Ideally, the role of the CIO should be to manage the Quality of how humans and technology interact to produce real business results.
In reality, CIOs today find themselves constrained in what they can achieve operationally. On the one hand, they need to be able to improve business performance. This leads them to want to act in a significant way on the flow of business processes.
On the other hand, they need to subordinate the IT structure to the strategic direction of the company; this leads them not to act in a significant way on those flows.
This uncomfortable “conflict” manifests itself every day for the CIO in “symptoms”. In the Theory of Constraints we call these undesirable effects. Some of them are:
- Resources available are not always sufficient for the number of projects that must be managed simultaneously;
- High variation in the requests coming from various people in the organization;
- People working on projects may experience a misalignment between responsibility and authority causing delays in task completion;
- Task time estimation is not realistic;
- Little inclination among internal customers to assess and accept the problems and interdependencies of a project.
The “conflict” is originated by a set of assumptions, or limiting beliefs that, knowingly or unknowingly, the CIO has, and that underpin the situation of blockage. The main limiting beliefs underpinning this conflict are:
- Business strategy does not require input from IT;
- Organizational design is something separate from IT;
- Organizational design and information flow are independent from each other.
If we can invalidate these assumptions we can break through into a new reality for CIOs.
Let’s take a look at how to do that.
It’s all about processes and projects
As far back as the 1950s, Dr. W. Edwards Deming introduced the idea of the organization as a system and this concept is found on page one of every Quality Manual. After 20 years of helping organizations improve Quality, Involvement and Flow in their operations, we propose a definition inspired by Deming’s original affirmation:
An organization is a system; a network of interdependent people and resources working in processes and projects to achieve a common goal.
A process is a series of operations that transform an input into an output and a project is a series of synchronized actions that transform requirements (technical specifications) from the ‘customer’ into a product/service within a precise timeline and budget.
The role of the CIO is to coordinate a series of processes/projects across the organization, from purchasing technology to providing guidelines for developing the business. In other words, the CIO is a business leader.
The problem of silos
Most organizations, instead, are managed with traditional hierarchical/functional model even though this creates the problem of silos. Silos lead to artificial barriers that frustrate efforts, interrupt flow and undermine quality. Silos also prevent seeing interdependencies and how the customer has to always be part of the picture. DEVops and Agile are, indeed, steps in the right direction in their efforts to overcome the divisiveness and separation caused by functions.
Transformation is coming naturally from IT because IT and CIOs have a unique perspective of the organization as a whole. For this reason, IT and the CIO can become central to creating a shift in how organizations operate, compete and thrive in this age of complexity. IT and, in particular, CIOs can be the leverage point for positive change. They can lead the way and become change agents for a more connected and systemic organization, one where the flow of information, IT, strategy and, ultimately, organizational design are all interdependent.
We reinvented how IT operates and serves the business units, from being reactive to business needs to proactively creating solutions that drive business. We moved away from vertical business silos, and now operate horizontally across the company.
How can CIOs work more horizontally? How can they coordinate a series of processes/projects across the organization?
Operationally, this can be achieved by learning how to manage a network of projects. This is the most effective and economical way, in every sense, for a company to achieve its goal.
As orchestrator of the Network of Projects, a CIO enables the involvement and integration of all the competencies in the company, ensuring quality and speed of flow.
However, the ability to manage a network of projects rests entirely on the ability to forge strong relationships with the CEO and all the business leaders. The CIO has to learn how to change the conversation with the business leaders and propose partnerships to develop together solutions that drive business.
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint , so far purchased in 21 countries around the globe. This downloadable novel uses narrative to look at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.