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September 5, 2022

Summer Read Along: A Seat At The Table | Chapters 13 & 14 – CIOs at the Table

By Lucy Softich
Graphic showing the nine roles of modern, Agile CIOs.

Cover of A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility by Mark Schwartz, with offers advice for modern CIOs.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!


Well, here we are. After just a couple short months, we find ourselves at the end of our journey. I hope you had as much fun as I did!

Part III of A Seat at the Table consists of two chapters. Chapter 13: The CIO’s Place at the Table sums up the discussions from the rest of the book and delivers Mark’s advice for our modern, Agile CIO (don’t worry, we’ll get there in a moment). Chapter 14: Exhortation and Table Manners serves as a kind of call to action to this modern CIO to live boldly, take chances, and not be afraid of uncertainty.

I’m not sure I can do these chapters justice, but I’m going to try!

CIOs in an Agile World

If you’ll remember, Mark’s purpose for writing this book was because he saw a lack of advice for CIOs in our modern, Lean, Agile, DevOps world. Books for CIOs relied on old Waterfall structures, advising the CIO to try and earn his seat at the table by proving he could control his unruly IT department. Books on DevOps focused on empowering teams and transforming departments but gave little advice on what a CIO should do once the transformation is complete, besides “stay out of the way.” Clearly, something needed to change.

What is the role of a CIO in an Agile world? This book has answered that question slowly, chapter by chapter, but now it’s time to lay it all out.

The Roles of An Agile CIO

Graphic showing the nine roles of modern, Agile CIOs.

  1. Driver of Outcomes – like other parts of the business, a CIO must make sure their department is delivering outcomes, not just churning out features at the will of the business.
  2. Manager of Uncertainty – CIOs bring a fantastic ability to balance risk and uncertainty and make rational choices in the face of many unknowns.
  3. Steward of Assets – CIOs are responsible for three main assets that are very important to the company: the Enterprise Architecture asset, the IT people asset, and the data asset.
  4. Contributor – CIOs must bring their knowledge of technology along with them to their seat at the table and ensure that technological concerns are part of business decisions.
  5. Influencer and Salesperson – CIOs lead their team through a light touch, allowing their workers to do their jobs unobstructed while steering the department towards desired outcomes.
  6. Orchestrator of Chaos – a CIO helps create an atmosphere conducive to education, evolution, and improvement.
  7. Enabler – CIOs and their departments must allow all aspects of the business to have their needs met and have access to the systems and knowledge they need.
  8. Impediment Remover – the CIO acts as a protective force, ensuring that their teams can function as well as possible, removing anything that gets in their way.
  9. Manager of Managers – despite the need to move away from command-control structures in most aspects of Agile, the CIO can help manage activities from a higher viewpoint than anyone else.

You can read about these roles in more detail in this excerpt from the book!

Now, It’s Your Turn

CIOs face a hard road. Many businesses have set ways of doing things and specific expectations for their IT departments. Even companies that have already dipped their toes into Agility, or are already abandoning Waterfalls and embracing DevOps, may still be stuck in old patterns about how they relate to their CIOs. But with the level of technical knowledge that is now becoming commonplace, many people are ready and eager for CIOs to take on their new roles.

And, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that CIOs are primed for handling uncertainty. As Mark says:

The Agile way to manage risk is not to overanalyze, not to become mired in analysis paralysis, not to hedge and document as a way of covering one’s posterier in case things go wrong. No, the Agile way is to—boldly and with commitment—try what seems right and see if it works.

Good luck on your journey!

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
Avatar photo

Lucy Softich

Lucy is the Marketing & Social Media Coordinator at IT Revolution. She has a background in writing, marketing, and business.

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