Continuous Improvement in a Constantly Changing Environment

A version of this post originally appeared on MortgageOrb.

What does “agility” mean for mortgage lenders and servicers today, more than a year since the COVID-19 crisis began in the U.S.?

One thing is for sure, “agility” doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it did pre-pandemic.

So what lessons have mortgage lenders – who saw a wave of purchase volume late in 2020 thanks to historically low rates – and servicers – who dealt with a wave of forbearances – learned as a result of this crisis? And how can they succeed in continuously improving their processes throughout it all?

Why is it so important to be agile in today’s environment?

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many things, but it also significantly reinforced the need for inherent agility across the entire mortgage industry. This unique historical event ushered in unprecedented volumes in originations, and simultaneously increased pressure on servicing and loss mitigation with the introduction of mortgage forbearance plans.

The crisis has reinforced that the unexpected is the norm and successful organizations must have an inherent agility to successfully operate their businesses, and at the same time innovate quickly and effectively as events dictate.

What are the most often overlooked areas when it comes to making improvements?

It’s not so much what is overlooked, but what is undervalued in the process of determining what improvements to make, when to make them and how to make them. Very little value is placed on taking the time to understand current processes and interaction points, and developing a shared understanding of service gaps.

One may see this in organizations that work cross-functionally to deliver services. Taking the time to understand existing processes can seem like a slow-moving route to innovation, but it’s really an essential exercise to continuous improvement. Teams that coalesce around the “comfort” of what we do today foster inclusion, tease-out diverse thinking, and establish trust that they can then leverage as they seek to redesign and innovate.

Certainly, spending all the time on “how things work” is not the end game. Teams should approach these activities with agility, in order to establish “good context” and shared points of agreement, and then move on quickly to the work of redesign.

Another often overlooked element is investing in the time to reimagine – particularly as organizations look to implement new technology capabilities.

Skip the demos. Invite technology partners in – not to pitch products but to reimagine, brainstorm and conceptualize within the context of your own strategy and continuous improvement objectives.

Finding technology partners with strong business improvement/agile practice capabilities, that can act as“ trusted partners,” helps facilitate cross-functional teams through idea generation and out-of-the-box thinking.

It is especially beneficial to work with technology leaders outside of the industry in order to see the border application of capabilities. This is important for lenders facing the daunting task of selecting and optimizing a vast array of technology solutions around data, documents and analytics. Bringing in the “art of the possible” can help teams expand their understanding and realize new ways of application.

What factors must lenders consider when adapting/making new changes?

When considering changes it’s important to ensure that they are aligned with your defined strategy and provide tangible customer benefits. Not to mention, the organization should have a strong business case at the right level of readiness and prioritization to make the necessary changes.

This includes giving special attention to internal readiness and the team’s ability and availability. Important questions to ask include: “Where are teams already committed or overcommitted and for how long?;” “What short term trade-offs might be necessary to mitigate burn-out?;” “What is the best way to balance running the shop efficiently and bringing new capabilities on-line?;” and “Do you have the right level of resources to do both successfully?”

Do you have any recommendations for lenders on how they can assess their business/plan for continuous improvements?

Retrospectives are a great place to start when trying to assess plans and identify opportunities for continuous improvement. Taking the time to explore, in a structured manner, exactly how and in what ways did the organization innovate during the current pandemic offers a wealth of opportunity for insight.

Over the coming months as business operations return to a more predictable state, it’s important to evaluate and determine where you want to go now based on what you’ve learned.

It’s also important to identify processes and capabilities that were quickly set up in response to specific needs that should be more fully developed to better align with longer term strategic plans and customer expectations.

The stresses and strains of the current environment are real across the industry. Take time to celebrate the successes, moments you demonstrated agility, and the innovations your organization was able to make. This is a great way to create forward energy and to reinforce the importance of on- going agility and continuous improvement in your business.

The statements in this article are solely the opinions of Michele Moore-Grady and do not necessarily reflect the views of Enact or its management.


Michele Moore-Grady

Michelle Moore-Grady is Director of Business Improvement and Enterprise Project Management at Enact. In this role, she leads the implementation of Enact’s technology modernization roadmap, ongoing business process evaluation and redesign, continuous improvement efforts and enabling project management and agile best practices across the organization.

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