#nzcio summit reflections

by Russel Garlick

Ok, so two days of trade stand working and C level exec schmoozing does not make the CIO Summit New Zealand the top of my “must attend” list. But when one of my peers came up to me and asked if I’d be interested in attending on a Tech Team Pass with him, I had a look at the programme and thought “yeah - why not”. At the very least, I’d get to spend the day with some of my colleagues outside of the office, catching up and swapping ideas.

What is the Tech Team Pass?

The Tech Team Pass is for the second day of the summit, and targets “CIO direct reports, technical team leaders and key IT advisors”.

There were three streams, with two offering a number of 20 minute talks, and one being hour and a half “how to” sessions.  I chose two of the longer sessions, and one set of the shorter talks.

It was somewhat of a mixed bag. There were some thinly veiled sales pitches masquerading as thought pieces, but in amongst some dross, there were two sessions that really stood out to me.

Jennifer Cherrington-Mowat – Building an agile culture – the value of being truly open

There is something really compelling about when a speaker opens up and is straight up about where things went wrong. Genesis Energy have been going through some major changes over the past year. Some things they got right, others they didn’t.

What is great to hear is that rather than dwell on the mistakes, they are staying true to their vision, but being open to iterate about the mechanics. The talk was well timed, as the news that Spark is restructuring 1900 positions had come out on the same day.

What is clear about the Genesis Energy story is that they are making it about their people. Their organisational change is not about process and putting up some whiteboards, it is about creating areas of focus that people can take responsibility for and organise around.

I especially liked how they are tackling getting the accountants involved with their teams by making them a part of the cross functional teams. Rather than letting them snipe at the sidelines and demand to see costings and revenues bound to deliverables, Genesis are getting the bean counters involved with the teams to see how they work and learn how to help build and refine business cases.

It is often at the more traditional end of the business, with the likes of finance and legal that we tend to butt heads when talking about improving our agility by adopting SCRUM or Kanban practices – where we get criticised for not having a plan, despite what in reality is a serious focus on planning. Genesis’ approach could be a blueprint for getting the entire business on board with this culture change.

Dianna Taylor - IT Project success rate – as an industry, we must do better

As a long time vendor to the NZ Racing Board, my interest was piqued by current NZRB GM of Technology Dianna Taylor’s session titled “How to: Deliver successful IT projects – learning from failing”. Rather than give examples from her or the NZRB’s experience, Dianna’s session was more based on research about the main reasons for IT project failure.

What set this session apart from the other one I attended was that it included a workshop. We were broken up into two groups and handed some questions to run through and discuss.

At first, I was thinking “awkward”, but as we moved through the questions as a group, people opened up and some really good discussions got going. What I appreciated most about this session was that it forced us all to break down some barriers and speak to people we wouldn’t normally.

This led to some follow on discussions after the session, which after all is a major point of any summit. It was just a shame that this came at the end of the day. Had it been first, I think those of us on the Tech Team Pass may have had a more collegial approach to the day, and there would have been more talking, discussions, and sharing of experiences.

Reporting back on the group’s findings and then moving on to her own findings from her research, Dianna left us all with a challenge. If the IT project failure rate is at 55%, and static at this rate for the last eight years, then we have to do better. Collectively as an industry we need to start trying to chip away at this.

So, would I go again?

I think there is more for the organisers of the CIO Summit to explore with the Tech Team Pass idea. There is definitely value in being able to get access to CIO and similar level executives in such a forum.

I came away with a better understanding of what goes on at that level, and how in my own role as an Agile coach and leading our agile practice here at Catalyst, I can support these people.

There does need to be a focus in the talks on sharing, over selling. The place for pitching your product is in the trade show.  The best value came from when people opened up, either by being truly open in sharing their experiences, or by running a workshop and getting us all to interact.

I hope to see more of this type of session at future versions of the CIO Summit. Who knows, maybe I’ll put forward a talk submission next year.

 

The Catalyst team at its stand at the NZCIO Summit
Tomas, Nicole, Igor, David, and Russel at the CIO Summit New Zealand