How can you make IT agile?

Every single day I hear the new magic word from IT groups:  I need improved agility.   It reminds me of how people talked about going to the cloud.   Agility is a capability not a destination.  It’s hard to measure which is the first challenge.  I believe when customers ask for agility the are actually asking for business relevance.   If you are closely aligned with the business you should be able to respond to the business as needed.

In order to illustrate my point I am going to use a story from my childhood.   As a young child of eight I used to play the video game Test Drive.

This early computer car simulator allowed you to drive very high-end sports cars in exotic location using your keyboard.     One day while driving my father was watching me drive.   I was frustrated I could not beat my computer opponents in the race.  My father wisely said “Son the problem is you wait until you are already in the turn to begin to turn.  As a driver I turn long before I get into the turn.”  This wise council has stuck with me in life.   If you don’t start to gradually turn in advance then you have to slow down to make the turn.  In my case I was having to brake down to 10 kph in order to make the turn.    I was being reactive to the turn instead of proactive.

I think this illustrates a common challenge with IT.   IT is focused on building the best sports car and assuming that if the car is fast enough they will be able to meet the business needs.    Without visibility into the business how can your sports car make the turns without massive slow down.   I firmly believe that change is constant and to be expected even more so with IT.   So the challenge is how do slow down building a shiny sports car and maintain velocity?

 

Signs of IT focus on sports car

How can you tell that organization has been too focused on building the best sports car?   I suggest the follow may be signs of a problem:

  • Business wants IT to cut costs year after year while the business is growing
  • Digital initiatives creating a bi-modal IT (Leaving traditional IT behind)

 

How does IT become business focused?

Focusing on the business has been a challenge for traditional IT.   They have normally been padded away from the business units by development.   Development continues to add value to the business by changing to meet their needs.   They have the ability to change with velocity because they talk to the business.   In order to solve this issue traditional IT needs to have a business focus.   Here are some suggestions:

  • Read your companies 10-K and understand what is important to the C-level
  • Spend time talking to development and business and understand how the project effects revenue – once you understand the revenue potential of a project use that data to market your impact
  • Get a real understanding of cost – you need to understand CapEx and OpEx cost of projects and actions so you can project them to the business
  • Start to track SLA’s and report on them
  • Track other critical metrics and report on them
  • Marketing of your service is critical – no one cares about your shiny car.. they want to know capabilities aligned with business

Taking these action will gradually put you in a place were the business includes you in the discussion.   Your role once aligned with the business is to say yes to revenue projects and guide them into cost effective IT solutions to the need.

Never use brakes

When I was first a driver at 16 I was on the freeway.   I would accelerate quickly and brake a lot.  My mother suggested that I was driving incorrectly.  Her father has a simple driving goal “You should never have to use brakes.  You should anticipate slow downs in advance and only use brakes when you come to a stop.”  My grandfather has never driven in Paris, Italy or New York!   His advice aligns with the goal of understanding the business, once aligned we should not have to come to a complete stop instead we gradually adjust to meet needs.

Hard work

Being aligned with the business is a lot of work.   It requires that you create IT as a service instead of reactive IT.  Proactive IT:

  • Has a road map plan for the next 18 months (but allows for turns)
  • Has robust historical metrics around business critical metrics and cost to make business informed choices
  • Understands how every project aligns to revenue
  • Spends more time planning than implementing
  • Has robust standards for the service and aligns to them

Let me know what you think… am I up in the night?

© 2017, Joseph Griffiths. All rights reserved.

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