him when he made the move in early 2014. The switch underscored the extent to which the firm’s asset management business had been distanced by the investment bank from a technology and operational perspective. Among other things, JPMorgan Asset and Wealth Management, with its billion dollar IT budget, was wedded to the Waterfall development methodology, something of an anachronism in the current software world, although it is by no means unique to the asset manager. Implementing an Agile development framework turned out to be as much about changing habits and mindsets as it did about embracing the methodology that promises reduced delivery timeframes, ongoing and regular collaboration between technology providers and users, and a focus on addressing users’ most immediate, acute needs. 

Urciuoli was determined to transform the technology culture within the business, a commitment that ultimately required him to take key staff members to Silicon Valley to witness first-hand how modern, progressive software development and delivery should be done. As Urciuoli discovered, his struggle was as much for his colleagues’ heart and minds and turning the “yes, buts” into the “yes, ands” as it was about pure technology and operational practices. But as is often the case when it comes to human behavior and changing habits, the premise is simple—it’s the execution that’s a headache. 

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