Nordstrom VP: Take Emotion Out Of Agile Transformation

Mapping each step of a dev process can make the transformation more fact-based. It might look like micromanagement, but Nordstrom's Courtney Kissler calls it "honoring reality."

Chris Murphy, Editor, InformationWeek

May 4, 2015

3 Min Read
<p align="left">Courtney Kissler, Nordstrom's VP of e-commerce and store technology.</p>

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Doing lean and agile development of mobile apps sounds like a cool way to work, right? But at Nordstrom, getting there first meant doing some boring, ditch-digging work of mapping out every single step that every employee took to deliver a new version of the retailer's mobile app.

That "value-stream map" showed Nordstrom took 28 weeks to deliver a mobile app version, said Courtney Kissler, Nordstrom VP of e-commerce and store technologies, in a session at the Interop Las Vegas Conference, held April 27-May 1.

A 28-week mobile-app cycle looked terrible. It made it clear to everyone that lots had to change, and helped build momentum behind lean and agile adoption. But even more, having every step mapped out showed how each team needed to change its approach. For instance, people realized that taking four weeks to provision a server was one piece of this 28-week problem, so they considered how they could change that as part of the overall push to remake this process.

"Then it became a non-emotional conversation, which is a critical component of why we're seeing this in more teams now," Kissler said in her presentation during the event's Applications Track. "This made it fact-based."

Through a lot of process changes, Nordstrom now is delivering a mobile app version every month. That pace is based on a business decision regarding how often customers want an app, not what IT is capable of producing. "We landed on a monthly cadence, but it's not a technology constraint," Kissler said. "The business actually can release whenever they want."

Things such as value-stream mapping fall under a larger lesson Kissler shared for doing lean and agile transformation: "Honor Reality."

I really liked this lesson for IT leaders. Too often, as managers, we assume how things are really working. Where delays and mistakes creep in, our estimates can be far from reality. Or, if teams aren't following processes or rules, we don't take time to figure out why.

Kissler compared this "honor reality" work to being a student, in what she calls the need to "go and see" what's really happening. Kissler has gotten pushback on this idea from people who label it micromanagement. "No, it really isn't," she said. "You're going and helping the team; you're connecting to the work they're doing. You're showing that it's important. You're asking questions. You're not telling them what to do; you're actually becoming a student. You're getting connected to their reality."

[ Is your mobile strategy broad enough. Read Enterprise Mobile Strategy, Meet The Connected Toilet. ]

Kissler shared a lot of lessons about transforming to lean and agile in her session, but I particularly liked the hands-on approach Nordstrom took here to honor reality. We often talk about making data-driven decisions. Nordstrom's value-stream mapping shows how sometimes we have to go and create that data ourselves.

"Make the conversation as much about data as possible and not about emotion," Kissler advised. "A lot of the skeptics come around once they see it."

What do you think about Kissler's "honor reality" perspective? Is this something you try to practice in your organization? Would you want to work for someone who brings this kind of approach? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

About the Author(s)

Chris Murphy

Editor, InformationWeek

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; and a daily newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he covered everything from crime to the car industry. Murphy studied economics and journalism at Michigan State University, has an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia, and has passed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams.

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