IT leaders share what they’ve learned from their Agile transformation experiences

Increasing Value: Transforming Business and Technology Relationships Panel Discussion
Increasing Value: Transforming Business and Technology Relationships Panel
April 23, 2021
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FarWell presented a fascinating panel discussion as part of our ongoing Leadership Support Series on April 21, 2021. The event, Increasing Value: Transforming Business and Technology Relationships Panel, featured four Madison-area IT executives who shared personal stories of their experiences leading Agile business transformations at their respective organizations.

FarWell Senior Advisor, George Walker, served as the facilitator for the session. The webinar was one of the best-attended events FarWell has ever offered. We had the pleasure of hosting an impressive group of panelists at the table.

Jody McDonough Sub-Zero Group Chief Information Officer CIO Headshot

Jody McDonough, Chief Information Officer at Sub-Zero Group

Martin Christopher Senior VP Chief Information Officer for CUNA Mutual Group Headshot

Martin Christopher, SVP – Chief Information Officer at CUNA Mutual Group

Stacie Govier AVP of IT Solution Delivery at National Guardian Life Insurance Company NGL Headshot

Stacie Govier, AVP – IT Solutions at National Guardian Life

Steve Cretney Vice President and Chief Information and Technology Officer for SC Data Center Inc Headshot

Steve Cretney, Vice President and Chief Information and Technology Officer for SC Data Center, Inc., an affiliate of Colony Brands, Inc.

While each panelist shared great information and insights, three points the experts made stood out as critically important to a successful Agile transformation:

  • Alignment and transparency build trust with business partners.
  • Frequent communication and consistent messages help create belief in the strategic value of IT.
  • Continuous improvement and business agility lead directly to business value.

Align your activity with business partners and bring transparency to all your interactions

This was the first concept that stood out for attendees the day of the event. In one way or another, all four panelists emphasized how important alignment and transparency are.

Jody may have described alignment the most succinctly: He and his team have been “working in lockstep with the business units,” he said. It’s no longer a case of one business area providing a service to another, it’s IT and the business units working in partnership to deliver tangible results and objective business value.

On the same topic, Steve pointed out, “When you lack good organizational alignment, things tend to fall apart. It’s important to stay aligned.”

The panelists also stated in strong terms how important transparency is to successful IT transformation. In practice, transparency means being candid about finances, resource commitments, priorities and shared goals.

Jody pointed out this was something he needed to emphasize and work to improve. “Everyone on the team needs to be open and honest,” he said. “They need to display financial transparency, partnership, and business alignment. Our business partners also need to be open and transparent.”

The value of frequent communication and consistent messaging

Martin described the situation not long ago at CUNA Mutual Group. “Business leaders all talked about their platforms, and nobody considered IT’s input,” he said. In response, Martin communicated the business value of IT as often as he could in as many venues as he could. He repeated consistent messages and leveraged consistent delivery to create and sustain awareness of IT’s significant contributions to business results.

Stacie followed a similar overall approach but used a different tactic. She set up lots of direct 1-1 conversations with her business partners at NGL. She said these meetings were extremely valuable to her as she worked to advance the Agile transformation at her organization.

Continuous improvement and agility create business value

When teams display an attitude of continuous improvement and adopt Agile principles to advance projects and get things done, they definitely create real business value. As Steve pointed out, his team’s operating mantra is “create business agility and unlock innovation.”

Jody said his IT team needs to move at the pace the business wants to follow. He also sees IT’s purpose as one of continuous and collaborative improvement. The team can’t implement technology enhancements solo. They need to work in partnership with cross-functional business areas.

“Getting things done builds trust,” Steve said. “Don’t just start projects – finish them.” He emphasized that when he helped business partners understand the technology changes his team was implementing, the business partners more easily saw how the work translated into business value.

Questions from audience members illuminated interesting topics

“How have you incorporated “people” change management into your ongoing operation?”

One audience member asked the panelists, “How have you incorporated “people” change management into your ongoing operation?” Martin said a solution at CUNA Mutual was to introduce the role of Competency Lead. Their only focus is to improve employee workforce skills through personalized training plans. CUNA Mutual even hires temporary (90 day) partners to join teams to help teach new skills.

Stacie said NGL addressed the people change component by socializing IT changes internally for more than a year. Another approach they tried is allowing people to organize into self-selected teams. She found it led to greater personal ownership of IT changes.

“How did you achieve culture change at your organization?”

“How did you achieve culture change at your organization?” was another question submitted by an audience member. Stacie observed that she set about to “Teach new skills, hire new team members with new skills, and identify ‘change zealots’ to help the culture evolve.”

Martin suggested a good way to achieve culture change is to market your success. Avoid “aspirational stuff” and talk about direct business impact. “Leaders need to understand concrete examples of what’s been accomplished via Agile,” he said. “Make the message clear and unequivocal.”

To sum up the session’s key learning, alignment with business partners, transparency in your dealings, consistent communication, and an attitude of continuous improvement creates business value.

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