I am close to completing my keynote at ETx Canada, a conference for Canadian
CIOs, CISOs, and
DigitalTrailblazers, and developed in partnership with the CIO Association of Canada. We’re in Kelowna, British Columbia, about a five-hour drive from
Vancouver, but only a short distance to wineries, lakefront views, dozens of
hiking trails, and challenging ski slopes. My kind of place.
The attendees prefer to keep their distance and sit at the back tables away
from the stage. It’s a safe play because, should I bore them, they can shift
their attention to their phones without guilt. So I speak from the floor,
with lights blinding my vision, but with some more room to maneuver. Making
eye contact and seeing the attendees’ reactions is hard, and I can’t glance
at my slides to keep track of my storyline.
I feel like I am floating in the clouds without a compass and think to
myself, “Are they having aha moments to my key message on why organizations
need Digital Trailblazers?”
I finish the talk, there are no questions, and I wonder how well the
audience absorbed my stories and lessons.
How I connect with audiences and silence my inner voice
|Higher Gear CIOs|
It is my third presentation in three weeks. Two weeks ago, I was in
Alpharetta, Georgia, at a dinner sponsored by
PrivOps, speaking to Higher Gear CIOs – a
great group of super-smart leaders asking me questions about becoming a
data-driven organization. And last week, I spoke, and Vinny interviewed me at the Fairfield
Westchester SIM chapter’s monthly dinner meeting. Thanks to Michael Voellinger of Yates Ltd for sponsoring copies of Digital Trailblazer for SIM members, and I was thrilled when Joe came up to me after my talk saying, “You killed it.” I only got to eat after my
talk, sitting across from Juanita, a brave marketing trailblazer in the company of mostly
men technologist executives. Earlier that day, she asked me a key question
about CTOs and CIO responsibilities, so I was totally prepared when one of
the highly experienced leaders in the group asked me the same question at
the end of my presentation.
I felt great at both events and believe my audiences totally got my message
on how Digital Trailblazers grab leadership roles, drive
proactive data governance, deliver impacting innovations, and empower people on
agile ways of working.
|Isaac at FWSIM|
But this time, I’m not sure if the messages stuck. Still jetlagged,
tired from a long day, and feeling like my timing was off. Cursing myself
inside for only having a single espresso and not a double before the keynote.
I should have killed one more slide and told longer versions of fewer stories.
I can see Ginny Holden, who advised me on the keynote, nodding her head and
saying to me, “I told you so.”
I only have a few moments for this quick retrospective. Those feelings are
looming in my mind, but I have to get my shit together because I go straight
from leading the keynote to moderating a panel of Allstars. Kevin Magee,
Microsoft’s Canadian CISO, and Denis Gaudreault, Intel’s Canadian country
manager, lead their own keynotes and are on my panel. Everyone wants to hear
what these executives have to say, and I want to draw out a meaty
Innovation and security – how can CIOs deliver on both prime directives?
What should CISOs say to their boards who don’t know the right questions to
ask? How is Intel changing the culture from “Intel Inside” – expanding from
one primary product Pentium line to competing with AI chips, delivering
massive-scale IoT capabilities, and addressing supply chain challenges?
My panelists don’t disappoint, and Phil, the CEO of
nGage Events, gives me a thumbs up as
we leave the stage.
Define principles by debating questions that expose tradeoffs
And now I’m looking for feedback, but there isn’t time. We’re going to round
table discussions, and I’m leading the one on agile innovation. I have a
full table of leaders from big banks, consulting powerhouses, small
manufacturers, and others. They’re here to vent, learn from their peers, and
ask me the tough questions.
We cover some real zingers.
1. How do we incorporate security into agile?
The question bothers one security and risk leader because his organization
is spending time and money standardizing agile practices across many DevOps
teams, but he’s not seeing a security “shift-left” mindset. Yes, there are
standards, but they are facilitated by an expert who must be consulted
before the dev team starts their implementation.
I have a solution for that challenge. He wants some support answering, “How
can security experts create guidelines, fewer guardrails, and very rare
speed bumps so that DevOps teams build security using design principles and
not by expert-in-the-middle directives?”
And this isn’t just a security challenge. Anytime subject matter experts
must influence developers on best practices, there are questions on how to
help agile teams become more self-sufficient by knowing, creating, and
following the applicable non-functional acceptance criteria. UX specialists,
data governance, architects, and IT operators all face the same
But before I can provide guidance, we veer to another question.
2. How can a small team of about twenty experience the
benefits of agile without the rigor?
That’s a softball question the size of a beachball, and I’m ready to pound
it. It’s an interesting contrast to the first question. Our first question
is from teams who need standards but not doctrines, and this smaller team
needs agile principles, not rigorous practices. I hope neither of them is
trying to be safe and attempt “scaling agile” because those agile release
train tracks are too rigid for their goals.
“We call it iterative, not agile. No need for us to use jargon that requires
I’m applauding in my mind. Fireworks and happy dances. I respond, “Yes,
that’s the right idea. Use the best practices to develop an approach that
works in your organization. Someone needs to prioritize the work based on
business value, but maybe you don’t want to call them product owners. Some
organizations have scrum masters, others will use a modernized name for
these responsibilities, like ‘scrum facilitator,’ and others will find ways
to operate without this role by assigning the responsibilities to others. Is
Yes, it is. If it’s delivering results and impacts. If the team improves
through retrospectives and when teams demo results to enable faster feedback
3. How do we become agile organizations when everyone has a
different vision of what it means to be agile and how to practice it?
I love this question, but I have to be careful not to go on the soapbox and
try to deliver a long monologue. It’s the end of the day, everyone’s tired,
and some of my colleagues have beers in front of them. WTF, where’s mine?
You see, fifteen years ago, bringing agile from startups to enterprises was
challenging but not complex. We had technologists who came from waterfall
project plans or dev shops with no practices. Scrum was empowering, and
having a collaborative discussion using stickies, notecards, and whiteboards
as the primary tools were far better than bogus Gantt charts without the
magic wands to make things happen on time, on budget, and on scope.
Today, it’s complex because everyone coming to an org has seen and practiced
some form of agile. It’s a SAFe, Spotify, LeSS cocktail of agile driven by
the loudest voices. Now I am all for fusion cuisines when a master chef is
leading the innovation, but I’m less of a fan of throwing several
ingredients in a pot to see what works. Not when my business is counting on
impacting outcomes, and agile is a means to deliver them, not the primary
I let my colleagues discuss this challenge and end the roundtable with a
simple comment. “Your organizations are all different. You should learn from
experts, but you’ll want to empower your guides, your Digital Trailblazers,
to figure out your agile way of working.”
Oh, I did get the feedback I was seeking, and people loved the keynote.
This story follows the style and writing from my book,
Digital Trailblazer. If you enjoyed
reading this post, you’ll love the book.
Not to leave you hanging – so in Episode 58 of the
Driving Digital Standup, I provide more and more answers to these three questions and formulate
your organization’s agile principles. You can watch it below, and I hope
you’ll subscribe to the channel