Agile Application Management in VUCA World

Alex Prohorov, VP-Application Development, TRAC Intermodal
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Many IT professionals these days are getting more unpleasant encounters with unexpected and unknown problems, finding themselves in deep water of the new VUCA world. Throughout my 20-year IT career I could never envision my world, that I am so familiar with, changing so drastically and so quickly. For those of you who don’t know what VUCA means or stands for, it is a fairly new managerial acronym short for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. In simpler terms it can be translated as crazy and unpredictable environment with a lot of variables and tons of challenges that require a modern leader making difficult (sometimes impossible) decisions every single day. I’ve been leaving in this realm for the past 4-5 years and I can tell you that my past experience and principles of an IT professional simply didn’t apply in this new unhinged habitat, because you just can’t prepare yourself for a VUCA world.

My primary domain has always been Application Management and I have grown through the ranks starting from the very beginning to the current position where I am making decisions across the entire IT department and potentially, the whole organization. When VUCA world came knocking, I didn’t really recognize it right from the start and for the first 6-9 months I was at loss, trying to figure out why virtually none of my prior experiences and best IT practices worked for my teams. Once I came to complete realization of what happened, I had to start thinking and behaving differently than before, looking for an answer on how to lead and change my Application Management organization under new circumstances.

The best answer I was able to find to these volatile and complex times is Agility and I’m talking about 360 degree Agility where it encompasses all aspects of my job, including Agile Leadership, Agile Development Process, and Agile Application Management approach. We all know that the 21st century is bringing a frenzy of innovation and transformation driven by the continuing digital evolution and our new environment of accelerated uncertainty and change is not going to abate and settle down any time soon. Hence, current IT leaders should strive for Agility all around and if they haven’t started doing it yet, then they are already behind the curve and have to play the unpopular catch-up game now.

  Agility is my answer to a VUCA world challenge when it comes to Application Management  

I was able to achieve the harmony required to sustain and enjoy continuous success in a VUCA world only by making continuous shifts in people, processes, and technology. The ability to do it requires the capability to sense and respond to all changes in the IT and business environments with actions that are not only laser-focused, but also rapid and adaptable. This is what it means when I define a true Agile Leadership. Non-Agile leaders rarely work with team members directly on a face-to-face basis, making them to rely on a variety of virtual communication channels, but more effective Agile leaders always try to find the right balance between the task completion and relationship development. One of the other very important hard lessons for me was maintaining my staff commitment and engagement on long-stemmed multi-year initiatives that carry significant importance in achieving company business goals. I have experienced many times through my career how easy it is to lose the motivation of people, especially those whose talent is more needed by the organization in times of VUCA. This is where real Agile leaders must know how to keep the balance between the right amount of delegation and the right amount of strategic direction by creating the environment for people to develop new products and processes, allowing for required decisions to happen on real-time basis.

When it comes to Agile Development and Agile Application Management in a VUCA world, it is extremely important to remove functional silos and agile leaders must regularly model collaborative behavior and teamwork. So far, this has been the biggest challenge for me and communication plays the dominant role in achieving success there, but it is a topic for a different article. One thing that I was able to accomplish in my organization was combine and transform all Application development teams under one umbrella, using the same Agile Scrum methodology with an ultimate goal of functioning as one big IT machine. We still have a long road ahead of us in terms of achieving full synergy across the entire organization and department, but we are definitely better prepared for the new escapades coming from VUCA by working as a team, rather than a single unit or mechanism in the IT machine. When Application Development and Management come together with a full sense of commitment to our future, then it will be much easier for the business owners and the entire organization to anticipate change and initiate action against new VUCA curveballs.

In conclusion, Agility is my answer to a VUCA world challenge when it comes to Application Management and we, as global IT leaders, must be able to prepare our people (employees) for this new world and enable them to shift their mindsets and skills from expecting the upcoming change to being prepared and already doing something about it now. This is our primary and the most important responsibility at this time and if we simply ignore it, then we shouldn’t be leading teams, departments, and organizations in more innovative and evolutionary direction, because we simply don’t have the right vision and strategy for people who expect it from us.

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