The effective guide to project management in banking: Best practices and tools

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“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

~ Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, in an interview with Harvard Business Review

Jack Welch wasn’t a banker. So what can Jack Welch — as successful as he was at GE — teach us about project management in banking?


Project management in banking has its fair share of complexities and challenges other industries don’t share — and we’ll get into those in this post. 

But even though the specifics can vary quite a bit, the core or soul of good project management is built on the same principles no matter the industry or context.

Below we’ll look at what project management in banking is, as well as those unique challenges. We’ll also offer insights on best practices and essential tools for succeeding in project management in banking and finance.

What is the role of project management in banking?

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Project management is a discipline that exists in all sorts of industries. While the broad strokes are the same — planning, organizing, and managing the execution of all components of a project — the specifics vary widely depending on what industry is in view and what the projects look like. 

Project management in the banking industry includes unique challenges. Coordinating complex projects, dealing with high-value systems, staying compliant with numerous industry regulations, and keeping laser-focused on achieving financial objectives are all high priorities in banking project management.

Regulation is an especially important difference: Where project managers in non-regulated sectors are more or less free to make the decisions, moves, and changes that lead to the best project outcomes, banking project managers must ensure that all actions and activities remain compliant. 

Rachelle Sanders at Meisterplan explains:

“​​Staying compliant with federal regulations is an incredibly complex task. Adhering to regulations protecting consumers’ private financial information has become particularly difficult as organizations develop new online capabilities for banking, transferring money, investing and other activities.”

So banking and finance project managers must understand and stay up to date on all relevant regulations that might affect their decision-making over the course of a project — and coordinate with a wide range of stakeholders, from dev teams to legal departments and more.

Challenges of project managers in finance

Working in the finance sector involves a set of challenges not found elsewhere. 

The complex regulation of financial services institutions (including rules that can change at the drop of a hat) is perhaps the biggest. Another is working with what always feels like overly limited resources: Banking project managers are constantly challenged to get more done with less

Today’s finance sector is entirely tech-dependent, and the organizations involved are top targets for cybercriminals. So while project managers may need to bring in numerous outside parties, they must remain vigilant about cybersecurity threats, including the increased risk of bringing on those partners.

The range of project types is a challenge as well. Information technology (IT projects), short-term initiatives, financial projects in the banking sector, procurement projects, and other initiatives all fall within banking project management (or program management if you’re large enough to have a PMO).

Last, stakeholders in banking tend to have high expectations.

Effective project management tactics can decrease risks and alleviate the impacts of these challenges: 

  • The right project management tools will help teams overcome resource limitations. 

  • Following digital best practices, including with project management, reduces cyber risks.

  • Increased organization by way of project management software helps to satisfy high stakeholder expectations.

Best practices for banking project teams

Whether you are a project manager by formal training or suddenly find yourself wearing the hat of project team leader in a banking or finance context, these best practices will help your banking project teams achieve more, increase their accuracy, and improve project success rates.

Effective tracking and communication

No matter what kind of project you're leading, clear communication must always be a high priority. This includes attention to your own communication skills as well as facilitating communication for your team. Especially in the world of finance, you'll need to give extra attention to maintaining clear lines of communication as you’ll most likely be interfacing with busy professionals across numerous disciplines and departments.

You'll also need robust tracking mechanisms for monitoring project progress as there is rarely much margin for error. With these mechanisms in place, you’ll be able to address issues promptly because you will have identified them earlier in the timeline.

Deciding objectives and checking metrics 

The projects you manage in banking frequently are not physical, like building a new branch office. And with any creative or technical, non-tangible project, measuring progress can be challenging. 

Before the project starts, be sure to identify the metrics and milestones that make sense as strong measures of project progress. These should align with the bank's strategic objectives and project goals. 

If your employer has already developed OKRs (objectives and key results) and/or KPIs (key performance indicators), incorporate whichever are relevant into the project’s metrics and objectives.

Comparing actuals to budgets

For projects that directly earn value or can be measured in similar terms, another best practice is to compare that actual earned value (once the project is complete and has had sufficient time to demonstrate its earning potential) with the project budget.

This is one measure of project success vs. project failure, but one that plays out over time. Whether a project is achieving its financial objectives and supporting the company’s overall objectives may not be clear until some time after the project reaches completion, but this information can directly affect decisions made for future similar projects.

Sticking to a review schedule

No doubt every member of the cross-functional team responsible for a project is pulled in numerous directions, some involving the project and some related to regular duties. And it's a similar situation with stakeholders. Busy bank stakeholders have plenty to concern themselves with and so might not naturally give every project the focus that it needs.

