Monday, February 23, 2015

You have become a Business CIO, but where is your team ?

The IT team was pleased with the effort and congratulated each other for the delivery. The team had worked hard with the development partner to meet aggressive timelines and delivered for UAT a few days early. But that is when the problem started; the team working on the UAT came up with many exceptions that poked holes in the solution; a process not captured well, some processes missing and absent data elements. It was like IT was from Mars and the business was from Venus and they blamed each other.

The CIO was peeved off by the disconnect; the vendor with high pedigree and domain expertise had been carefully and jointly chosen; the business had offered domain experts with good standing, and the IT team understood the technology well enough. So the CIO did some quick checks on the delivery versus expectations and discovered that the IT team knew the business though the understanding was not as deep as it appeared to be. There were translation losses with implicit assumptions by the business and IT.

I think the drums started beating almost a decade back on the need for the CIO to become business savvy. It was about understanding business operations so that the written and articulated processes are translated it into a solution that meets business expectations. The origin of this was the nemesis of what everyone called scope creep and resultant change requests that escalated cost and created time overruns such that the end solution at times became irrelevant to the business; bridging the gap was necessary and critical.

The CIO also had aspirations to get a seat on the Management Committee or the Operating Board or equivalent leadership team. Discussions in these meetings largely did and continue to focus on topline, operating efficiency, bottom line; essentially discuss monthly performance and numbers. Some teams had graduated to reviewing competitive activities and customer engagement while the more evolved ones discussed strategies and more openly. For the CIO to get there it was imperative that s/he understand, participate and contribute.

It took some effort and humility to make the grade, while some for whatever reason did/could not; the fruits of the effort were worth the struggle and more. As a business partner the CIO enjoyed the perks of being in the team and on the table working lockstep with other CXOs. Having a bird’s eye view of the business and a pulse of operations, the CIO stitched together the missing pieces of the jigsaw that made up the business. The transition to a business leader brought new aspirations which resulted in lateral or upward movement for a few.

The IT team reveled in the success and leadership position taken by the CIO; the adulation apart some of them attempted to follow the CIO’s footsteps that led to the transformation. The CIO was happy in his/her new found position and willingly coached anyone who wanted to follow the path. Key lessons revolved around the not so obvious soft skills which help in building relationships; s/he also stressed the need to know the chosen function or domain as well to be seen as a subject matter expert internally as well as externally.

Attempting to get to the bottom of the imbroglio, the CIO realized that the IT team involved in the project had not fully imbibed the learning citing paucity of time and work pressures. They had sidestepped some meetings and relied on their knowledge and focused on technology. The vendor to his credit had attempted to engage with the business and had suggested field trips which were deemed unnecessary by the IT team. Thus the partial understanding created a solution that evidently did not meet expectations and resulted in frustration on both sides.

It is the CIOs responsibility to push his/her team to leave their comfort zones and make the cut; business in most cases is willing to help the learning. A planned approach to engage from both sides works best; the CIO must measure the engagement levels and continuously create opportunities on both sides to appreciate each other’s expertise. Project success is an important milestone but to move to a trusted partner and advisor takes a lot more. In this case walking the talk is a difficult journey which the IT team had failed to do.

Prepare your teams the way you plan your learning, after all your success depends on them.

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