​Make it so! Agile is not an instruction

​Make it so! Agile is not an instruction

View from the bridge: Musings of a reconstructed CIO



Make it so! Every CIO would like to be Captain Jean-Luc Picard and cast the spell. And so it is with Agile methodologies.

As a long-play CIO, I found myself a few years ago wondering why my people failed to ‘make it so’ when I sent out the instruction from the bridge to ‘be agile.’

Today I look back from the other side of the bridge, as a CIO turned analyst and advisor. I understand that being agile is not an instruction – it is the exact opposite. A turning, a choice, a mindset shift that emanates from the heart of individuals, not from the head of the CIO.

My own reconstruction from waterfall CIO to ‘agilest’, however, took a few years of unlearning. Serious unlearning.

The way it worked for me was through following my curiosity. I had embraced the concepts of a more egalitarian style of leadership and lean principles long ago. I saw in theory that the Agile manifesto and its practice drew from the same source. But I had not yet seen evidence that agile and old school management, aka Waterfall management frameworks, could exist productively hand-in-hand.

I unlearnt by immersing myself in the same training that my hands-on practitioners were doing. I became a scrum master, a SAFe agilist and certified practitioner of Agile methodologies. All in search of the key to how we could make IT more human, more creative and more useful for the enterprise. On the other hand, maybe I just wanted IT to lose our reputation for saying ‘no’.

The way to reconstruction is through experiential learning, so I played with Agile. With the help of some of my patient and trusting CIO friends, we tried using Agile to run short, sharp change programs, to develop strategy and to redesign support processes.

We tested, adjusted and found we not only got results that were making the business happier, but we were becoming more open leaders and our people liked it too. A win-win.

That may not be for everyone, but I do encourage you as a CIO to stop being a Captain Jean-Luc Picard and go walk the decks, talk to your crew and get your hands dirty.

Today, CIOs are rarely unreconstructed Machiavellian control-maestros, 'Captain Picard-ing' alone on the enterprise IT bridge while our people stoke the fires and caulk the holes.

We are ‘adaptive’, ‘strategic’, ‘innovative’ CIOs. We are people leaders. We are digital creatives. Whatever the latest management-speak aspiration that politicians or CEOs throw at us, we are. We are driving agility to accelerate revenue and efficiencies.

If we are not, we launch into another major transformation to turn the ship around ... again. We think we can control the flightpath – that is mistake number one. You are not in control. Mistake number two: you cannot know if you are on the right flightpath. Space debris and meteors don’t mind you. Mistake number three is that you think your people will listen and obey. They are not robo-staff … yet.

So what do you do? Let go, sit back and watch more. Unlearn old ways. Experience the new ways for yourself. Get into the scrum. Learn to be a different type of leader for different times.

Now I am a Gartner analyst and I have swapped seats. I have the real daily privilege of sharing the experiences of many CIOs still on the bridge, as they navigate demanding and unpredictable commercial and civic environments.

As John P. Kotter said in a 2012 article in Harvard Business Review: “Any company that has made it past the start-up stage is optimised for efficiency rather than for strategic agility.

“We cannot ignore the daily demands of running a company, which traditional hierarchies and managerial processes can still do very well. What they do not do well is identify the most important hazards and opportunities early enough, formulate creative strategic initiatives nimbly enough, and implement them fast enough.”

When analysts at Gartner talk about the bimodal IT model, we are talking about the realities of a two-speed, or indeed a multi-speed, world where the economics of connections drive constant change.

In January, Uber was our digital poster child. In February, it was Didi Kuaidi, the marriage of Tencent and Alibaba in China to instantaneously create the biggest taxi-share business in the world, overtaking Uber just to start with.

Tomorrow? Will we see Tesla and Google connect and combine? Will Apple and Amazon stop being frenemies and say ‘I do’? Anything may happen and probably will. CIOs need to be ready and that’s where agility comes into play.

Traditional ‘monitor and control’ processes in IT are still essential to keep the enterprise stable and running smoothly at optimal speed with minimal fuel wastage. But the enterprise ship is flying through an uncharted universe. We need to send out our ‘satellite scouts’ to run ahead, move faster than the rest of IT, test the path and constantly scan the horizon for threats and opportunities.

Since the most common threats and opportunities today – whether we will be disrupted, or we think we can disrupt our market – will almost inevitably rise from digital developments.

In a bimodal IT environment, the CIO becomes the enterprise’s seer even more, the one who needs to have the sharpest eyes and that means sharing the watch with your crew. Many eyes and many hands are needed to stay alert, to watch, learn and adjust. The agile enterprise, a digital business model, is a team sport we say at Gartner.

If you are a CIO who notices the post-it note stock disappearing and your people gathering spontaneously in scrum stand-ups in the hallways, rejoice for they are becoming agile.

If on the other had you have sent out the ‘make it so’ instruction and retreated up the one-way lift to the executive floor, into your office and behind your minions to wait for news from the heralds (aka the PMO) once a month, you have just failed the agile test. Go home now.

To make IT more agile, first we must make the CIO agile. I say: CIO, reconstruct yourself.

Over the next few months, I’ll write a column musing on the travails of the Captain Jean-Luc Picard CIO and how to make yourself an agile CIO. Agile is a mindset, not an instruction. Make it so.

Jenny Beresford is a research director with Gartner's CIO Advisory team. Previously, she served as a CIO, VP and GM in consulting and technology firms, an Agile coach and a digital program manager, through to hands-on roles in strategic planning, change management, innovation, enterprise architecture and portfolio management.

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