Organizational Charts Should be Written in Pencil

Executing a mission, such as transforming an IT organization, requires an alignment in talent, aspirations, and context. It’s the people in the organization that will determine if this journey is successful or not. While leadership plays a critical role, and may even be the catalyst for change, it’s the vast majority of the organization, the boots on the ground, that truly matter.

My friend Peter High, an author, columnist, and advisor to global CIOs, identifies five principals of successful, industry leading IT strategies in his book World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter’s five principals are:

  1. People
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Project and Portfolio Management
  4. IT & Business Partnerships
  5. External Partnerships

In Peter’s model, each principal builds on the one before it, so it is no surprise to me that he begins with People. Having the right engaged, knowledgeable, and willing talent is the most important aspect of formulating an IT strategy.

 “Without the right people doing the right jobs at the right time, it will be nearly impossible to achieve excellent performance.” – Peter High

I think Peter’s statement is powerful because he includes the element of time, suggesting that the org structure should be fluid based on the desired business outcomes. Periodic reviews of the IT org structure can be an effective way to ensure you are aligning IT staff and leadership with business initiatives. While difficult in practice, I find it is best to construct the desired org structure without slotting the existing staff.  And only then begin to fill in the chart with individual names based on their unique skills, talents, and experiences. This method helps to identify critical gaps where desired business outcomes may require a skill set you are not properly staffed to fulfill. You can then decide the best approach to closing these gaps by training, hiring, or reassigning personnel.

Managing through change is a skill and an experience that should be highly valued. Think about how often you hear the word “transformation” when talking with IT leaders. It seems every company is transforming in some way or another. Transformation requires doing things differently. Said another way, without change, you cannot successfully transform. Leaders who are willing to morph their roles and coach and guide their staff through these changes are critical.

Leaders should clearly communicate any organizational change and the context for the change to the entire staff. This is an important step in building a culture among all employees who may more readily accept change, applying their brain power and skills to moving forward. The absence of proper communication leaves a void that I have seen filled with distrust, conspiracy theories, and generally distracts the staff from the mission at hand.

Others are showing support for a recurring scheduled of organizational changes.  Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat, penned a great article just today entitled Why CIOs should change their minds (and their organizations) once a year. Lee makes the case that annual org changes provide dual motivations, aligning to current business goals and providing his staff with a sense of purpose.

 “When you commit to adjusting your focus on a regular basis, not only can you better align with the right opportunities for business growth, you can also better develop skills and capabilities within your IT organization.” – Lee Congdon

Paul Chapman, CIO of Box, wrote an article earlier this year on LinkedIn entitled CIOs: Lead People, Not Technology. He closes the article by noting the following, “Ultimately, it’s not enough to think about where technology is going. You have to think about roles and the entire IT team structure—because you’re not leading technology, you’re leading people.” I think he’s spot on.


In a twelve part series about IT business transformation, James LaPlaine explores the need for the modern technology leader to be a catalyst for change, leverage IT value as a corporate strategic weapon, and lead the way for complete financial transparency. Utilizing this approach, today’s technology leader can provide the foundation for the company to build better products and services and gain approval for technology led initiatives that often struggle for executive support and funding.

Previous articles in this series are:

Part 1 – IT is a strategic weapon

Part 2 – Moving IT from Cost to Value

Part 3 – Addressing Technology Misconceptions

Part 4 – Start with a financial model

Part 5 – Goals of an IT Financial Model

Part 6 – The Model Flywheel

Part 7 – Lessons from AOL’s TBM Journey

Part 8 – More Than a Model

Part 9 – Eventual Consensus, Iteration, and Be Manic: A Map to Building an IT Financial Model


2 thoughts on “Organizational Charts Should be Written in Pencil

  1. Another great post James. And another book on the must read list!

    On a related angle to this you might find of interest is the IT Capability Maturity Framework Developed original by Intel IT and Boston Consulting Group it is now a super rich framework that includes organisational capability development as a capability I.e. The framework recommends that an IT organisation has a full time focus on making sure it has not just the right capabilities but also at the right maturity. The main challenge with the framework is its depth but if, once you have designed your new org structure you want to help your people manage their own development this is a great tool in my opinion having used it in anger with a number of clients.


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