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​Make it so! Agile is not an instruction

Jenny Beresford | March 8, 2016
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 Kirk-ing it 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.


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