The big IT burden posed by new regulations has an impact on project management, with institutions turning to more efficient methods of developing applications to meet the demands of a fast changing environment.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, for example, has turned to two software and project management methods.

The first is agile development — a method of creating software in stages. Generally this involves small teams of people handling resource planning, designing, coding and testing of software in chunks, delivering each part of the project to the client when it's ready, rather than waiting for the entire project to be completed.

The second, related method is called scrum. It's an organizational framework for managing agile software projects. It typically includes a leader, or "owner," who creates a wish list for the initiative and interacts between the team and the client; a planning stage called a "sprint" during which members of the team pull pieces of the wish list and decide in collaboration how that piece will be completed; a deadline to complete the sprint; a "daily scrum," which is a meeting to vet progress; and the use of a "scrum master" who keeps the team focused on its goal. The scrum master acts as a "second" or a buffer between the scrum owner and the team to remove distractions from the team, kind of like a managing editor at a newspaper.

At the end of a sprint, the work is theoretically shippable to the client, and the next "scrum" can begin.

"There are a lot of large-scale regulatory changes that are facing a majority of the banks across the country. We found that by using agile we ended up with very few defects [or bugs in a project]," says Paul Anderson, first vice president and director, IT infrastructure and software delivery for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, one of 12 cooperative banks that offer financing, community development grants and other banking services that are designed to help member financial institutions provide mortgages and economic development credit.

The federal home loan banks fall under the regulatory watch of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has been increasing scrutiny of the cooperative's risk practices after the inspector general of the FHFA found the regulator was not aggressive enough about reviewing supervisory concerns at the banks. The FHLBank Atlanta did not give that scrutiny as a reason for moving to agile IT development, but did say it recently used the technique to quickly execute a project to adhere to derivatives clearing regulations.

"By using small iterations, we can get high value items out where customers can use them more quickly," Anderson says.

The benefit of agile is that problems can be identified and fixed earlier in the larger initiative than by applying more traditional techniques such as the waterfall model. In that model, the development flows more broadly through different stages such as analysis, design, construction, testing, implementation and maintenance. The theory is that by replacing waterfall with a more incremental method that relies on a number of smaller steps, testing and deployment happen faster. Usable tech is delivered more frequently, and is tested and fixed more frequently as well.

Through the transition from waterfall to agile, FHLBank Atlanta says it has reduced the number of defect tickets, or bugs on a project that need to be fixed, by 92%, while also improving the delivery of projects on time and within budget. "With waterfall …we found that you're really most of the way though before you can find a quality issue and find out what you don't need," says Greg King, assistant director of IT software delivery for FHLBank Atlanta.