The Older I Get, the More Agile I Am
In which Jill cops to her own transformation.
"Business disaffection with IT can take many forms, but it is usually the result of lack of delivery or the perception of IT 'science projects.'”
— The New IT: How Technology Leaders Are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill, 2015), page 23.
I’ve always been one of those people who needs to gather all the information before making a decision. Maybe it’s a Virgo thing. Or maybe the introvert in me wants to avoid interactive brainstorming sessions by hanging a sign that says, “Read the document” on my (closed) office door. Or maybe I’ve got a touch of OCD. Hang on a minute I need precisely three squirts of Purell, right hand first...
OK, I’m back.
This thoroughness manifested itself bigtime when I was a management consultant and a master of the strategy map. I could waterfall a corporate strategy to an initiative into business requirements into data requirements into a conceptual data model into a... You get the idea. Only someone who craves rigor uses the word waterfall as a verb.
But over the past decade, I’ve watched these top-down delivery methods wane as managers embrace agility. In fact, I just heard a brilliant endorsement of agile delivery from Anthony Perez. As executive vice president of strategy for the Orlando Magic, Anthony has made analytics a component of the Magic’s evolution from an NBA team to an entertainment mega-brand.
Last month, Anthony and I led a Q&A keynote session at the Disney Data and Analytics Conference, where I had a chance to interview him about how the Magic exploits BI and analytics. Sure, he’s a sports exec now, but he cut his teeth in financial services and he gets how analytics can be a game-changer. We discussed how the Magic use data to enrich the fan experience and how analytics is driving new strategic opportunities in sports and entertainment. He was circumspect and engaging, adeptly fielding audience questions and sharing stories about how technology has helped the Magic manage business operations and engage fans.
At one point, I asked Anthony whether the Magic’s analytics efforts had changed the way the organization delivered new business capabilities. He paused for a second then said, “I realized we needed to take more risks and do things faster.” Addressing the audience directly, he offered this thought:
“We can’t know everything about the potential of a project. You start over-engineering things that way, and you end up getting nothing done. Better to start something, experiment and refine over time. We’ve delivered some of our biggest successes that way.”
In the new era of the lean startup, the so-called pivot has gone from being a source of shame to a veritable PR bonanza. “We’ve pivoted. And we’re looking for beta testers,” erstwhile online wish list site Taggr recently announced on its home page. And what’s wrong with a pivot or two? Increasingly, nothing — as long as the company moves deliberately and nimbly into an adjacent area where it can leverage its assets and streamline its delivery.
In a client meeting the other day I heard someone say this:
“Let’s quickly circumscribe a small, controlled project. It won’t last more than two weeks. And it will give us a chance to gather some data, build a quick sandbox, do a little discovery work and lift our heads to see what we’ve got. Then we’ll sift out the nuggets and decide what’s next.”
Then I realized that someone was me. Waterfall as a verb? I guess I’ve pivoted, too.