This is why we recommend creating and then sticking to a review schedule, a meeting held at a predictable time that includes all project stakeholders and relevant representatives from the project team. This is the most reliable way to keep projects on track and keep your stakeholders informed.

5 most needed project management tools for banks

These five types of essential project management tools are particularly beneficial in the banking context, where project managers must wrangle complex financial projects efficiently.

If you’re missing software functionality for any of these five, it’s time to make a change.

1. Project planning

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Project planning software is a must for planning, visualizing, executing, and monitoring projects. By pulling all your project details into one location that everyone can see and interact with, project planning software increases visibility into how various tasks and subprocesses are interrelated in your complex project.

It’s far easier to plan and project out a project timeline when you have a central location for mapping out tasks, assigning those tasks to team members, and building a schedule that takes all this complexity into account. is project planning software that helps financial institutions plan, execute, and track projects. It has the depth and robustness that financial firms need, which means it can handle just about any scenario you throw at it.

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2. Issue tracking

Depending on the kinds of projects you're managing, issue-tracking software is another must-have tool. If you're building software-related or web-based products, solving problems when they pop up isn't as simple as correcting typos or changing a color scheme. You'll likely need to assign an issue to the relevant specialist and give that person time to create a novel solution to the problem.

Bug fixing, customer support tickets, or whatever else your project issues look like, it just isn't feasible to keep track of all of this manually. You need a better system to track them. That's what issue-tracking software is for.

There are a number of products on the market that can offer some kind of issue-tracking functionality, including standalone products and broader project management suites that offer an issue-tracking module.

3. Change control

Change control mechanisms are another important aspect of banking project management. Change control helps to ensure that project scope and objectives remain aligned with business goals, even if certain adjustments come up along the course of the project that must be implemented.

Without change control, these adjustments turn into scope creep: They aren't accounted for in the project schedule or budget (or, even worse, both), so they end up threatening project success. Change control is a way to approach change management that allows projects to grow and evolve — something that’s often unavoidable in complex or tech-oriented projects.

4. Team communication

Since there are a lot of cross-functional teams involved in bank project management, cross-team collaboration is another key to project success.

Thankfully, there are all sorts of modern communication tools that can aid in your team's communication. From asynchronous chat and video to real time video conferencing and everything in between, modern communication tools allow for seamless collaboration among project team members and stakeholders.

Even your project planning platform can be a type of team communication tool: when all team members can easily log in and view project progress, task status, assigned tasks, issue tracking, and so forth, it’s that much easier for team members to communicate clearly about what they need.

5. Risk planning 

Complex, high-value projects incur risk just like any other project. The difference is in the ramifications of those risks. 

While every project should engage in some level of risk planning or risk management, banking projects should do this in organized, defined (not to mention compliant) ways.

Risk planning tools like risk registers are a great place to start. You can use a risk register to identify, assess, and mitigate project risks effectively throughout the project life cycle. Make sure to include these elements in your risk register:

  • Risk identification: Short identifier such as a unique ID number

  • Risk description: Concise explanation of what the risk is; should be able to be understood at a glance

  • Risk category: Project risks tend to group together, whether by phase, affected process, or type (budgetary, resource-related, schedule, quality, and so on)

  • Risk owner: Individual or department responsible for solving the problem if the risk becomes reality

  • Risk probability: Likelihood that the risk will become reality

  • Risk mitigation: Steps necessary to resolve the risk, should it occur

  • Risk impact: How much damage would occur based on the risk

  • Risk priority: Measure of both impact and probability, used to determine where mitigation resources should be focused

  • Risk status: Place to note whether the risk is potential, active, in process, or already mitigated

Discover how can streamline your finance projects

While strong project management principles apply no matter what industry you find yourself in, the fact remains that project management in banking has its own set of issues and challenges.

The best practices and key tools we’ve shared here will equip you to face those challenges head on. And at the center of your project management strategy, you need a linchpin that supports everything else you’re trying to accomplish.

Project management software is that key central piece, and is a banking project management software solution worth considering. goes deeper than some of the newer, “trendy” project management tools like Trello and Asana. Those tools weren’t designed to support complex projects and workflows, but is.

At the same time, was built to be intuitive enough for professionals who are juggling other responsibilities, not just project management professionals (PMPs) with a career’s worth of project management experience. 

That makes the perfect platform on which to build effective banking project management strategies and workflows. 

See more of what can do for your business now - get started now for free, view our comprehensive pricing plans, or book a demo today.

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