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Overcoming volatility with agility

P & G innovator leads off Premier 100 conference

March 4, 2013 02:21 PM ET

Computerworld - TUCSON, Ariz. -- Computerworld's Premier 100 conference kicked off Monday with a keynote topic that was close to the hearts of many of the 500 IT professionals in attendance: an acronym called VUCA.

VUCA first emerged in the 1990s, mainly in military circles and, from the overwhelming number of hands raised by audience members, nearly every CIO has an intimate understanding of it. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Keynote speaker Linda Clement-Holmes, senior vice president of Global Business Services at Procter & Gamble, described how her organization has helped overcome VUCA with an incubator organization called Flow.

Created in 2009 with 100 IT professionals from a total of 6,000 workers inside the Global Business unit, she described it as focusing on "urgent and critical priorities." Before the group's creation, it might have taken six months for the global organization to handle an urgent IT-related request. Today, it might only take two days.

Since its creation, the group has been involved in more than 700 IT-related projects, turning VUCA's acronym into one meaning vision, understanding, clarity and agility, Clement-Holmes said. Speaking as a booster for the IT leaders, she noted that the focus with Flow is on services, not technologies.

In one example of Flow's work, she said P&G set up a facility at the 2010 Winter Olympics where families of athletes could stay close by during the games. About two weeks before the games opened, the Flow group set up a system for tracking visitors as they came into the facility with an online network that was created in just two days.

"Before Flow, it would have taken a while to find the right person to do the work," she said.

In another example, Flow used a termed called the "swarm," for provisioning Windows updates along with new productivity tools to employee laptops. A team of 30 people was assigned to do the installations in one night for each group's laptops. Clement-Holmes said her personal contribution was to wipe down dirty keyboards, while others did technical work.

One approach that has helped the Flow team run well is that 20% of the team is cycled off from their regular jobs at certain intervals. Clement-Holmes said she helps keep the workload manageable by approving which of the many urgent requests will be addressed.

"I was the last filter, was the last bottleneck on purpose, since part of the process is managing the staffing," she said. "With just one person managing all the engagement requests and staffing, it's possible to run GBS like a business. That's part of what I mean by 'don't make the simple complex.' "

With Flow, Clement-Holmes observed, "we found the best innovation sometimes comes from the edges [of an organization], so it becomes a question of how do you mine the edges to make innovation available? Whole group innovation is not usable. Innovation is very fluid. Apple can't even define it. It's in the air. Everybody is an innovator."

The Premier 100 runs through Tuesday when a new class of honorees is inducted at an awards gala.

covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at Twitter @matthamblen or subscribe to Hamblen RSSMatt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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