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Episode: 55

Cameron Van Orman - Toward the future of enterprise agility

Posted on: 05 May 2022
Cameron Van Orman ADT podcast cover

Cameron Van Orman is the Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Planview, a global leader in strategic portfolio management and enterprise agile planning.

Agile has undergone quite a transformation in recent years, going from a purely IT function to now being implemented to some extend in a majority of industries and companies.

In this episode,  we discuss how enterprise agility, as well as the ways in which businesses implement it, has been changing over the past few years and what the currently dominant trends are. We bust the myth of agile not relying on any planning, and we take a closer look at value stream management as well as objectives and key results.


Links & mentions:


“It is absolutely a myth that agile doesn't involve planning. Real agile – again, versus agile theater – is dependent on good planning. It's just more iterative and frequent so you can adapt to the market, the competitor, the customer, the internal changes.” 

Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and Community Manager at Agiledrop. 

Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is Cameron Van Orman, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Planview, a global leader in strategic portfolio management and enterprise agile planning. Agility has become almost a key component for success of the modern enterprise, but it's still new enough that a lot of the approaches and best practices haven't really been set in stone yet.

So in this episode, Cameron and I will be discussing this new reality of enterprise agility and where it's headed. So welcome, Cameron. It's a pleasure having you with us today on the show. Do you want to add anything to my intro or should we just jump straight to our topic? 

Cameron Van Orman: Hey, Tim, thanks for having me on. Sounded like a good topic. Look forward to discussing it with you. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, I think it's definitely a great topic. It's perfectly in line with the theme of our podcast. So – agile digital transformation. And yeah, let's get right onto business. Let's discuss our topic for today. So my first question for you, Cameron, is what are the most important changes that enterprise agility has undergone over the last two plus years, so, since the beginning of the Covid crisis? 

Cameron Van Orman: If I had to sum it up really quickly, I'd say more and faster. And what I mean by that is a lot of companies or groups within companies have been talking about or doing or leading or pioneering agile transformation. But when Covid, the Pandemic, and all these other crises hit, it just emphasized the need for companies to be able to respond quickly to changes. They’d always wanted to, it was always important, but boy, it feels urgent now. A week can't go by without reading something in the mainstream media about the speed of transformations, whether it's business transformations, digital transformations, or agile transformations, which of course underpin the other ones as well. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, that was really well said. And definitely a major component is the speed of change, the speed of innovation, as you pointed out, which I think that, as you said, probably businesses wanted to take this into account before Covid, but they weren't forced to do it. So they didn't do it because they were bogged down in some traditional processes. They were maybe held back by legacy infrastructure, stuff like that. 

Cameron Van Orman: Tim, it also highlighted the difference between real agile transformation and what I kind of call agile theater, kind of fake agile transformation, where you say it, you may cloak yourself in some of the agile terminology or mantra, but you're not really doing it to enable business agility. 

Tim Butara: So what would be a real agile transformation? 

Cameron Van Orman: It's people, process and technology. It's not just an executive up there saying, go faster. What executive doesn't want speed, but how do you get that? What are the changes you're going to do and make to the people, to your management style, to your leadership models, to the way you think about portfolios and initiatives and your ceremonies and actions? It's easy to see once you've done it, right. And I've had the opportunity to lead agile transformation more than once. If you could sort of see what people are just talking about it versus really doing. 

Tim Butara: I think that's a very common myth with people who maybe don't yet know about agile or have only heard about it but haven't really done any work in an agile manner is that it's very reactive and there's no real planning involved. But I think that this is not really the case, or at least if it was the case at some point, it's definitely not the case anymore. What would you say? How does agile accommodate planning and how does it accommodate all the disruptions and uncertainties that we basically all gotten used to over the past two years? 

Cameron Van Orman: It is absolutely a myth that agile doesn't involve planning. Real agile – again, versus agile theater – is dependent on good planning. It's just more iterative and frequent so you can adapt to the market, the competitor, the customer, the internal changes. Look, we set long range strategies and we do annual plans and roadmaps, but you have to calibrate the strategy proactively, take any changes. Are you going to pause, persist, pivot your strategies or initiatives, take those changes into your mid range or PI planning activity.

