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Letter to a CIO – Understanding your dilemma and how to move forward. Part 2

This article represents the second part of a series called “Letter to a CIO”, which reports the discussions between the author of the letter, dr. Domenico Lepore Founder Intelligent Managemnt Inc. and several Chief Information Officers, with the aim of providing them with an effective methodology to address and successfully solve common problems that CIOs face in the Digital Age.

The result of this series of interviews helped dr. Domenico Lepore crystallize the scheme for his last book “Moving the Chains – an operational solution for embracing complexity in the Digital Age

Beginning of part 2

Let’s Get to the HOW: Above and Beyond Technology

A CIO MUST have the abilities necessary to accomplish the transformation from a silo-based Hierarchy to whole system optimization. Without this ability, CIOs will very soon become a relic, something that can be easily disposed of. (By the way, in case you have not paid attention, the Silo Worldview has already conceived your replacement, a new Sheriff in town for the new millennium, they’re called Chief Digital Officer. Suck it up)

And it all starts with the domain under your responsibility. Before CIOs can become the CEO’s vessel for a long-overdue organizational redesign, they must learn the ropes. CIOs need to understand how to organize and manage their (often limited) resources in ways that have the most impact on the business.

Let’s ask the right question, then: What is an organization and how can I build one with my people? Also, how should CIOs lead such an organization? Maybe a few words on “leadership” are in order.

Leadership and CIOs

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We are not fighting a war here and professional extinction is more the norm than it is the exception in this day-and-age; however, it is important to have some fundamentals in place before you cough up top dollars and walk into one of the many seminars on “Leadership” that seem to be blossoming everywhere in the academic world.

Two things must be absolutely clear to prevent the hype-induced leadership hysteria:

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Once this is clear, much of what leadership should mean for a CIO is…

  1. A leader owns a Theory: a set of well-tested assumptions within a well-defined realm of validity. Without Theory, Management – that activity we do to achieve our vision – becomes a “whack-a-mole” game and finger pointing becomes the rule.
  2. A leader is capable of communicating effectively inside and outside the organization why they believe the Theory will produce the desired results. In other words, the role of the leader is to create predictability of outcome for the efforts he/she requires from their people as well as constancy of purpose among them.
  3. A leader is selfless and relentless in elevating everyone’s abilities through continuous teaching and mentoring.

If we are game with the above points, then the next question is: “What are the elements that determine the success of an organization, so CIOs can focus on those and design it? Bob, remember, we are talking about the people you have to lead. It is up to you how you want to make them work. Understanding what triggers success is critical. Bob, we are looking at the fundamentals of sustainability, NOT Corporate crap. Listen up.

Digital: The elephant in the room

One of things that never ceases to amaze me is the speed at which idiocy infiltrates important conversations, how easily we surrender to our mental laziness and give in to nonsense. So, while we are all trying to understand how new digital technologies can help business succeed, and that is a conversation that should be promoted by wise CEOs and chaired by competent CIOs, all of a sudden the debate shifts to “The rise of the CDOs”. Yeah, all we need is another silo, right, Bob?

Digital, for a long time largely misunderstood and overlooked by CIOs, has the opportunity today to accomplish what Quality could not in the 80s: Unveil the process/project nature of work.

Digital is forcing us to rethink the way we can accomplish anything in light of what is technologically possible. Digital flies in the face of any last attempt to justify Hierarchies based on Business functions and local optima; it brushes away the lethal gunk of silo-thinking and holds leaders and managers accountable for any unnecessary, convoluted decision process.

Digital is where you as a CIO decide whether you want to be an evolutionarily justifiable creature or you want to fade into the pantheon of the past. To avoid the latter, CIOs like you must understand what drives the success of an organization, starting from the IT organization they are called upon to manage.

Building an organization fit for complexity

Organizations are human-based systems; they are networks of interdependent components (namely people, processes and projects) all aimed at a common goal. We learned this way back in the 1950s from Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of the Quality movement.

Building an organization fit for complexity

Organizations are human-based systems; they are networks of interdependent components (namely people, processes and projects) all aimed at a common goal. We learned this way back in the 1950s from Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of the Quality movement.

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Building such a system is the only viable strategy for a CIO and, yes, don’t fret, technology is in the picture.

As a CIO, you have the unique opportunity to build your organization without perpetrating the same mistakes as Corporate; you do not need to recreate silos in the management of the resources under your responsibility. You can, instead, focus on the intrinsic nature of the work and shape the management of it accordingly.

The essence of any sensible managerial action is the pursuit of Quality through people’s involvement in order to accelerate the flow of products and services that improve customers’ lives. A new Systemic Organization Design is needed to accomplish that; one that overcomes the inherent limitations of the conventional hierarchies, that truly unleashes the potential of the competencies available, promotes structured collaboration beyond the blablabla of “Team Building exercises” (you’ve done enough of those) does not rob people of their pride in workmanship and gives them back joy in work. We call the cartoon of the new Systemic Organization Design that depicts this “the chocked tube”.

fig 9

In essence: this is a system with well laid out interdependencies (internal and external) and “unbalanced” around a finite element of the system that we call Constraint – a true leverage-point that can be exploited to drive performance and must be protected by the statistical fluctuations in the system by a time-buffer. This constraint (a pool of physical or human resources) becomes the element that dictates the pace at which the system can deliver on its promises to the market. ‘The Goal’ (1982) is only the first of the books that Dr. Goldratt wrote to illustrate this point; since then a wealth of knowledge has been produced to expand and evolve ‘The Goal’ and Yours Truly and his team have been writing abundantly on this subject with the aim of elevating the transformational knowledge of TOC into a coherent and consistent way of designing and managing organizations.

The skinny is what follows.

End of part 2.


Further reading:

Here is a series of blog posts we wrote for CIOs.

You Say you Want a Revolution: Where Digital Transformation Is Taking You

Symptoms of Silo Sickness that CIOs Must Cure

Silos vs Systems: Solving the CIO Conflict

How to Grow the Whole Organization: Processes, Projects and the CIO are Key

How CIOs Can Break Free of the Silo Prison with Systemic Management

Digitalization Needs Cooperation: Start Transforming the Enterprise for the Digital Future

Digital Transformation and Systemic Change Management

How To Overcome Resistance To Change – a Systemic Approach

Digital Means We Must All Change Our Thinking

The Leaders We Need for Flatter Organizations


Systemic Organization Management

Resource Optimization


W. Edwards Deming: ‘Out of the Crisis’; ‘The New Economics’

Eliyahu Goldratt: ‘The Goal’ and other novels, North River Press

Domenico Lepore & Oded Cohen: ‘Deming and Goldratt: The Decalogue’, North River Press

Domenico Lepore: ‘Sechel: Logic, Language and Tools To Manage Any Organization as a Network’

Angela Montgomery: ‘The Human Constraint’

Lepore, Montgomery, Siepe Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’  CRC Press, New York.