The CIO & COO Relationship

Michael Hugos, Principal, Center for Systems Innovation | 3/11/2014 | 9 comments

Michael Hugos
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.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
shakeeb   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/31/2014 10:54:23 AM
Re: The CIO & COO Relationship
Human skills and tactics are important tools to survive in business. These will help in creating strong relationships among each other.
shakeeb   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/31/2014 10:02:38 AM
Re: Look for underlying needs as well
Well this is an interesting article. After all thank you for sharing these valuable hints. As you said this could lead in creating a better image on IT.  
shakeeb   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/31/2014 9:57:27 AM
Re: The CIO & COO Relationship
CIO and COO should have a string relationship. This will help the COO to understand the CIO needs. At the same time it will enables in having proper communications too.
kstaron   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/20/2014 4:30:37 PM
Look for underlying needs as well
I like this idea. It's helpful if you can not only get the COO to talk but be able to get to some of the underlying needs that maybe aren't being talked about. If a CIO can really assess the situation so operations can run smoother in the next 30/60/90 days, everyones going to be pleased.
Nomi   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/14/2014 3:44:46 PM
30 Days Reports

The word accountability is yet very common but dreadful word for the employees of an organization. Mostly everyone talks about this word. Actually demanded by the stakeholders, required by share holders, essential for the managers and at the same time fearful for the employees. In the same way 30/60/90 day's reports are one way of accountability and calculating the success deviation from defined path of an organization. 

Zaius   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/12/2014 11:39:23 PM
Re: The CIO & COO Relationship
@Curt: very true. A skillful CIO may fail and a mediocore CIO might shine of the former lacks people skill, and the later has it. People skill is the door opener after you have left your very 'techie' positions, then it is game of 'judgement, careful decisions and people skill'.
CurtisFranklin   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/12/2014 10:16:28 AM
Re: The CIO & COO Relationship
@zerox203, I've been in the business world for a rather long time and "build relationships" is the best advice I can imagine giving someone. Skills are important, education can help, and natural ability makes everything easier, but if you can't build solid relationships with those around you then you'll have very limited opportunities to use the other things.
Michael Hugos   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/11/2014 1:10:32 PM
Re: The CIO & COO Relationship
@zerox203 - Thank you for your kind words. There will be one more article in this series to talk about one last executive, the "capo ti tutti capi" or captain of all captains, also known as the CEO.

Relationships in business are mostly based on what you have to offer. People are busy and don't have time for chit chat, but if you offer them something they know they need to solve a pressing problem of theirs... well they always have time for that.

IT has so much to offer and everybody knows it now. For reasons not entirely clear to me, many IT people have adopted a bunker mentality that causes them to hunker down and obstruct change. They themselves may not change but the rest of the world rushes on past them, not even noticing them any more, or listening to whatever is their latest excuse for why something can't be done. As a great songwriter once said, "he not busy being born is busy dying."

It sounds to me like you will be a CIO, and probably sooner than you imagine. There is huge demand that grows every month for experienced IT people who understand technology and can see how to integrate IT with business operations and get things done in 30-60-90 day cycles. As a great starship commander often said, "Make it so."

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zerox203   The CIO & COO Relationship   3/11/2014 11:03:59 AM
Re: The CIO & COO Relationship
Another worthy entry in this series, Michael. I don't know if this is to be the last one (I feel like we're running out of executives), but now is as good a time as any to mention how much I appreciate these articles, and how much they've helped me. I'm not a CIO myself, but they've given me a window into the workings of the higher offices. Not only are they instructive in what I ought to do if I ever make it there, but they also do a good job of showing what your average CIO does wrong - IE what not to do. That might be just as valuable an insight.

For me, today, there's still something to take home here. Maybe it sounds kitschy, but this series really has me feeling the weight of interpersonal relationships in my work life. It's something that anyone can say as throwaway line - 'build relationships', but it's something else entirely to really explain what that means and demonstrate the real benefits of it. Personally, this series has helped me to see how going out tomorrow and building a relationship that didn't exist before could help me the very next day. That's all the motivation I need.

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