And then there's the opportunity to adjust team deliverables at sprints, sprint boundaries or mid sprint if it's a big change. So you plan an agile, but look, what you commit to – I'm going to deliver something. Your commitments are more near term, but you absolutely do long term planning, but you have to replan with speed, with scenarios, with visibility, alignment, and impact. But there are some in the agile community that say, we're always planning or we're doing too much planning, but that's because we're being proactive or adaptive versus reacting. That's actually a good test of real agile versus agile theater. If you're just saying I don't want to make any commitments, we don't plan, boy, that sounds like agile theater to me. 

Tim Butara: Oh, yeah, that's a really good point and really good connection with our previous question. And it really feels like, you know, so planning in agile, so agile planning, basically takes into account all the potential changes that might happen to the plans that you've set. 

Cameron Van Orman: You have to have humility when you plan. You have to understand, I'm going to set a plan, look as cheap – as head of strategy in our company, we set a plan, and as soon as we said it, we said we acknowledge it's not going to be perfect. The goal isn't to set the perfect plan. The goal is to set a plan to get alignment and vision for all the people top to bottom in the company to go, but be humble enough or have the humility to say, we may be wrong or information may change. 

The market, the competitors, our own knowledge and learnings could change. The team can surface up changes in execution and delivery or risk. You've got to be humble enough to say the plan we set X days or weeks or months or quarters ago wasn't perfect. It's now okay, and we should change it to make sure we're having the most impact. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So what are you seeing as kind of the top current trends or maybe specific frameworks, specific agile practices right now in the face of agility? 

Cameron Van Orman: Tim, as far as scaling agile, we're still seeing SAFe – scaled agile framework – as getting a lot of traction. Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban. When you look outside of software development teams, I think Kanban or the Scrumban combination, common ground between Scrum and Kanban, are certainly coalescing. The market is coalescing around those frameworks, as far as what we see. 

But I think more Interestingly enough, I think pragmatism is a big trend we're seeing around agile overall. Kind of the opposite of that is kind of like less zealotry around agile in general. Software or non software teams, they're realizing they need to bridge the gap. Sometimes it's a language gap, a process gap that they have in the rest of the business. So we've seen companies proclaim, we're going to go 100% agile and we're going to big bang this thing in two months. We're flipping the switch, we're all agile. 

And we've seen them come back kind of quarters later and be like, that didn't work very well. That was a little tough. Maybe we want to be more practical. Where is the business? Let's plot a journey for transformation to go get there, let's recognize some of the work, some of the value streams, some of the teams. It is perfect to be agile right away, but maybe there's other work methodologies that are more aligned with the nature of those projects, products or work. So we're definitely seeing journeys, pragmatism kind of being more in favor than this hard zealotry flip the switch overnight. 

Tim Butara: I think pragmatism is kind of embedded into agility, right? I mean, you can't really be, if you go back to your analogy, your or comparison of real agile versus agile theater. If you are not really planning on really transforming in an agile manner, really take your business through this agile transformation. If you were just doing it as a kind of business buzzword that you have to take into account, then you probably wouldn't approach it in this way, right? You probably wouldn't take all of that into account. 

Cameron Van Orman: It's like apply agile thinking to your agile transformation. Right. Progress over perfection, learn, iterate, adapt, adjust. The outcome isn't to be agile. The outcome is to have a more adaptive business and to have more business impact, your customers, your community, your stakeholders. I think people think you have to– they forget about agile principles to your agile transformation. And again, people, processes, technology, it's all important. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. I think that very often it's at least one of those elements that gets ignored. And that's probably one of the key reasons why these transformations maybe aren't as successful as the people and companies that are going through them would want them to be. 

Cameron Van Orman: It's real effort. Yeah. 

Tim Butara: What about– you mentioned Kanban, you mentioned SAFe. And I think that– I'm not sure if this is, how related this is to SAFe, like, Value Stream Management. Do you know anything about that? How does this factor into enterprise agility? 

