Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Meyer Georg, Chairman of the Board @ Preston Meyer AG.
How could you describe your career path in few words?
Zig-zag. Novelty-seeking. Curiosity-driven. Definitely non-traditional.
It began harmless enough. I started studying computer science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. After two semesters, I found that it was much too theoretical for me so I started looking for a job, which was a challenge for a “college drop-out” in Switzerland. After about sixty applications and a couple dozen interviews, I finally found a position as a programmer/analyst at Shell. There, I was much more in my element, doing hands-on work. I learned a lot about web-based technologies and databases/SQL, which I’ve used for many years since.
After that, I spent several years–some employed, most independent –as a software developer and architect. I detoured through academia, ultimately earning a PhDin Information & Decision Sciences, was a management consultant, set up an independent consultancy to offer process optimization and software, and worked in leadership roles (up to CIO for a publicly traded company).
Now I am in an exploration phase focused on the common themes that have accompanied me throughout my journey: finding the essence of beautiful, life-serving systems and organizations and battling needless complexity.
How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years?
A big benefit is the shift of perspective from inside-out (focus on activities) to outside-in (focus on value). As a customer, I love this because more effort goes into giving me a better product, service, or experience. The company benefits by channeling its resources to achieve a common purpose.
As more and more companies have agile practices, the higher the bar becomes for less agile competitors. Have you ever abandoned ordering something from a website because it was just too cumbersome? Sure, this could happen at an agile company too, but the more responsive to customer feedback, the less likely.
Moreover, generally, employees like a well-implemented agile way of working. It makes sense: they know what they have to do and have freedom in the execution. They are continuously improving. Offering a work environment making sensible use of agile practices is becoming table stakes for employers.
What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you?
One of the most successful transformations I got to witness–and this was almost twenty years ago so it wasn’t called an “agile transformation”–was a company that set up a new department to explore how to create business value with new technologies. In this department, “agile” just evolved naturally –prototyping, weekly reviews, developers meeting with end users, etc. When agile started to be spelled with a capital A and became a hot topic, they could say“we’ve been doing that for years”.
The department had a clearly delineated mission separate from the “traditional” IT department, which primarily focused on ERP and desktops. This reduced the friction and stepping on one another’s toes. Organically, a bimodal organization-like you’d find in many a Gartner presentation -had evolved. One key for this to work sustainably was that both departments were equally appreciated and recognized by the organization, to avoid “us vs. them” thinking and pointless competition or jealousy.
What stood out was the lack of using “frameworks” and “best practices”; the way of working emerged from common sense rather than complex frameworks. It was brought about by high-trust leaders with the right mindset, allowing for experimentation, holding on to what worked and changing what didn’t.
Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices?
For sure! Agile is about being quick on one’s feet, which is what we need in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. If you’ve seen it done right, you don’t want to go back.
For example, I’ve seen a manufacturing business reinvent big parts of itself in a matter of weeks. A new customer opportunity outside of their comfort zone presented itself but required almost immediate action. Through an agile approach and fast iteration, the business turned the opportunity into a success, which has boosted their growth for several years now. A less agile organization would have had to pass.
Organizations quickly accumulate enormous amounts of inertia for all sorts of reasons, such as competing demands, lack of strategic clarity, governance, risk aversion, empire building, etc. Agile can seem like a “leap of faith”–you have to let go of control for it to flourish. You can’t ask for five-year plan with precise milestones and a budget. You need aligned stakeholders who agree on strategic priorities to ensure teams can focus their energy on getting the right work done rather than getting pulled into different directions.
Another common challenge is the mistake of seeing agile as a “magic bullet” that solves all problems. “If only we were agile, things would be done faster/cheaper/etc.” It’s not a cure to an organization’s pathologies. For example, if an organization lacks in trust or suffers from inability to make or follow through on decisions, agility won’t fix that. You need the right mindset –throughout the organization. But once you have it, it’s hard to imagine working any other way.