The Agile CIO as a Business - IT Marriage Counselorpost by Chris Curran on April 1, 2011
If the relationship between developers and business users is like a marriage, sometimes the CIO’s job is akin to a marriage counselor.
In a marriage, one spouse often wants the other to change. In the market, business executives want change, too; changes in the way systems operate so they can capitalize on new opportunities. And often the complaints in both situations are the same. It’s taking too long. I don’t see any progress. They don’t understand what’s really important. We’re not communicating.
CIOs who can help guide both parties in a business towards mutual understanding and common goals are delivering real value: projects delivered on time, on budget with the functionality the company needs to compete. And one of the best tools at his or her disposal to create that value can be agile delivery models. The mutual accountability, shared responsibility and direct communication at the heart of agile methods could be the recipe for success at home or in the workplace.
If you find yourself in the role of counselor, here are some lessons we’ve learned working with agile development models that might help keep the business/IT marriage on solid ground.
- Achieving the desired customer experience or functional interaction is extremely difficult with just screen mock-ups or static pictures. Different visual techniques can provide a common picture of what needs to be accomplished, which reduces the time to get alignment on requirements and jumpstarts development that much faster.
- Business stakeholders need to interact continuously throughout the development process, providing constructive feedback and not waiting to complain until functionality is ready to be released.
- New information surfaces frequently during the agile process, driving the need to adjust on the fly. Both sides need to be responsive.
- The iterative nature of agile can support a rapid test and learn cycle, so that you can quickly tune the customer experience towards optimal business outcomes.
- Like mature couples who know their strengths and weaknesses, mature agile teams know both their team capacity and target velocity. That knowledge can build confidence and trust about meeting delivery dates.
- Agile methodology allows for initiatives to be measured in a common “points-based” currency. With a common understanding for defining and measuring what is truly important, the equations for how work is viewed from a scope, size, and complexity perspective can be extremely transparent. A single currency also facilitates better reporting and progress visibility. Since metrics are monitored continually, both sides can see the pace of progress on a weekly or even daily basis.
- The agile process lends itself to more frequent touch-points between business stakeholders and technology enablers which, ultimately, should lead to an environment of mutual accountability.
- Couples in successful marriages often agree to never go to bed angry; they deal with molehills before they become mountains. Use agile approaches to help the team identify problems before they become unsolvable. Help create an environment where both parties can make adjustments, which ultimately improves the ability to meet desired business outcomes
In our experience agile’s focus on collaboration and flexibility can drive significant improvements in project delivery. But agile alone doesn’t guarantee that a business/IT relationship won’t end in divorce. Like any marriage, success requires real work. Business stakeholders can’t outline a set of requirements and throw them over the wall to the delivery team. The delivery team can’t hide in their cubicles and expect to emerge with a spot-on finished product. But the CIO marriage counselor who convinces both sides of the value of closer collaboration can create relationships that last will help the partnership deliver real results for your company and its customers.
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