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  • James Kelly

Article: 12 questions an agile CIO & leader should ask themselves, weekly

As a CIO, how well do you manage your people and projects? You're in a unique position to able massive improvements - but only if you have all the puzzle pieces ready.

Even with the general industry acceptance of agile methods, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about how to apply these methods and how to tailor processes based on specific customer and project needs.  Making sure your agile practices are working and appropriate is crucial to your role as CIO and as a leader.

Ask yourself these questions and see what you could improve next week.

1. How do you keep day to day engineering activities aligned with your long term strategy & overall direction for the company?

Even though every customer and every project is unique, everyone still needs to be moving in the general direction of your vision.  You may be the leader on paper, but are your team members following your lead? Do they even know your vision?

2. How do you involve customers in your projects?

The customer needs to be involved in backlog prioritization.  If your developers simply make unilateral decisions on which features they want to work on, then the customer is unlikely to be a customer for very long.

3. How do you budget and manage the cost of unknowns on your projects?

With some agile implementations, many teams don't have clear boundaries and thus prioritization of what actually gets build can quickly turn into chaos.  Or it may be "90%" done and never actually finished.

(supplementary question - How do you measure the productivity of your project managers and software engineers?)

4. What are your teams developing for the customer & will customers be prepared to pay for the product?

Your team members should have a clear understanding of the critical features that are expected.  That way they have context to help prioritize the product backlog.  The product manager needs to provide the situational awareness of where the product is (ultimately) heading.

5. Do you trust the decisions being made by your product managers, project managers and engineering staff? (& do they reciprocate that trust?)

In an agile environment, trust and collaboration are crucial to a productive environment. Project managers and individual engineers need assurance that their decisions are respected and accepted within their scope.

6. How do you justify the problems experienced by customers during involvement in agile-style projects to you CEO, Board of Directors or shareholders?

Every project has issues and everyone has at least one difficult customer. Being prepared for the inevitable 'why isn't agile working?' question will give you the impetus to drive improvements in understanding across your company and beyond.

7. What processes and methods are your staff following?

Remember that agile does *not* mean no process. It's critical to know that team members are following what was agreed. Everything changes over time and not necessarily for the better.  e.g. the length of your Sprints that you agreed a year ago may now be too long.

8. How do you keep informed of the state of your projects (in real time)?

An end of month report is ok, but ancient history these days.  If you don't know the state of projects as of the last day or two, you need to drastically improve your information flow.

Take a walk around the office and look at the Info Radiators.  Ask some questions.

9. How do you align and pay for new products to be developed and for improvements to existing products?

You can build in some money for "product development" into every project budget.  That way every time the margin is squeezed, new products can still be funded and benefit existing and future customers.

10. What value do your agile coaches add?

Coaches need to train and support the team, and then leave.  If you have long-term coaches, could they be better employed as project managers?

11. What are your 6 key operational measures?

It's great to have lots of data, but what you need are the critical few items for you to make informed decisions.  So often CIOs want as much data as possible.  Instead determine the fewest number of measures to gain the best possible understanding.

12. How are you recruiting staff suitable to your company?

Think about whether you trust the hiring decisions being made by your team.  Having a low staff turnover is not necessarily the best outcome - not having too high a turnover.

What can you improve today?

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