CIOs and COOs generally play a more supporting role than their more glamorous counterparts in marketing, sales, and finance. You can turn that to an advantage if you want to build a better relationship. Both executives are on the spot from one day to the next to make sure that all the company's applications are up, and that all the company's operations are running smoothly. They are the ones who catch it when things go wrong.
As a CIO (or aspiring CIO), you already understand a lot about operations. You know what it is like to run a datacenter and depend on other people to pay attention to details and do their jobs carefully. You know what can happen when things outside your control occur suddenly. Running a whole company or collection of companies is every bit as challenging as running a datacenter. When operations break or need to be rolled out, the COO is the one under pressure to get stuff done. IT can be a huge help, and the COO knows it.
COOs are focused on getting things done every 30, 60, and 90 days, because companies live and die based on quarterly reports. Those reports are the official record of how the company is doing. Important people see those reports -- CEOs, CFOs, directors, etc. COOs want to be seen in those reports as delivering positive results.
For that reason, business agility isn't just a talking point for COOs these days. And business agility depends on IT agility.
You and others in the IT group are probably experimenting with or already using agile methods. You and your staff are developing the skills and procedures for getting things done in 30-day cycles (or maybe even two-week cycles). Think about how your IT infrastructure and apps support the business operating units. Think about business operations that the company wants to improve or launch. How could you apply agile approaches to deliver the IT support those operations need?
Tell your COO that you'll buy lunch, and that you want to hear about the most important business operations for showing positive results this quarter. Take notes during lunch. When the COO sees you are really listening and even writing things down, you will get lots more information without having to ask. Keep writing down what you hear. You will hear whatever is worrying the COO most, and that's what you need to know. That is where IT can make the biggest contributions right away.
At the end of lunch, you will have a lot to consider. Tell the COO you'll be back with some ideas and recommendations in a couple of days. Schedule that followup meeting before you get up from the table. Now you have a short-term deadline to meet. That's good. You'll have to be agile to meet that deadline, and two days should be plenty of time.
As you go back to your office, you might have a moment when you suddenly regret what you just got yourself into. Feel the fear, and do it anyway. Take a deep breath. Remember that, in every situation, there are significant improvements that can be made in 30 days or less. Once those improvements are made, they provide bases for the next improvements as you continue your journey toward your ultimate goal. That's what agility is all about, whether in IT or in business.
Look at the operations the COO told you were the most important. Look at the IT infrastructure that supports them. Look at ways to augment and extend that infrastructure by combining it with new technologies (like cloud services and SaaS apps). Minimize custom coding as much as possible. Play with ideas to deliver useful capabilities every 30 days. Find ways to build on these capabilities, so that you deliver big improvements in 90 days.
Illustrate these ideas with some simple diagrams and timelines. Describe the capabilities you can deliver every 30 days. When you meet again and lay out these plans, you will have the COO's complete attention. Inevitably, the COO will want to make changes and develop some things in a different sequence. But don't take that personally. It means your diagrams and timelines are communicating your ideas effectively. As the COO looks them over and makes changes, relax. Sit back in your chair. The two of you have just embarked on a journey that bodes well for both of you.