small team meeting in a large office
PHOTO: wocintechchat.com

Modern companies must stay ahead of the technological curve for continued success. And while it’s easy to embrace the startup mentality of employee collaboration and cross-business communication when you have just 10 people in your organization, how do you keep that same nimble mindset when you have hundreds of people in your IT department and even more across the entire organization?

When AT&T started a prepaid wireless subsidiary in 2012, I was part of the original team charged with building its infrastructure. Seamlessness is easier to achieve in startups, with small numbers of employees working in close proximity to one another.

After a new assignment took me away for a few years, I returned to the former “startup” in 2017 to lead the Cricket Wireless IT team, and I’m now part of an organization that is five times larger. As with any organization, there are regular IT issues, but with more applications, higher levels of integration and a rapidly expanding customer base, problems are now magnified. How do you navigate a river that’s wider than it used to be without getting swept away? Size is always a multiplier factor. The more people involved, the more complicated things become.

Resurrecting the Startup Mentality

In larger organizations, it’s easy to fall into a typical tower structure of information silos, which makes communication between business units more difficult. So I quickly resurrected the startup mentality in Cricket to encourage innovation. The steps we took to achieve this can be an invigorating addition to any thriving business, no matter the size.

The ability to collaborate and make decisions quickly is critical to implementing a startup culture. We simply do our homework, get the facts on the table, and make decisions together. This respectful give-and-take communication between business and technology makes the decision-making process fast and effective.

Small teams are naturally more cohesive than larger organizations, so they still have a place within the larger business. To become more nimble, create small teams that can move quickly yet integrate within the larger organization.

I aligned our focus teams on delivery, testing and operations to create a new organization called IT Enablement that defines and continually improves processes. IT Enablement manages our processes, work intake and tools to create seamless collaboration. We also defined our agile delivery methodology to embed end-to-end test resources into our teams.

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Stay Nimble, But Don't Rush 

An additional obstacle is making the best decision when taking calculated risks. Being nimble does not mean that you rush at all costs. Customer experience and system stability are key, so it is important to know which reasonable risks to take and how fast we can go.

As a leader, you must get people to buy into the overall strategy. You must have a well-thought-out and well-understood plan that everyone can follow. For seamless employee collaboration, the leader must set the tone. The team needs to know what the company vision is and where it’s going. I’m constantly communicating our vision through “lunch and learn” training sessions, regular informal meetings and one-on-one conversations.

But it doesn’t stop there. We hold quarterly all-hands townhall meetings, skip-level informational sessions and double-skip-level meetings to ensure we keep everyone on the team moving in the same direction. It also allows me as a leader to keep my finger on the pulse of the people. Every month, I send employees a note describing where we are in our journey. But even with a vision, you can’t stop when the environment changes. Sometimes you have to change the plane’s engine midflight, and that means seamlessness must permeate every aspect of our work. We want it in the technology we use, employee collaboration and customer experience.

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Try to Be Proactive, Not Reactive

So, if you’re at the forefront of technology and the possibilities it creates, can you plan better? If you’re aware of the advances that will transform business before they occur, can you be more proactive instead of reactive?

To simplify deployments at Cricket, we found ways to incorporate both open-source and microservice architecture concepts. Quickly performing software delivery in smaller modules was critical. We also had to help move our company toward an advanced software-defined network.

That’s where IT comes in. Our microservice architecture keeps us agile as the company grows. We must remain sharp and anticipate growth. That means using innovative technology and design structures in our interactions and planning.

While it’s important to create change, seamlessness and simplification never go out of style. They require ongoing dedication, investment and new thinking. Whether you just started with a new team or have been leading at your organization for years, tomorrow is a fresh start to prepare for your company’s future. The responsibility of a CIO is to get the company to the future faster — by acting today — with streamlined processes, integrated workforces and the latest technology.