Transforming Technology Organizations By Investing in Culture and Practices

Should IT only be a services organization to the Business? Should it only provide a services catalog around incidents and requests and a PMO to oversee projects when required? Will perfecting service levels and project execution be good enough for the Business to compete when innovation and data driven practices are so critical for competitiveness? Will IT be able to consider optimal solutions when they require a mix of Cloud, SaaS, and on premises components and significantly more data integration and application development across them?

That is the question facing CEOs, CIOs and IT leadership and many have come to realize that keeping the lights on and just getting things done in IT is not good enough. The new IT charter includes investing in Digital Transformation, enabling a Data Driven Organization, and maturing IT innovation to fuel business growth and efficiency.

IT Culture and Practices

I've been posting on IT culture to raise awareness how important it is when a business is trying to transform and innovate. My post, 10 ways to improve IT Culture with Agile, DevOps, Data, and Collaboration speaks to the good signs and ways to improve IT culture by investing in specific practices like Agile and DevOps. I went a little deeper with 5 Principles on What Makes a Great Agile Team and provided more specifics on what makes an agile development team succeed over long periods and contribute to IT culture. I then went to the dark side pointing out 20 bad behaviors of agile product owners and 33 Bad Behaviors of Agile Developers and IT Operations to highlight a list of behaviors that have negative contributions to IT culture. 

My message? If you want to improve IT culture, you have to target positive practices but also correct for negative behaviors.

Course Correcting Negative Behaviors

Let's look at some negative behaviors from my last post and consider options and solutions. What practices should IT Leadership focus on to improve IT culture and address bad behaviors? Here are three:

  • Drive Collaboration and Communication Behaviors to insure teams are working well with their business colleagues on opportunities, solutions, and innovation. To irradiate the dividing line between "requirements" and "implementation", the number of people in the IT team that need to be able to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders is significantly larger than in decades past. Improving communication is an easy starting point to get developers, system administrators, engineers, business analysts to be better prepared to collaborate. Here are some places to start: 

    • Mentally says no, or actually says no to an idea or request without listening to the business need and priority
    • Communicates in technical jargon or overly complicates the message back to a business user when responding to a question
    • Creates blocks and waits for requirements without engaging the stakeholder or proactively proposing opportunities, problems that need to be addressed, and solutions
    • Fails to regularly communicate status when resolving a critical issue

  • Evangelize actions that drive IT Efficiency - It isn't going to be easy to justify investments to fix manual work in IT or to dedicate application development releases to fix bad software. Both of these issues need to be avoided before they are created and fixed incrementally over time. It's why addressing behaviors like 

    • Fails to automate tasks and leaves significant manual steps in a technical solution or 
    • Creates technical debt but does not itemize it in the backlog to be fixed or 
    • Doesn't provide documentation, training, or other knowledge transfer to ensure colleagues can support the technologies he or she developed

    are critical because without making them, it is likely that any new technologies instrumented today will have "legacy" issues in the future.

  • Insure IT decisions are data and quality driven - IT is the hub of so much operational data, yet they often leave out the discipline required to review this data, develop metrics, and leverage in their decisions on priorities, problems, and solutions. If IT isn't using its own data, then how can it be a part of a data driven organization? In addition, if IT isn't paying attention to quality or security, then how can it deliver reliable and safe solutions? These behaviors underscore issues that need need to be course corrected: 

    • Chases rabbits when trying to diagnose performance issues without reviewing logs and metrics to guide efforts to areas of higher importance
    • Over engineers solutions and inflates estimates
    • Treats quality assurance, testing and security as an afterthought and doesn't bake these paradigms into designs
    • Doesn't implement unit tests, performance evaluations, or other test driven practices to ensure that code is reliable and functioning properly

Are you ready to lead a cultural transformation?


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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.