Focus: A Development Perspective

Do you remember a day when you weren’t asked a question? I don’t, and I hope the same is true for you. Questions spark innovation. When a colleague and I conceived the Archer platform over fifteen years ago, we started with a question about investment management efficiency. I had just completed my CFA, had been working with investment managers for fifteen years, and was frustrated by the amount of administrative and operational detail that distracted investment managers from their primary focus of generating results for their clients. For me, focus is critically important: articulate the goal; get the right people with the right talents working on high-impact initiatives; eliminate obstacles. Focus drives measurable success. I’ve found this to be true for every project I’ve ever worked on and for every leadership position I’ve been privileged to hold.

Throughout the iterative process of developing Archer’s capabilities, we’ve remained focused on a ‘global’ view of our offering. Then and now, we work closely with a diverse mix of clients to help them articulate their needs, define their requirements, and evaluate if the proposed outcomes are fit-for-growth, that is, are broadly applicable across channels, products, and operational support models. During the development process we prioritize, focus on results, monitor the process’ influence on outcomes, and eliminate distractions. Because in my view, that’s what focused, collaborative innovation requires.

Alistair Cockburn, one of the initiators of the agile movement in software development, describes focused, collaborative innovation this way: “Put four to six people in a room with workstations and whiteboards and access to the users. Have them deliver running, tested software to the users every one or two months, and otherwise leave them alone.” With a nod to Mr. Cockburn, we’ve got whiteboards sprinkled throughout Archer’s campus, whiteboards messy with linked boxes and arrows, words, and symbols. To my earlier point about the right people with the right talents, scribbling on those whiteboards are what Lou Adler calls non-traditional [people] who bring a different mix of skills and experiences to the table, and [business] veterans who have achieved comparable levels of performance in totally different environments (bracketed text mine).

Cockburn purposefully omits clarification of who is in the room. At Archer, the technology platform and suite of operations services are indivisible to the point of being non-discrete. So Archer development is necessarily incorporative of our investment management clients, our service delivery teams, and at least one broadly-experienced industry executive. So to clarify, the four to six people in a room are not all fingers-on-keyboard programmers.

Taking together process and people, our focused collaboration has led to numerous innovations that simplify the investment management process. Take, for example, our Paperwork Queue.

There’s nothing like it in the business. I’ve seen investment management teams using Dropbox, Google Drive, all sorts of electronic filing systems for their clients’ trade authorizations, letters of instruction, and compliance-related documentation. Imagine trying to do an on-the-fly confirmation of a particular client’s trade authorization while a firmwide order is being created. For that matter, imagine the effect of a data breach of an unprotected filing system. So we built a secure, accessible place for investment managers to store account-related records. We added the capability to generate records, like tax-sale-related performance composite exception notes. And we overlaid the Paperwork Queue with status tracking capabilities to assist operations folks in moving accounts through processes like account initiations, freezes, and transfers. In this case, I am reminded of Henry Ford’s comment, “If I had asked what my clients wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Paperwork Queue solves a far broader issue than convenient document storage and retrieval. It goes beyond investment managers’ stated concerns, takes a broad look at the business opportunity, and redefines how investment management workflow is managed.

But Paperwork Queue is just one example. There are hundreds. And with focused collaboration, our efficiency in delivering innovation is remarkable. Not too far, in fact, from four to six people in a room with workstations and whiteboards and access to the users. Like I said: articulate the goal; get the right people with the right talents working on high-impact initiatives; eliminate obstacles.

Here are two sound bites that I use frequently… Never confuse motion with progress*, and Nine things thirty percent complete is nothing done. Overlay these with an absolute commitment to leave the office on Friday with our firm, our clients, and our product suites being just a bit better than they were on Monday morning and you have a good picture of who we are, and how we work.

Focus drives measurable success. And for us, the result is an agile, relevant, contemporary and smart productivity suite for investment managers of any kind.

 

 

 

* Alfred A. Montapert. The exact quote is “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.”