What exactly is technical debt? When discussing your organization’s technical debt - and possible changes to it - with various audiences, you need to articulate the key issues in plain terms. Here’s expert advice on how to do that.
Two strengths of revenue-generating IT teams: Speed and talent
What do IT leaders who succeed at driving revenue have in common? Speedy process and a passionate team
Most IT organizations today are on a journey to deliver business value and co-lead their company’s revenue-generating objectives. But some are further down the path than others. If you find yourself getting stalled or not making the progress you seek, look to two areas to uncover roadblocks in your way: IT processes and talent.
Making way for rapid iteration
When the business decides to embark on a revenue-generating initiative – whether that’s taking advantage of a market opportunity, acquiring a new company, or rolling out a new product – IT has to be able to deliver with speed and efficiency in order to seize that opportunity. Hence there is a need for methodologies like agile, and embracing the concept of minimum viable product. (It’s not just for startups anymore.) You can’t be willing to sacrifice good for the sake of perfection. It’s just the world we live in today.
For instance, I may know that we’re putting out a product that is 80 percent there, but sufficient to satisfy our early adopters. I likely already have several releases planned beyond this version, based on internal and customer feedback. But if we don't hold out for everything to be “just right,” we might be able to capture market or mindshare earlier than our competition. Combine this with top-down support for positive failure – and, ultimately, I wind up with a culture that has rapid iteration and continual improvement as part of its DNA. Being the best is still our north star, but it’s how we get there that is changing.
We all want this kind of speed and approach, but the reality is, we are all bound by legacy and by the fact that IT and other functions are run by human beings.
[ See our related article, Dear CIOs: Stop beating yourselves up for being behind on transformation. ]
On top of that, technology fails sometimes. I need to be asking, “How do I put methodologies, processes, and the right people in the right seats to enable speed to market, while at the same time, minimize the burdens and anchors dragging me down in the form of legacy technology, bad processes, old thinking, and more?” If every time I make a change to a core system or product, I have to also go change 50 legacy systems, (not to mention hundreds of minds that might be used to “the way we’ve always done it,”) then the speed I’m generating up front is useless because I still have the anchors behind me. They will sabotage me every time.
So I’ve got to build the future while sunsetting the past. This means having firm conversations regarding how to aggressively sunset legacy technologies and follow up with taking action. This is a never-ending cycle for CIOs because today’s brand-new technology is tomorrow’s legacy. But this focus on simplification pays huge dividends when it comes to overall cost, complexity, and agility.
Building a passionate team
Having a team that’s adaptable, intellectually curious, and biased toward action is often the deciding factor in whether or not you are able to meet your goals. And it’s your job as CIO to model this behavior and set expectations accordingly. I’ve gone to my team and said, “I’m going to ask you to do more. We’re going to stretch our thinking beyond the tactical and consider the big picture as well.” And, nearly every time, the response has been largely positive. They want to do it, and they’re excited to take their accomplishments and successes and extrapolate them globally. Passionate people are a force multiplier!
Unfortunately, when you inherit a new team, you’re not going to get that level of passion from everyone. For some, maybe that’s not their cup of tea. Maybe they were hoping for a slow-burn job, where they can move at their own pace and not be pushed or challenged in new ways. For others, they truly want to understand the “why” behind this startling new direction. As CIO, it’s imperative you embrace this opportunity and, within reason, help your team along where needed. However, you also have to decide when the bus is “leaving the station” and that might mean making some tough decisions regarding those who simply aren’t going to get onboard.
For me, personally, I want to build a team that is focused, disciplined, trusting, and fun. I’ve found that when building a culture like that, attracting and retaining talent begins to fall into place. Sure, we have a casual environment, do team-building exercises, go to dinners, have fun around the office, etc. But, far more importantly, we give people meaningful work. We recognize success. We don’t publicly flog when there’s failure. We collaborate. We trust. And everyone on my team knows they have an advocate in their chief information and technology officer – someone who is always going to bat for them and constantly look to remove roadblocks.
I work hard to be a leader who can say, “You’re here for a reason. I trust you. Keep me informed as needed, but go for it.” I know what it’s like to work for leaders like this and I make sure to pass the same privilege and respect on to everyone on my team. This opportunity to contribute to meaningful work, be recognized for that work, and to learn along the way is more valuable than any office perk I could offer. It elicits passion – and that passion will take your organization into places well beyond your expectations.
The speed with which you are able to deliver and the passion from each individual on your team are two important factors in moving IT to a revenue-generating mindset. I’d encourage all CIOs to take a step back and evaluate whether there are processes or people impeding their progress on these two fronts.
Want more wisdom like this, IT leaders? Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
Also read our research report : 15 top CIOs share wisdom on creating revenue, by Harvard Review Analytic Services