Cameron Van Orman: It factors in a lot. VSM or value Stream Management is also kind of pivoting. Right. And I'll talk about what it is today and kind of where I see it going in the future. But the origins and the predominant application today of Value Stream Management is to provide software or DevOps leaders with end-to-end visibility into their software factory, help them better understand the flow through their software factory, and help them pinpoint where and how to accelerate the throughput. 

It's really about helping them build things right. But this is hugely important, and again, it's predominantly applied to software value streams. I see two emerging trends around VSM. One is the increased focus on outcomes and impact. How do you connect if you're building things right and you're working on the flow through your software factory, how do you connect the outputs of that factory back to the original idea that was funded or the plan that was created? I closed that loop with the business executives who provided you the funding. 

So that's kind of the first trend is, not just focus on throughput, but focus on impact. The second emerging trend is, how do you apply these value stream management principles to non-software value streams. Just like agile, right, agile’s– I don't have the exact calendar, but we've been doing agile and software for like 15 years, right. At least 15 years. But you look at the last five years, agile is transcending or leaving IT and software development and having an impact on the rest of the business. 

Well, Value Stream Management is going to do the same thing. They're big investments or portfolios of products or projects that are outside IT, outside development, that would benefit from the same planning rigor we talked about, visibility, alignment, flow and throughput and outcomes orientation that VSM is bringing into software. Boy, as you get non software value streams, the same principles will apply. So I think it's hugely impactful today to make sure you're building things right. But outcomes, as well as applying it to business or operating value streams. 

Tim Butara: It makes a lot of sense, right, that Agile has gone, in the past 20 years or so, and in the past five years, it's gone from being used in software development, being used as a method to have more efficient software development processes, now it's been kind of adopted by other aspects of the business. And I think that this is really in line with what's happening with the world. Right. 

Because the world is becoming more digitalized, because the whole world basically, it's still IT that's kind of connected to that. It's just that more and more people and more and more businesses and more and more business functions now need IT and need software development to kind of help them realize their strategies. And so it's inevitable, they can’t basically continue succeeding if they don't adopt Agile in some way. 

Cameron Van Orman: And Tim, for me, it goes even beyond that. It's not just that everything– it's true. Everything is digitizing and software and everyone's trying to wrap their products and projects in customer experience. That's awesome. But look, as an executive and so I've been talking to you wearing my Chief Strategy Officer hat. I'm going to put my Chief Marketing officer hat on and that I brought a marketing team. 

And look, as an executive, you always want things faster. You always, right, because product life cycles are faster. Customer experiences. They want, they're insatiable. They want more responses. So you want things faster. As a chief marketing officer, I can't get people to edit software faster or write faster or shoot video faster or write copy blocks faster. That's not where I get speed out of the system. You get speed out of the system because we do highly dependent work, and as work flows from one person or one team to another, it sits and waits in queues. 

That's where slowness happens. That's where you want to attack as a leader is the hand-offs and handovers that create slowness in your factory, in your system, whether it's a software factory or a marketing factory, it doesn't matter. And so those hand-offs and handovers are created based on, you know, they don't have shared visibility to each other's work. They don't have shared alignment on the priorities, on what's most important. They're all operating as individual departments or teams or individuals. They have their own discrete set of priorities. They're working on something. 

When something comes over, it sits in a queue. They got to finish what they're working on now. They didn't know it was coming. It's not very important to me. Maybe it's important to you. I'll put it in somewhere and you have all those steps and stages where like inventory queues up. That is what is slow. As any leader, whether you are being supported by software development or not, you need to be faster. 

That's– Agile can help you do that by minimizing those hand-offs and handovers from misaligned teams. And they're not misaligned out of bad intentions. They're misaligned often because they know they're really good at what they do, and so they've optimized their step really well. And the better they are, sometimes, the more that they've optimized for their own priority. That's what Agile can help you outside of IT and software. Anyway, thank you for letting me get on my soapbox. This is CMO. I'm back to chief strategy officer. 

Tim Butara: So, yeah, this is basically silos creating all of these unnecessary or over complicated points of friction that need to be smoothened out if you want to become faster. Basically. 

Cameron Van Orman: Yes. That was a good summary. Thank you. 

Tim Butara: I think that we also discussed talking about this. What about objectives and key results? I think that this is also connected to VSM. But how should enterprises approach defining, tracking them, to be as successful as possible? 

