CIOs Drive Transformation with Nuclear-Powered TBM

Bordered by the James River and surrounded by immaculately kept golf greens, the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg is a perfect place for reflection. What better environment for the dozens of CIOs who recently gathered for the TBM Council’s 7th annual executive summit to network with peers and weigh in on IT innovation?

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Industry leading CIOs and tech execs gathered in Williamsburg, VA for the TBM Council summit.

The area’s rich colonial history boasts another claim to fame. It’s home to Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), the sole designer, builder, and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and one of two providers of U.S. Navy submarines.

Summit attendees were treated to a private, once-in-a-lifetime tour of two nuclear aircraft carriers, one built in a traditional “on paper” environment and one built in a new digital realm. Hosted by NNS CIO and TBM Council board member Bharat Amin, the tour highlighted the impressive commitment Amin’s IT organization has made to a transformation that is revolutionizing shipbuilding.

»Related video content: A new era of transparency and communication at Newport News Shipbuilding

Back on land, Amin’s story reverberated. Pioneers in TBM as well as IT industry leaders from Caterpillar, Estée Lauder, Schlumberger, Irving Oil, the federal government, and others met to discuss their Agile and cloud transformations. Some offered valuable insights while others confessed to being early in their initiatives. Yet, all agreed everyone is in transition.

What quickly became clear is that tech execs are wrestling with familiar issues: multi-year investment strategies, portfolio trade-offs, organizational decision making, and more.

Event highlights

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Amin’s story about how cloud, agile, and TBM standards are fueling innovation in a 132-year-old, inherently risk adverse organization emphasized the fundamental ways IT has changed the way aircraft carriers are built. Using the CVN 73 as an example, the traditional process had been paper-based, from design to delivery. Today, the carrier of the future, the CVN 79, is coming to life via digital design in a digitally governed construction process.

CIOs used this inspiration to discuss the TBM tools and metrics that can and should be used to facilitate cloud and Agile transformations.


Most CIOs in the room had moved from typical waterfall-type methodologies to new processes that enable teams to move faster. (Humorously, conservative moves to Agile were referred to more than once as “Wagile” processes.) Most have Agile initiatives in play across the organization, but few had Agile as the de-facto way of developing all projects and services.

Though they acknowledged a need for long-range strategic planning, especially for large, more strategic projects, a number of CIOs reported using scrum teams as a way of allocating people and dollars and moving these teams around as units. There was some variance on whether those units were rebalanced quarterly, annually, etc. But the net was that though there is still a need for a multi-year investment strategy, today it’s at a higher level, with more manual adjustments made at the scrum team level.

Participants felt that as teams become both more Agile and move into DevOps, the line between run-the-business (RTB) and change-the-business (CTB) investments gets blurry. They feel challenged at times to understand what remains in CTB budgets. Teams might report that they’ve allocated to a service, they’re up and running, and 100% RTB. And yet, somehow, they’re doing CTB projects. This, CIOs said, results in some false reduction in these environments. Wayne Shurts, CIO at Sysco, pointed to TBM to help IT leaders build those distinctions into the Agile model.

Another issue is capitalization. “It’s a bad thing so don’t do it,” joked Shurts. He noted that the rules appear to be changing, and some companies are moving toward more capitalization, not less, while others are moving away from it. Attendees agreed it’s become a muddy area in terms of what can be capitalized, and a new approach to having project phases and having developers report the work they did in those phases, might simplify capitalization.

Business buy-in is key

From a financial perspective, business stakeholders who understand how an Agile model works also understand the value associated with reducing risk to the business. Agile allows them to prove a business hypothesis for far less than the investment required by a waterfall model.

Many agreed: engagement and shared accountability for outcomes determine success. If business owners don’t engage, several leaders indicated they are likely to move those projects off Agile processes and back to waterfall. It’s very important to have business participation.

Product managers are critical to Agile success

Product managers play a critical role in an Agile transformation, yet they have one of the toughest roles to get right. Not only do they own the backlog and the prioritization of customer needs, they are responsible for both the build and run costs of their products.

Much like a service owner in an IT-as-a-Service model, product managers rely on the transparency of their total costs, along with facts about quality, risk, and performance, to drive tradeoff decisions with business partners.

Because real change requires involvement from the business, several CIOs expressed interest in leveraging long-term staff for Agile roles.

