How to break down issues, prioritize, pick the top impact items, and trust what you know.
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated — so said Confucius nearly 2,500 years ago. I’m sure he didn’t have our technology-centric world in mind when he said that, but the idea behind the saying is nonetheless relevant for today’s CIO. In fact, it is our job to simplify an increasingly complex world.
We are now central players in the business growth strategies of geographic expansion, acquisition, new products and services as well as efficiency efforts. Against such a backdrop, we impact leadership adaptability, agility, transform at the speed of business and accelerate the pace of change.
Whether it’s infrastructure, networks, servers, software or integration points, our job is to manage the intricate web of technology and the resources driving these efforts and, just as important, is to communicate the complexity to others. Often failure is a result of complexity that comes with the competing demands of keeping existing business running while executing new initiatives.
CIOs play an important role in a management dialogue. We have the opportunity and the obligation to help break down complexity. Using storytelling and other techniques to translate the seemingly convoluted verbiage into simple, digestible ideas may not be a traditional skill set of most CIOs, but successful are those who have adopted this approach and are changing the conversation.
Break it Down
Take the example of large transformational initiatives. It is well documented that large and expensive business and technology efforts have a high failure rate, despite the fact that they have a tendency to fail due to predictable and foreseeable reasons.
Often failure is a result of complexity that comes with the competing demands of keeping existing business running while executing new initiatives. It’s like trying to change a flat tire while the car is still moving at highway speed. The most simple of challenges can create friction, distraction and roadblocks. Enter the ‘hero’ who says to the working teams, “All you need to do is [insert any broad, generic solution].” And that’s when things start to go awry.
A more effective approach is to break down this complexity by asking simple, direct questions (even when you already know the answers) and help your teams come up with options and solutions. Examples include:
- What is the full scope of the issue the team is facing?
- Can the team get to a common problem statement that they can support?
- What options exist for remedy? Short term, medium term, or long term?
- What is the ‘blow your mind’ option (as in, if this was your own company and you had an unlimited checkbook…)? How difficult would that be to achieve?
- What are examples of how this challenge impacts the way we engage our customers? Or impacts the way you work? Or creates a bottleneck? Often times, you’ll find that this process surfaces unspoken, unseen and unknown roadblocks and is contributing to conflict.
- What is the top priority in order to achieve the expected outcome?
- What role/tool/process is missing in order to move forward?
- What are the linkages to the business strategies and top project priorities to help teams visualize the line of sight to the value?
Your success as a CIO is as much about how well you can simplify and demystify the complex world of technology as it is about how smart you are.
In addition to creating probing questions, use analogies. Give the example of how cell phone and limited data plans can incur huge overage fees from kids surfing the web as a way to explain the need to monitor web traffic when moving to cloud-hosted solutions. Or the analogy of going on a journey to break down work efforts to create visibility and alignment on deliverables and the work needed to be completed before the end product is usable.
Also, consider examples that illustrate why subject matter expertise is needed in defining an end-to-end process that will limit manual workarounds, review manual controls by auditors, and enable routine reporting to ensure that the governance of controls is also maintained.
Whichever method you choose, if you can help break down the downstream impacts, you will be able to create the ‘aha’ moments that produce alignment. Your success as a CIO is as much about how well you can simplify and demystify the complex world of technology as it is about how smart you are.