As the Business Innovation department for our vacation club company Orange Lake Resorts, we fully recognize the need to support its tremendous growth. And for the company to achieve its goals in customer service, efficiency and profitability, we also understand that IT needs to partner more with the business and respond quickly.
However, we also recognize that technology departments do not have to operate the same way they have over the past decade. Having already established a goal to be innovative and operate in a more-efficient manner, we asked ourselves: Why can’t IT be different? Why not be a true partner to the business?
In the world we live in, technology fuels growth—but technology departments are not traditionally recognized for the role they play in helping today’s businesses, achieve success.
In assessing our IT department, it was easy to see that fresh ideas were needed. Tons of process existed where none was needed, and there was no process where it was truly warranted or to add the most value. Limiting waterfall methods not only slowed work, but allowed people to hide behind process or use them as an excuse. There was also little visibility in the true contributions of each team member and a hierarchical structure that did not allow all voices and ideas to be heard. It became obvious the existing structure would not support growth, cultivate change, encourage efficiencies, or allow for the development of strong relationships with our business partners.
Identifying these hurdles led to a number of questions directed at how to transform the department. How do you evolve from having a team that cringes when they hear that project requirements have changed, to a team that accepts and welcomes change? Where scope creep becomes a term that no longer exists? From seeing the business as the “enemy,” to a team that embraces business partners through common goals?
Furthermore, what steps are needed to create an environment of accountability between IT and its business partners, with authenticity and shared responsibility? How do we breach the silos between team members within departments and recognize those lines of separation which are continuing to weaken? And finally, how do leaders transition from traditional, stagnant thinking that punishes fresh, new ideas, to welcoming—even encouraging—these progressive thoughts in a team?
Leadership is needed to adopt a new attitude to address these implementation difficulties and resistance to change, while ushering in a new way to approach business relationships. It really comes down to people and departmental cultures. Making the necessary changes has very little to do with process or having the best technologists around. Instead, it’s about having a team that is competent and more importantly, one that is passionate about inventing, creating and working in a very special environment.
You must encourage team members to frequently debate solutions and ideas and not have the fear, of their novel ideas, being rejected by management. Our goal was to develop a team that is focused on delivering value, each and every day, which led to our adoption of the Agile philosophy.
We recognized we are not just building a team, but a community at work. Something so strong it does not require a heavily structured hierarchy to operate. Fundamentally, it is a deep transformation in the way we think; a change from the inside out. Something each person carries with them as they leave the office.
"The only way to do Agile right is to completely immerse oneself in the principles and overall true intention of this new way of thinking"
We were taking a path of true empowerment, one that enables team members to make decisions in accordance with basic guidelines. It is not about saying the company empowers employees because it sounds good, but a philosophy where the hierarchy is so tremendously strong that team members can feel confident to make decisions without the fear of job loss.
As cliché as it may sound, success is about having the right people. The key, however, is to bring together people who share the same values and a common culture, those that fully embrace key objectives. When they deeply believe in them, these core values extend into their personal lives and they become a group of people united by something greater than a common profession. And, it translates into tremendous efficiencies, unity, drive and real change.
The only way to effectively implement Agile is to completely immerse the team in its core principles, sharing how this new way of thinking would free them from archaic, cumbersome processes. To do this, leaders must first completely embrace the change, “walk the talk” and make tough choices that are fair and based on a new set of common values that have been accepted by their teams. To truly inspire, they must also convince and not impose. And more than ever—leaders must be strategic, not tactical and exercise true honesty and transparency.
This transformation is not easy. At times, it can be painful. But, in the end, it is worthy of the effort. A leader must embrace Agile fully, making it a part of everyday life. It is the only way to break the waterfall and hierarchical mentality, empower new thoughts, and fuel sustainable innovation in a team.