Making Your IT Organisation More Agile

IT organisations have changed, are changing and will continue to change. This is not in question. What is different today is the pace and significance of change, whether it is driven by a move to shared services, offshore development, cloud computing or package-based solutions, there is a continual need for the IT leadership team to make their IT organisation more flexible, agile and adaptable to change.

Whilst there is not a lack of ideas on what changes to implement, many IT organisations find it difficult to incorporate one set of changes before the next idea presents itself. Equally, many are attempting to incorporate so many changes that it’s difficult for them to see the inter-dependencies and take a holistic view of how the whole should operate. As a result, many changes take longer to implement than planned and fail to deliver the full expected value.

The ability to incorporate new ideas faster is therefore an increasingly important issue for many IT leaders. So what can be done to make the IT organisation more agile and better able to incorporate new ideas faster?

Obviously, the overarching constraint – or enabler – is the installed technology base. If the legacy systems are not agile and able to adapt to the needs of the business, then the IT organisation itself will have difficulty being agile. Agile technology architecture is therefore an important enabler of agility, but one that can take many years to put in place. Fortunately there are five other enablers of agility that IT leaders can focus on immediately:

  • The IT Operating Model. In recent years, tremendous progress has been made in understanding how best to organise IT, what processes and roles need to be in place and how best to work with external suppliers. Undoubtedly these developments have significantly improved the quality of service delivery and the ability of IT to anticipate and respond to the needs of business colleagues. But in many cases this focus and attention on defining and documenting processes and achieving accreditation has led to a lack of flexibility rather than more agility.
  • Software development methods. Essentially part of the Operating Model, this domain covers all aspects of how software is developed and integrated packages configured, from requirements definition to testing and documentation. In recent years the agile approach, including scrum, sprints, XP and daily stand-ups, have gained popularity against the more traditional waterfall approaches. Undoubtedly how the IT development function approaches the development of software will impact on how agile the IT organisation is perceived to be.
  • Governance. This defines who has what decision rights and the resultant accountabilities that enable the leadership team to decide quickly what changes need to be made to the way the IT function operates and assign accountability for making the change happen. Whilst many IT organisations have governance models in place covering IT strategy (WHAT the IT function delivers), few have explicit governance in place for changing HOW the IT organisation operates.
  • Mindset. How people perceive their role and the mental models that guide their thinking, and the actions that significantly influence their openness to new ideas and willingness to adapt different working practices. Equally people who are more engaged are more willing to engage in change and use their discretionary energy to positive effect. We also know that what people think about their work, managers and management processes has a significant impact on their level of engagement and resultant mindset.
  • External partners. All IT organisations to some degree rely on external partners and suppliers, whether it is for the development of new software, management of legacy systems or operation of the IT infrastructure. The degree to which the IT organisation is agile is therefore dependent upon which suppliers have been chosen and the incumbent agility, whether it be in their ways of working and/or commercial arrangements. It’s also worth noting that suppliers may be agile with respect to some of the services they provide and not in others.  Equally many suppliers are less agile when delivering integrated – as opposed to discrete – services.

Many CIOs who are perceived to have failed did so not because they did not know what changes needed to be made, but as a result of their inability to make the changes quickly enough. It was the lack of organisational agility that was their downfall.

I welcome your thoughts.

David Trafford

Formicio Insight Article: Making Your IT Organisation More Agile

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