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July 28, 2022

Summer Read Along: A Seat At The Table | Chapter 4 – Planning

By Lucy Softich

Cover of A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility by Mark Schwartz, a guide to strategy and planning within an Agile context.In this series of blog posts, follow along as we revisit Mark Schwartz’s book A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of AgilityFive years after its publication, it’s still highly relevant and chock full of tips, tactics, and learnings. Join us as we follow along with Online Marketing Assistant Lucy Softich as she reads through the book for the first time. Make sure you start with the introduction post!

We’ve made it to Part III: Earning the Seat, the longest part of A Seat at the Table. Chapter 4: Planning really gets into the importance of planning well, and the key differences between a traditional plan and an Agile plan.

In traditional structures, be they Waterfall or other, plans are very rigid things. The whole idea is to stick to a plan, which means you deliver on time, on budget, and hit all the prescribed milestones and checkpoints along the way. As discussed in previous chapters, this is a near impossibility with complex, ever-changing knowledge work like IT, and yet many departments are held to the same standards as more straightforward work.

However, that doesn’t mean that plans are unnecessary in an Agile structure; they just look different.

Planning with Agility

Although terms like “Agile,” “DevOps,” and “Scrum,” are relatively new in the grand scheme of things, they are just old enough that some of the original meaning has started to drift away, replaced with assumptions based on years of theory, discussion, and TEDTalks.* When you hear the term “agile,” have you forgotten what it really means?

From Merriam-Webster:

agile (adjective)
1marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace.

The whole Agile movement is about being flexible; being able to quickly and efficiently spot issues or opportunities, and adjust accordingly. When you apply this thinking to planning, you are able to come up with plans that don’t dictate processes so much as guide them. Plans can be changed and should be as new learnings emerge. This also clarifies the new role for our long-suffering CIO. As Mark says:

In the plan-driven approach, managers can only make decisions about what to write in the plan; once the plan is launched, their influence ends. In an Agile approach, the manager has continuous transparency into the status of the project and can adjust the plan to get the best result.

This opens up a lot of possibilities, both for the CIOs and for the teams they oversee. It opens the door for more robust questions at the beginning of a project and a better focus on business value and your team’s abilities. 

Budgeting with Agility

Mark also touches on the aspect of budgeting that is inherent to plans of this kind. Although even an Agile IT department may be subject to arbitrary budgets from on high, they can still have flexibility within the department. Applying the same concepts of Agility, budgets can be fluid, with money shifting from different areas as priorities shift and new opportunities or needs present themselves. Again, this is another area where a CIO, with their higher viewpoint, can help guide their teams to success and that most important of goals: business value.

And that’s it for Chapter 4! Tune in next week as we continue our read-along!

*If you’d like more discussion about using the concepts of Agility without focusing too much on the terminology (as weighted as it may or may not be for your team), you should pick up a copy of Sooner Safer Happier by Jonathan Smart, Zsolt Berend, Myles Ogilvie, and Simon Rohrer.

Jump to a Chapter

Introduction & Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Kept from the Table
Chapter 3: A Nimble Approach to the Table
Chapter 4: Planning
Chapter 5: Requirements
Chapter 6: Transformation
Chapter 7: Enterprise Architecture
Chapter 8: Build Versus Buy
Chapter 9: Governance and Oversight
Chapter 10: Risk
Chapter 11: Quality
Chapter 12: Shadow IT
Chapter 13: The CIO’s Place at the Table & Chapter 14: Exhortation and Table Manners 

- About The Authors

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