Chief Information Officer

VP of Enterprise Transformation at IBM Discusses How Becoming Agile Has Changed his Company’s Leadership Style and Culture

Ed Lovely, Vice President of Enterprise Transformation at IBM, talked about the remarkable results in transforming company culture using Agile.

Lovely began his thought leadership presentation at the 2017 Chief Information Officer Leadership Forum held in New York on June 6 by stating, “When I considered the topic of my presentation today, I thought I’d share with you some of the really cool technologies we’re using. We’re doing everything—Cloud, cognitive, AI, blockchain—everything you can think of. But then I thought maybe I should share with all of you distinguished IT leaders something that’s been far more important and enduring to our CIO organization at IBM, and something that’s been infinitely more difficult—changing our culture, our way of working, and, indeed, our way of leading in our CIO group.”

Lovely continued, “About five years ago, we decided to implement full Agile practices. This has been the biggest, hardest change, and it fundamentally transformed the way we lead. We had to go from a command-and-control, hierarchical, ‘inspect everything and trust no one’ leadership style to a clarity-of-purpose, team-based, retrospective leadership style. Our old style was lots of project reviews, status reviews, and heavy PowerPoints. That’s how we managed IT. We were very much a waterfall organization. Overall, this served us well, but it was arduous to manage large projects,” he said.

“We had to go from a command-and-control, hierarchical, ‘inspect everything and trust no one’ leadership style to a clarity-of-purpose, team-based, retrospective leadership style.”

“Following the implementation of Agile, our leadership roles changed from inspect, oversee, and punish to trusting and providing clarity of purpose so everyone in the organization knows what matters most to the company right now. Leadership needed to provide a productive work environment, which means the physical space as well as all the devices and software so employees have a safe environment in which they’re free to innovate. We needed to remove blockers that get in the way of engineers being able to move faster. It’s our job to inspire our teams to build great products. That’s the role of a leader in an Agile environment,” he stated.

“It’s all about empowering your team to be self-directed and end to end, and making sure that team has the ability to design, develop, test, deploy, and operate that product in production. We found that when we brought teams together and gave them that accountability, they preferred to work in that environment. They want to work shoulder to shoulder and face to face and be accountable for the birth, lifecycle, and sun-setting of that solution. That’s how they work best, and that’s how we do all of our IT now,” said Lovely.

“We found that when we brought teams together and gave them that accountability, they preferred to work in that environment. They want to work and be accountable for the birth, lifecycle, and sun-setting of that solution.”

As part of this Agile transformation, IBM went from fragmented teams to co-located teams, from long meetings to quick stand-ups, and from rule by control to empowered teams. “We also have great tooling that allows us to communicate and collaborate digitally. We found that the best performing teams are those that have stayed together, physically, the longest,” said Lovely.

“My greatest challenge is convincing our squads all over the world that they’re empowered to make decisions, that it’s OK to fail as long as they fail fast and fail forward, and that they do a retrospective on what went well, what didn’t, and how to get better going forward. We don’t want a culture where people are afraid to take chances and risk,” he said.

“My greatest challenge is convincing our squads all over the world that they’re empowered to make decisions, that it’s OK to fail as long as they fail fast and fail forward, and that they do a retrospective on what went well, what didn’t, and how to get better going forward.”

Agile enables digital reinvention by pushing organizations to be more user-centric, get to market faster, improve productivity, and empower teams to innovate, stated Lovely. “Since moving to Agile, we have more business capabilities being delivered to our company, better stability in our core operational systems, and most of our applications are getting to the ability to deploy to production daily through DevOps. Our velocity has gone up dramatically. The results are remarkable.”

Lovely outlined these reasons for becoming Agile:
• Increasing client experience (net promoter scores), revenue, employee engagement, and transparency
• Creating higher-quality products and services, a culture of innovation, and continuous improvement
• Reducing costs, risk, and time to market

Visit Argyle Executive Forum's 2019 CIO Leadership Forum: Embracing the Digital Revolution, from Information to Transformation in Chicago, IL on Oct 17, 2019

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