Cameron Van Orman: It is. Look, enterprises have had measurement and goal setting approaches for eons. Right. Whether you call them KPIs or MBOs or something else. OKRs, or objectives and key results, are really the latest incarnation. And it's critical for all business functions, including software development. 

Look, outside of software development, there are grumblings, right, that Agile has resulted in more empowered development teams delivering software faster, that they're building things right. That's great. But to what effect? So CFO and CEOs, they want to know, are you building the right things? Not just building things right. Are you building the right things that have this business impact? So OKRs, that relate to business and strategy impact, change the entire narrative. 

So it bridges that divide between development executives and the rest of the company. OKRs connect the outcomes to the work, and it changes that discussion from just, hey, how fast and how efficient is it having the needed impact? Are we working on the right thing? So Planview. I had strategy, which also means I had strategy execution. So look, I lead our own internal Agile operating system. And look, we have business value streams and we have software and product value streams. We have both.

OKRs has changed our discussions significantly, but we used to talk about the work, the velocity of the work, the capacity of the work. Do you have any blockers on the work? Right. There are a lot of our review and delivery steering meetings focused on those topics. Now we start team meetings, value stream meetings, executive meetings with the OKRs to start with impact. If the KRs, the key results, aren't where we want them yet, the work is progressing. It begs the question, are we working on the right things? 

Maybe the result is a change of plans. Right? We talked about planning earlier, and so it's OKRs connects that or you have an impact to the velocity of the throughput of your factory, whether it's a software factory, a marketing factory, any other kind of process or value stream in your company. If you just focus on the velocity of the work, you could be pumping out lots of great stuff. But it's not moving the needle. OKRs, starting with that – are we moving the needle? How's the work progressing? Are we working on the right things? Maybe we need to plan, or a replan. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. Because progress without impact is basically maybe it's not it's not exactly taking steps back, but it's definitely not progress in the sense that you would want it to have. 

Cameron Van Orman: Yeah. I mean, think of this. We talked internally about are you accelerating the unimportant? 

Tim Butara: Yeah. Wow. I love that. 

Cameron Van Orman: Moving the unimportant quickly doesn't help the business, doesn't help the customers, doesn't help the community, doesn't help yourself individually. Don't accelerate the unimportant. Accelerate what matters most. 

Tim Butara: I love that. I think that it's the case with these kind of simple truths that you have to have them presented in such a succinct, such a direct way. Otherwise you can't really view it in that way. So I think that our listeners will definitely get a lot from this. Awesome. Thanks so much. 

Cameron Van Orman: That's one of the sources of friction of agile expansion going from software agility to business agility. Right. It's a big leap, software agility to business agility. The rest of the business is skeptical because they're not sure. Are you accelerating what matters most, or are you accelerating the unimportant? Right. How do you bridge the language divide and connect what's happening in your software factory to what's happening in the rest of the business? 

And so a lot of agile transformations struggle when they try and communicate to a CFO or to a CEO or COO, pick your other C-level outside of software development, you're not able to connect what you're doing to what the business needs. And that's a big barrier and a friction from becoming business agile, as opposed to just software agile. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. That was a great piece of advice and a really good point. And I think that we've really kind of gone full circle, connected all of our different topics, different subject areas. So just to round off this great discussion, Cameron, what would be your other top tips for business owners and for decision makers who maybe haven't yet bought into agile, but they're trying to implement it or they're having some trouble with fully embracing, fully implementing it? So what would you advise to those people? 

Cameron Van Orman: Yeah, normally there are kind of two categories of people, people who've tried it, maybe didn't get the outcomes they were hoping, or people who haven't started yet. And often we find that because there's a little intimidation. Look, agile is a special language, and you could be afraid because you don't know the language. You're not a member of the agile club. Sometimes you're afraid. You don't know how to ask, where to start, what to do. 

So we kind of see friction in those two areas, and it's kind of related to my first bit of advice is, hire or retain an enterprise coach. That's also another tip. We talk to customers, and I'm about to talk to a CTO of a large bank. If you don't have an agile coach inside or outside, it's probably agile theater, right? You're probably pretending your way through it. 

