Ongoing, aggressive involvement by the CIO (or whoever heads IT) and the CIO's leadership team is absolutely essential for an effective agile transformation. Once one realizes the breadth and depth of impact that agile transformation has on the IT organization's functions and many functions that IT interacts with, it is obvious that a transformation program cannot be conducted without extremely proactive involvement of senior leadership. The transformation must be set up as a strategic program, under the CIO. Otherwise it will not have the authority that it needs to work directly with the CIO's staff and set up cross organization teams. After all, only senior executive leadership can break any silos that exist that are impeding agile processes.
The CIO cannot just say “make it happen” and have a few weekly status meetings with an "agile transformation team" and expect things to move along. The CIO needs to put weight behind everything the transformation team does and participate directly or have senior leaders participate directly in many of the transformation team's activities: otherwise, there will not be full participation by functional managers and staff, because people in a large organization participate based on priority and on what political scientists call “legitimacy”.
In a hierarchical organization, legitimacy derives from authority, or from explicit direction given by the leadership. This assumes that the leadership is respected and has actual power – that is, that their directions are actually enforced. And it helps if the organization has confidence that the leadership knows what it is doing; but in a hierarchical organization that is actually not a requirement.
This is not to say that a successful transformation relies on simple commands from above: far from it. But commands from above are a pre-requisite: without a constant driving force from above, it is very difficult to transform a large and complex organization within the timeframe through which most organizations plan – and in which results are expected.
Prioritization is important because people in most large organizations are over-taxed, and so any new activity means that something else will have to be put on hold: and to justify that, the new activity – the transformation related activities – must be assigned high priority by senior management – i.e., by the CIO. Otherwise, people will nod their heads yes but nothing will actually get done.
The CIO must be willing to issue mandates and follow progress closely, and meet personally with those who lead the agile transformation. These meetings should not be primarily status meetings: they should include status of course, but it is far more important to have open discussion about impediments and issues, and possible solutions and strategies. These discussions with the CIO allow the transformation team to vet ideas and get the go-ahead for strategies, and ask for particular actions that the CIO and his or her leadership team might take in order to remove obstacles and enable the transformation team. Without these discussions, the effort will be severely crippled.
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