Business and IT aligned together to achieve business goals is a long-standing issue. It is achieved, of course, by people collaborating rather than through contracts, placing the emphasis upon interactions, supported by process and tools. Takeda, Cofunds and the BBC each described their approach to achieve alignment at the BITS Foundation event on 9th November 2012.
At the July 2012 meeting, I ran something a bit different – a coffee shop simulation, based on an exercise used in our agile and Kanban training. It wasn’t used for the same purpose on this occasion but rather to provide some insight into how our interactions as people have a major impact on the way we try to achieve our business goals.
The exercise illustrated that:
1. Even senior people forget to ask “why” they have to do things in the way the head office says
2. Using “delivery targets” drives the behaviours of individuals
3. By focusing on output, quality and “what the customer really needs” get forgotten
By coincidence, there was also an introduction to agile in the earlier part of the day, which resulted in a fair amount of discussion about agile adoption so I offered to arrange some speakers to talk about their experiences at the next event.
Last week’s meeting was organised and hosted by David Moratinos of Takeda, who also described his approach to achieving better alignment between business and IT delivery. Now, as was pointed out, the issue of business and IT working closely aligned to business goals has been around for many years and, indeed, there are methodologies out there, including ITIL, that contain tools and methods for achieving this.
What David described, however, was an effective approach using tools and process to support the engagement of the IT and other heads of function, to discuss and agree priorities for delivering IT services and projects. The resulting process has clearly resulted in greater alignment between business and IT functions because they collectively understand business priorities and goals and the capacity of the IT function to deliver. Supported by Business Relationship Managers from the IT function, whose responsibility includes understanding the strategy and goals of their assigned business areas, there is also a formal governance meeting which brings clarity to the process.
The principle I really like is that, in order commit to new projects, there has to be compelling business answers to the question “why?”.
Later in the day, I had the pleasure in introducing the two people I had arranged to come and speak.
First up was Jim McGlynn from Cofunds, sporting the early stages of his Movember growth. Jim’s been with Cofunds since it’s formation and, as Head of IT Development, has been, and is still, instrumental in building the market-leading platform for financial planning and is clearly a major asset to the company.
I approached Jim because he has an interesting story to tell about his journey in addressing a specific business challenge. The starting point included the consideration of the use of Agile methods along with offshore resources, a mix that many of the Agile zealots says doesn’t work. I was pleased to talk through the strategy with Jim at the start of the journey and even more pleased to see how this has matured into a solid model and fundamental in supporting Cofunds’ future business development.
Jim’s approach is very much team focused, just like his sporting activities, and he recognises that it’s people who deliver products and services and that each individual has equal opportunity to make a contribution.
Cofunds needed to address specific strategic issues which had an impact upon the way the software platform was going to be built and maintained in the future. In particular, they needed a flexible way of resourcing development function, so that they could respond to changes in market demand. It was concluded that the best way of achieving the level of flexibility would be to work with an offshore development centre.
At the beginning of Jim’s approach was a clear set of goals, with a two-year roadmap of how these were going to be achieved, which place interactions between people (onshore and offshore) at the centre. This did, of course, require some significant commitment from individuals, particularly Jim, to travel between sites and build relationships.
“It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”
Of particular interest to the BITS members was the fact that the resulting structure did not differentiate between Cofunds staff onshore, partner staff onshore or partner staff offshore – they were all treated as one team with a common goal. This was also supported by an emphasis placed upon collaboration rather than contract negotiation with the development partner.
Next up was Matt Browning, Executive Product Manager from BBC Future Media. Matt is responsible for product lines that support the successful iPlayer suite, which now operates across 400+ platforms. Matt is one of those people at the BBC who sees beyond process and helps his teams deliver better products.
Much of what is visible to the user doesn’t do justice to the vast complexity of the technology feeding the service. Combining this with preparing for the London Olympics and delivering new features, could result only in a high pressure and high profile challenge for anyone.
Matt talked about the challenges behind developing the Event Scheduling application ready for the 2012 Olympics. At the beginning of the process, Matt made sure his team really understood what was being developed: through a series of team exercises he communicated the vision and they didn’t move on until he was sure there was really good alignment between individuals within the team and the stakeholders for the product.
Successful leadership means understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and those of your team. So, I was impressed by Matt’s acknowledgement of his challenges in his project management abilities, particularly bringing organisation to his thoughts and ideas, and how fundamental to the success of the project was the role played by his project manager.
Also described, were other activities and tools that placed people at the centre: getting feedback from users through the process using product demonstrations; making progress visible; inspecting process and putting changes into action; celebrating success.
The outcome of this approach was:
· A product delivered nine months early
· Only two defects accepted and fixed
· 100% avaibility
· 688 million media requests during the Olympics
In summary, the key ingredient to the success of all three initiatives was:
Individuals and interactions being more important than process and tools
Agility in action.
Find out more….
BITS has been running for over 14 years and provides a forum for heads of IT/IS functions to pool their individual practical experience over a wide range of topics that members themselves select for discussion. BITS meetings often include a combination of case studies, workshops, panel sessions and open floor discussions.
The membership comprises mainly heads of IT/IS from small through to large organisations.
Takeda UK is a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan’s leading pharmaceutical company. Building on a distinguished 230-year heritage, Takeda today is the world’s 12th largest manufacturer of ethical medicines, a research-based global enterprise with affiliates in 71 countries and employing some 31,000 people.
Established in 2001, Cofunds is the UK’s largest independent platform for financial services:
• It is impartial as it does not offer advice or its own funds
• It accounts for 26% of the UK platform market
• It has three core propositions called investor, wealth and enterprise, which provide five services for a mix of retail and institutional clients
• It has assets under administration (AUA) in excess of £41bn (as at 30.07.12)
BBC Future Media
BBC Future Media is the driving force behind the BBC’s digital media proposition. They design, develop and run digital services and products. Their aim is to allow audiences to enjoy the BBC’s best content via their preferred route, whether that’s online, via mobile, or through internet-connected TV.
This cutting-edge group is responsible for delivering the BBC iPlayer (online and on TV), the BBC News site, BBC Weather site, BBC Children’s games on TV and online, the Red Button, the BBC Wildlife finder, BBC Lab UK and the BBC Radio 1 Chart, to name just a few.