One CIO remarked, “In our company, we’ve got people who are getting their 30, 35, and 40 years of service awards. While they might not be on the leading edge of new technologies, man, do they ever know who does what. They have all the undocumented knowledge, which is considerable. Because they know who does what, they can pick up a phone or walk down the hallway and get so much done.”

Failure accelerates transformation

Success requires a willingness to fail and ensure teams learn from failure. This is what helps them move forward quickly and is instrumental to improving original plans and assumptions.

Dean Leffingwell, CEO at Scaled Agile and a leading methodology trainer for Agile, offered this perspective:

“If I’m on a team with a project, and it turns out to be a dog, I’m going to be really reluctant to raise my hand and say, ‘Our project failed, and we’re down for the count,’ because everybody’s going to remember, ‘Oh, you were on THAT project.’

“But if we have a feature in a backlog that we think could be interesting, and we start down the road as an Agile team, we have the potential to come back and say, ‘That feature doesn’t work. The legacy work is not gonna support it.’ In that case, we’re heroes, all because we defined the work differently.

“That’s why we have to think about innovation as a test and why it has to be okay to fail. We have to change expectations associated with ROI. We have to move from temporary work and temporary people that can’t fail to more permanent work, long-life work from people that work together in teams working against a backlog that has some uncertainty. That changes the way you think about the work.”

In many cases, it’s getting harder to tell IT strategy from business strategy, because companies are using Agile and cloud to address business outcomes. The business sees a dramatic change in technology’s role in the organization and how they’re engaging with IT.

Ultimately, the general consensus was about bringing the two together, the business and IT. Whereas separately, user stories aren’t consistently told well by users and technologists can operate in a vacuum (not knowing what the business wants), participants felt by joining forces with their business peers and sharing responsibility for both planning and execution, they can deliver what the enterprise actually wants.


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Rhonda Gass, CIO at Stanley Black & Decker, led the group conversation on cloud, noting that, within a variety of regulatory environments, CIOs are using the cloud as a means to improve financial and operational agility.

Though a clear definition of hybrid cloud was elusive, due to the variety of ways cloud is utilized by different teams within the enterprise (as a platform, infrastructure, software, and so on), most agree that cloud helps IT scale up and down and offers faster provisioning than non-cloud alternatives.

However, public cloud consumption can be hard to govern. Vendors like AWS have made strides in the billing and consumption data they provide but for others, work is needed. For the public sector, consumption and cost data is often obscured in public cloud contracts. The group agreed they must work to ensure all cloud providers give them the details they need to govern their consumption and spending.

Other questions arose. What do you do with the things that don’t elegantly move to cloud? How do you leverage the flexibility but maintain some control?

“For us, it’s cloud-first but it’s container always. So if a workload doesn’t go to the cloud then it should still be containerized on-prem,” offered James LaPlaine, Red Ventures CTO.

Interestingly, it’s not the technologies or the methodologies for cloud or Agile that are hardest to implement. It’s probably not the dollars either. It’s the cultural acceptance to transform their organizations that can be most challenging.

Work on standards continues

Nuclear powered TBM starts with standards and all agreed, the work the TBM Council is doing to advance standards is essential to success. “Every IT and technology organization should have a standard cost taxonomy, standard ways of looking at cloud billing, standard ways of looking at metrics, much like we have an income statement balance sheet, a statement of cash flows, etc.,” said Chris Pick, TBM Council founding board member.

»Related content: Founder Chris Pick on the TBM Council, Hosting Advice

Today, the industry’s first standard taxonomy is governed and maintained by the TBM Council Standards Committee, and evolution continues, including the incorporation of Agile into the taxonomy, framework and other standards this year.

According to Todd Tucker, TBM Council author and VP, Research, Standards & Education, “TBM leaders leverage agile methodologies in two ways: first, by taking an agile approach to TBM itself, emphasizing incremental and continuous value of TBM from the get-go and second, by employing TBM to accelerate, improve, and govern agile software development practices along with other paradigm shifts, such as public cloud adoption.”

No doubt we’ll see this work reflected at the TBM Conference in November. Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead for companies like Newport News Shipbuilding and others in attendance who are using Agile and cloud to innovate and re-energize their IT environments.

The TBMC conference is a can’t-miss event every year. Want in? 2018 registration is open here.

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