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Why IT departments must reinvent themselves: Part 2

In my last blog, I tried to explain the factors that impact the direction that IT departments need to take to stay relevant in the current business scenario. In this edition, I share my thoughts on the change in the culture of work within IT departments.

As Thoughtworks CIO Dave Whalley says, "we believe that our IT departments should deliver the same way that Thoughtworks delivers to its clients". Traditionally, IT departments operate differently from the ‘delivery’ teams within the organization. This happens due to the nature of work, which in most cases is dominated by support and maintenance. This excuses them from being seen through the same lens as the delivery teams.

However, this is no longer an accepted excuse. In the last few months, we have moved towards restructuring our teams along the lines of how businesses operate. With the current focus on ‘value first’, it is no longer okay to operate differently from any other product team.

The expectation is that IT departments transform themselves into a ‘delivery focused’ team.

Does this mean they are no longer a support/operations team? Yes. It may sound strange, but I advocate for IT departments to turn themselves into an innovation led and delivery oriented organization.

Even though the primary focus of IT departments is on operations and ensuring that the business systems are running smooth, we need to constantly question the way we work. While it is important to keep the lights ON, IT departments need to lead the way by bringing business insights to their stakeholders, not just take orders.

Here are some simple things these teams can do:
  • Have a strong governance framework that helps prioritize your work along with your stakeholders. Make all your work visible to key stakeholders so that right prioritization can be done
  • Let the work be driven by the value that it generates for its users. If you are doing any work that does not offer value to the stakeholders or the team, question why you are doing it
  • Host internal planning meetings with the teams for weekly prioritization and to track the work progress. Define clear milestones and stick to them
  • Host regular retrospective meetings for continuous improvement
  • Establish proper communication channels for sharing your work and communicating with stakeholders. Establish a fast feedback mechanism that allows mid-way course correction and altering of priorities as needed
  • Host regular showcases for your work and allow teams outside IT departments and immediate stakeholders to give you feedback
  • With the focus on value creation, ask more questions on bringing efficiency, automation and self-service channels to the users
  • And, most importantly, empathize with your stakeholders and partners, understand their needs and talk to them in the language that they understand
Internal IT teams have a unique advantage within organizations because they know the internal business processes, know how the systems act and manage their infrastructure. This makes them best placed to understand the impact of changing business scenarios than anyone else in the organization.

If you think of any business vertical, any technology or innovation/ideation that happens within an organization, you would find that IT teams play an important role in them. This makes me believe that with the right focus, internal IT departments can really make a difference in the way organizations operate and do businesses.

Considering how important it is for T teams to work like delivery teams, there are some aspects of work and team culture that needs shaking up.  From my experience of leading teams across multiple organizations, including Thoughtworks, I have found that changing the culture of the team, is not easy:

However, to start the change, you can:
  • Ask yourself if you are working on the most important task of the day
  • Check the value of your work and the outcome you get out of it, repeatedly
  • Share and communicate your plans to a wider group
  • Ask if there are any alternatives to the repetitive stuff that you are doing? Is it delivering enough value to justify it? Can it be automated? Can it be done by users themselves? Can it be stopped?
  • Think of ideas that can help you improve your own workplace and office and help you learn more skills
  • Learn to co-create and collaborate across offices, across regions and teams
  • The team first, always!
  • Don’t limit your ideas to what only you can deliver. Learn to harness the power of collaboration and join people with different skills
  • Tell yourself and your teams that it’s OK to fail as failing early and failing faster and changing course is better than failing too late into the cycle
  • Turn your organizations into a continuous learning organization
While aiming to change the culture of the team, IT teams need to be able to cover the entire spectrum of scope that includes ‘Create / Build / Configure / Implement / Roll out / Own and Support’ of their infrastructure and products.

When the focus is shifted from BAU and maintenance to innovation and value creation, the work becomes more interesting and challenging. This allows IT teams to start making an even bigger difference than what they have been thus far.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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