IT Leaders Need Split Personality, Gartner Says

IT leaders need to keep building solid, reliable systems, while also devoting more attention to digital experimentation.

talking about "the two pizza rule," the rule of thumb attributed to Amazon's Jeff Bezos that a development team should never be so large that you can't feed it with two pizzas. This has been adopted as an informal principle of the Agile methodology, where the focus is on putting small, cross-functional teams to work developing discrete bits of functionality.

The scale of a large enterprise can make it difficult to stick to a pure Agile approach, Swanton said, because the challenges are larger. If a big software project is divided into smaller pieces assigned to individual teams, communication and coordination among the teams becomes a challenge in its own right. Tools such as social collaboration software can help by making it easier for teams and team members to share what they're doing and keep everyone informed.

The bigger challenge for enterprises is breaking away from their traditional modes of operation. "The traditional project management and program management techniques you know and love aren't going to work," said Swanton. The reason for using Agile development in the first place is to create something new, which by definition means the process will revolve around exploration and experimentation, not a well-defined series of project phases leading to a pre-determined goal, he said. "Instead of using top-down management, you've got to build a culture that allows teams to do the right things."

Budgeting for such a project is also challenging, since the cost and scope of work are not known up front. "Instead, you have to define success in terms of the business outcome -- we're going to take a business capability and improve it in some measurable way," Swanton said. "That's basically how you build a business case -- here is what I am trying to accomplish, here's how I will measure it, and here is what I'm trying to create." Development organizations will have to build credibility with the business units funding these initiatives by delivering products that do in fact create new value for the organization, he said.

Some organizations have also shown success establishing an innovation lab chartered to take on these challenges -- although sometimes when that works, it takes on a life of its own and becomes a business unit outside the CIO's control, according to Swanton.

Another habit IT organizations are going to have to break is being unwilling to train employees; they can't expect to be able to hire people who already have a defined skillset. That may work for Microsoft or Cisco certified staffers, but not for the most skilled Agile developers. "When you're looking at how to create supply for a scarce commodity, a lot of that is going to have to be for training," Swanton said. "Then, of course, once you've got them trained, you're going to have to figure out how you're going to keep them.

Attendees I spoke with said they had heard some of this vision from Gartner before, but they are still figuring out the practicalities.

"It's harder to do than it is to understand," said Tom R. Seely of the Campus Crusade for Christ, project management director for the non-profit's digital initiatives. He said he appreciates and agrees with the vision, but "trying to translate it into some operational thing is not as easy as it sounds."

John Flack, an IT architect at the University of South Dakota, said his organization is recognizing that when a faculty member wants to pursue an initiative or wins a grant that involves the use of technology, the standard "get in line" response to staffing those projects is not adequate. "We're not meeting the needs of those people, and we know it," he said. Gartner's concept of a bimodal division of labor is something his organization is talking about but not doing just yet. "The thing is, you don't go from zero to 'agile enterprise' in a heartbeat."

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