And look, these coaches can help you. And you have to be ready to experiment, learn, adapt, because the change is a journey, not a slogan. So a coach, look, they can help you actively support the management, change of middle management, right? That servant leader mindset is critical. I remember early on my first exposure there was kind of an industry or market leader on agile who told me early on, vice presidents kill agile in companies; it's that middle management layer because they get threatened personally, don't know what it means. 

An agile coach can kind of help bring along, the team members love it because they get more empowered. It's threatening to the middle management, coach can help you there. We talked about the coach can help you focus on progress over perfection and encourage you to give it time to form. Coaches can help watch out for agile theater. They can make sure that you're improving the outcomes over following a process. And again, a coach can help you tailor the process, tailor the terminology to fit your organization, your group, or your team. 

Back, Tim, to earlier. It's okay to be pragmatic. The goal isn't framework adherence or framework perfection. It's accelerating the delivery of what matters most to your business, and a coach, the right enterprise coach, can help you watch out for those kind of common pitfalls. 

So that's kind of advice area number one and that's focused on kind of people and process. Advice area number two is enterprise agile planning tools. Enterprise agile planning capabilities. We talked a lot earlier about how do you plan and replan to make sure you're focused on the right things that you're not accelerating the unimportant. You have to be adapted. Without the capacity or the capability to do adaptive planning, you could end up accelerating the wrong stuff. 

How do you visualize that work to break down, we talked earlier about kind of value streams, whether it's a software or other functions. Getting everyone– alignment and visibility as to what everyone is working on so that you can break down those silos. We talked about getting that essential visibility across distributed teams, departments, or leaders helps you ensure the right focus. Also, you can bring up good discussions about dependencies and capacity. 

And it's easy to make sure people are connected the first time. But how do you make sure they're connected when stuff changes? You want to pivot a plan. How do you pivot together? A bad analogy I have is a marching band, right. And you agree, we're going to pick a direction on the compass. We're all going to walk at ten degrees. Great. And the band's going and the drum majors leading the band. But then all of a sudden there's what potholes in the road or whatever, do you want to change? Now we want to go to 20 degrees. 

Does the drum major change? What happens to the rest of the marching band? Do they keep going at ten degrees or does the organization pivot with you? And having that visibility to make sure you maintain alignment during change. That's what's hard. Getting alignment the first time is less hard. Maintaining it through change and having enterprise Kanban tools is important. 

And Tim, I would say this is a strong lesson learned:  outside of software, don't use scrum, use Kanban or Scrumban. The nature of work is a little different. So many conferences I've been to, so many people I've spoken to, the advice is kind of a resounding: outside of software, Kanban is just a better agile framework and certainly way to visualize your work. 

And last thing, we talked about, value stream management, accelerate the delivery of what you plan, OKRs. Connect the ideas and initiatives to the work, to the outputs to have business impact. And you got to use metrics, metrics at all levels to improve the process and the outcomes. Whether it's delivery metrics, business metrics, team metrics, KPIs, that will help you adjust and steer and learn and pivot your transformation just like your outcome. So that would be my set of advice, Tim. 

Tim Butara: Well, they were definitely great points and great bits of advice. I especially love the phrase “change is a journey”, not a slogan. I love it. I think this episode, this conversation has actually been full of really resonating thoughts and ideas like that. So I think that this will definitely be a great listen for our audiences and one that everybody listening will get a lot from. 

So thanks so much, Cameron, for having such a great discussion with me. I really enjoyed it. As I said, I think that me personally and others listening will get a lot out of this discussion. Just before we wrap it up. If listeners wanted to reach out to you, if they wanted to learn more about Planview, maybe, where would you point them to? 

Cameron Van Orman: That is a great source. We have a lot of materials there to help people accelerate what matters most. Right? We're all about connecting and building the future of connected work. And that's from teams to the top, from ideas to impact so that you can make a big difference in your community and your company and all your stakeholders. 

Tim Butara: Awesome. Well, thanks again for joining us, Cameron. Have a great day.

Cameron Van Orman: Tim, thanks for having me. 

Tim Butara: Well, to our listeners. That's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe. 

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