“War and Peace and IT” Offers Napoleanic View to Digital Transformation

By Flux7 Labs
May 21, 2019

War and Peae and ITFresh off the presses this week is Mark Schwartz’s newest title, War and Peace and IT. Published by IT Revolution Press, the book is available in paperback, as an e-book and audio book. The author of The Art of Business Value and A Seat at the Table, Schwartz has crafted in War and Peace and IT a must-read for C-level executives and all IT leaders looking to effectively execute digital transformation that crosses barriers into the fray of competition and disruption. Despite digital transformation and innovation efforts, enterprises feel that their troops are not advancing. As a result, Schwartz’s latest book focuses on how non-IT leaders can work with IT to succeed in advancing their business goals amidst rapid change and innovation.

With a foreword from Napolean Bonaparte(!), the book claims to teach readers successful tactics for applying the mobile artillery innovated by Napolean to create technological agility. Specifically, the author proposes to:

  • Make war on outdated ideas
  • Aim mobile artillery at the old guard
  • Innovate to found a digital era
  • Make foie gras of the British!

What we ask of IT isn’t what we want of IT
Schwartz argues that enterprises must find a way to bring technology to the heart of their work and change their relationships with technologies and technologists in order to accelerate progress. Moreover, he suggests that specialist executives like CFOs, CTOs, and CMOs must participate outside their area of specialization in order to accomplish business outcomes. If IT’s job is to provide good “customer service”, it is failing in part due to the relationships between IT executives which often look like a war within a single dysfunctional family with each one feeling as bad about it as Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita. Indeed, this point is so important to Schwartz that he dedicates the final chapter to the Leadership Team, stressing that CXOs need not be territorial but they must focus on shared goals and visions.

What will help cut through this cycle and help C-Staff deliver ‘asks’ that are in-line with business goals is to think with a big vision and small execution. Many businesses, Schwartz contends, have adopted a model with a flawed way of thinking about risk and opportunity for working with IT. However, what most organizations want from IT is not delivery on schedule, instead, it is delivery as soon as possible. At Flux7, we agree with this approach whole-heartedly, prioritizing small sprints with meaningful and measurable outcomes over meeting scheduled timelines that tend to reject the benefits of an agile approach.

Evolving from Stone Age to Digital Age

While the author agrees that IT and the business are evolving, (discussing the pros and cons of the Waterfall, Contractor-Control, and Agility-Leanness Models) Schwartz finds that IT prioritization is still too focused on Return on Investment (ROI) or Internal Rate of Return (IRR) when incremental profit should be used instead to prioritize IT investments. While business leaders were once tourists in the crafts market when it came to IT spending, the right price depends on the workmanship, the vendor, the buyer and the moment, and cutting corners will incur technical debt — which, much like a credit card, must be repaid and accrues interest along the way.

Create a New Foundation

While Schwartz encapsulates the issues well, he turns his attention mid-way through the book to showcase ways the business can better address innovation and digital transformation. His answer: humility. He notes that to think that we know precisely how to fill the business need in a complex environment is hubris. As a side note, being humble is one of our core values here at Flux7. We firmly believe that recognizing that there is always room for improvement is a prerequisite to learning and continuous improvement.

In addition, Schwartz focuses on the fact that enterprises tend to attach too much weight to the risk of the new and too little weight to that of the status quo. Experimentation and changes of direction are both tactics to reduce risk. Conversely, delivery risks are not the right risks to be concerned about. Alongside traditional IS risks (e.g. Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability), the real risks according to Schwartz are:

  1. The risk of not accomplishing business objectives.
  2. The risk of not accomplishing them in the quickest, most cost-effective way.
  3. The risk of unintentionally exceeding the budget.

Schwartz concludes the book with an action plan for moving forward quickly and limiting risks. Specifically, he identifies four objectives of the early transformation stages that are critical:

  1. Tie IT initiatives to business outcomes
  2. Shorten lead times
  3. Emphasize delivery and results
  4. Treat requirements as hypotheses

While Schwartz gives directions for other Transformation phases, I’ll let you read the book to learn more about establishing a culture of society, continuous innovation, transparency, agility and more.

In all, Schwartz’s latest offering is full of references and quotes that give us a full, thoroughly researched view of the current situation for many enterprises. At places, it has a very good narration of concepts with a lot of figures and statistics, but in some places, I found that it lacks coherence, connection and misses flow. In all, it’s a good, solid read with interesting insights that anyone seeking to build a better relationship with their IT peers will benefit from — whether a C-level specialist or an IT peer. When applied with insights from your organization and with your company’s specific goals in mind, certain bits of advice will be sure to jump off the page.

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