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[ARTICLE] Improving Business & IT Alignment with Tasktop

Improving the alignment between IT and the business has always seemed like a never-ending battle. While there’s been vast improvement in technical competency and well-intended alignment initiatives, the impact of IT on the business can often be hard to prove in a tangible way.

Executives on both sides of the aisle have often been left scratching their heads as they struggle to harness technology effectively in order to execute business plans. As Dean Leffingwell, creator of the Scaled Agile Framework® highlighted, you can’t do business agility without technical agility, yet technical agility alone won’t deliver business agility.

Then the pandemic intensified the digital-first world seemingly overnight. And alignment suddenly just kind of … happened. Why? Because it had to. Many enterprises have achieved years of digital acceleration in a matter of months. The sudden shift to digital interaction across all parts of our lives created a long-needed singularity of focus on end-users.

Many IT organizations grasped the opportunity to co-own, or even lead, the customer and employee experience. Now there’s a golden opportunity for IT to build on that momentum, harnessing the political capital, trust and respect they’ve rightfully earned to have their voice and ideas heard.

It’s key to recognize that there is no going back or reverting to the status quo. The multi-year transformation is dead, says Brain Solis, leading anthropologist and futurist. By 2027, it’s estimated that 50 percent of the S&P 500 companies will be replaced if they continue on their pre-pandemic trajectory. While this estimation was made in 2016, it’s likely the churn rate is even greater.

The time is now for business and IT leadership to capitalize on their recent success, as well as embracing and learning from failure, accepting it as a core part of any successful adaptation. They can do this by doubling down on the customer-centric product value streams (PVS) that have enabled business continuity and innovation.

Through incremental funding of these PVSs and measuring against key business results, they can continue to align IT effectiveness with business strategy. In doing this, you’re not only investing in products but in operations and your business model as you go, facilitating your evolution toward becoming a customer-obsessed organization that leverages technology to maximum effect.

Here are three ways that enterprises can continue to invest in their customer-centric trajectory and adapt in this age of intensified digital disruption:

  1. Accelerate roadmap around customer centricity
  2. Rebalance your IT portfolio for customer effectiveness
  3. Relentless continuous improvement of your product value streams

Accelerate Roadmap Around Customer Centricity

The impact of pandemic either deliberately or inadvertently laid the groundwork for utilizing existing technologies, as well as adopting a new set of technologies and services that enabled business agility to support internal and external customers. At the same time, IT executives may find themselves tasked with maintaining continuity of systems while also getting back on track with strategic initiatives and making up for a lost time. 

Yet we should recognize that IT organizations performed yeoman’s work over the past year and it would be wise to use the trials and tribulations of 2020 as the basis for a new roadmap. It’s an opportunity to scrap pre-pandemic roadmaps as they’re likely to be irrelevant to your current and future state.

Enterprises should take a second to revise their priorities through the eyes of their customers. After all, McKinsey research found 75 percent of customers have experimented with digital channels during the pandemic and will likely continue to use them. In other words, no business should take customer loyalty for granted. Quick-footed companies are using software to create seamless digital experiences that support and delight customers today.

Do your existing roadmaps put customer-centricity and digital experiences at the forefront? If not, you should take the time to identify what product value streams support their needs today, in order to build your business model around improving that customer experience.

Rebalance Your IT portfolio for Customer Effectiveness

“If you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong,” writes Terry Pratchett in I Shall Wear Midnight. With failed digital transformations well documented, it’s safe to say that due to the sheer scale and complexity of most enterprises, not many of them knew how their multi-year IT transformation was really going.

Your adaptive response to support customers and employees following the pandemic was the true measure of how successful your efforts have been. If you struggled to quickly pivot to a remote work environment and/or provide customers with the digital touchpoints they needed in their journey, then it’s critical that you baseline the performance on your IT portfolio before you make any more decisions.

By identifying what your customers need and expect today, you can prioritize the products that best support them and maintain alignment between the business and IT. Your customers can be external or internal, meaning your IT portfolio will typically include three types of products:

  • Business products (e.g., products in the market)
  • Internal products (e.g., shared services, products enabling business products)
  • Platform products (e.g., software development pipelines)

To simplify what this means, your portfolio consists of “the what” (products that deliver value to customer” and “the how” (the mechanics that produce the product). The success of “the what” is highly dependent on “the how”.

Now that business and IT leaders have a better idea of where to focus their energies, this helps them to cut through the fog to improve the digital experiences that matter most, as well as guiding them to areas to innovate. It also presents the perfect moment to begin putting the right measures in place to track their progress and enable them to pivot faster if their current approach isn’t working. Pinpointing inefficiencies is progress; it’s how you learn and adapt and cut waste.

Relentless Continuous Improvement of Your Product Value Streams

Cross-functional collaboration between IT and the business is the fulcrum of business agility and faster time-to-value. Decisions around digital transformation must come from the boardroom. For that, it’s key that IT performance is attached to business OKRs, such as time-to-market, customer satisfaction and retention, and cost of operations.

By measuring the flow of value across software-intensive value streams, such as app (external customer) or development pipeline (internal customer), against defined OKRs, IT and business leaders can have better discussions around what’s slowing them down and how to go faster sooner.

Through clear visibility into what a value stream is meant to be delivering against (and how fast it is delivering), leadership can begin putting in place mechanisms to close the feedback loop for data-driven continuous improvement. This enables them to identify the most pressing bottlenecks to begin to tackle and approve incrementally funding. And with a faster feedback loop from end users, they can learn if efforts to improve customer flow are on track and, if not, change the course of action at a faster clip.

By reorienting roadmaps around the customers and analyzing the IT portfolio around “the what” and “the how” of delivering customer value, business and IT can continue to be closely aligned to build on their herculean accomplishments in 2020 and thrive in 2021 and beyond.

At Tasktop, we’ve worked with Global 2000 enterprises to accelerate time to market and achieve business goals with value stream management. Interested in learning more about value stream management? Discover how it works here.

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