Adrian Butler grew up in a farming community of no more than 100 people. So when he became CIO of Casey’s General Stores, a $9 billion convenience store chain with a large rural presence, the job had real meaning for him. “Casey’s opened its first store in Boone, Iowa in 1968,” says Butler. “In many ways, Casey’s guest is me and my family. Our customers work hard and they want speed, accuracy and easy access to all our products, from our pizzas to snacks to fuel. »
As Casey’s very first CIO, Butler also felt a deep commitment to his team and colleagues, to ensure he developed an IT strategy and operating model that would be of lasting value to the company. business. “Casey’s has had a history of growth and stability, but two years ago a new CEO joined the company with a mission to improve the service we provide to our customers. My role is to make our CEO, our board and our management team aware of the importance of investing in technology,” he said.
Start with computer basics
Recognizing the company’s rich history, Butler didn’t try to change everything at once. “I didn’t start with a moonshot,” he says. “I started by making sure our day-to-day IT operations were solid, while asking what big problems we were trying to solve.” Like most retail businesses, these challenges were around digital engagement, customer analytics, supply chain optimization, and creating efficiencies in stores. The goals were to allow team members to spend more time with customers and ensure the right products end up on the right shelves.
Moving toward these goals, Butler shifted the team’s focus to using data to better understand supply chain, inventory, and customer experience.
With data, “the hardest step is the first step,” Butler says. “Overthinking your data strategy can inhibit your ability to move. For Butler and his team, the key first step was to bring business leaders together to ask them: What does data mean to us? Why is this important? What will we do with the data? “Once you’ve defined your data philosophy, you can find low-hanging fruit, like better visualization of the data you already have, to bring value to your business,” he says. “We started by using data to better manage key areas of our business and report on performance, before moving on to more advanced analytics and trying to project the future.”
Switch to product management model
To help Casey’s IT organization and business partners think differently, Butler adopted a product management model. Butler has defined approximately 15 product teams that are aligned with the core retail functions of buy, move, sell and enable business functions. For example, the product teams within the purchasing and travel function are merchandising, supply chain, and fuel. Within the sales function, the product teams are payments, point of sale, back office systems and kitchen. The digital product teams are responsible for e-commerce, customer engagement and customer retention.
Product Managers are aligned with broader, higher-level functions and Product Owners are responsible for a specific product team. For example, the store product manager interacts with store colleagues across the organization to define the store product roadmap; Product owners for subdomains, like point of sale and payment, are more narrowly targeted and can drill down further. “The product manager’s job is to develop really deep and detailed knowledge about that part of the business and what’s going on not just inside Casey’s, but across the industry,” says Butler. “They work with our functional business partners to develop business cases and structure all the work. Product managers then hand off this work to the product team who divide the work into components with priorities and sequencing.
There are new roles in the product model and some similar roles. The main difference is that these roles are embedded in an agile team and work together to create products rather than passing them between teams.
Results on the organization chart
As the product model is still in its infancy, product managers sit within the IT organization. “Since product management is a new capability, we’re launching it into IT, so we can model the behaviors we need in a product team,” Butler says. “But as we scale and the model becomes integrated into our operations, I can see the role outside of IT, in our functional areas.”
But Butler isn’t too hung up on who reports where. “I’m a big fan of blurry reporting lines, because if we get to thinking about reporting, we lose sight of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he says. “I’m focused on putting the right people in the right seats and ensuring they build the right relationships and drive the right results.”
Regardless of where product managers report, Butler looks for the same skill he looks for in all of his leaders: critical thinking. “Critical thinking is a force multiplier; it drives innovation, speed and helps realize business value much sooner by allowing us to become much more predictable when it comes to delivery. I’m also looking for people who can communicate, collaborate, and ideally have work experience outside of IT. The role of product manager doesn’t have to be deeply technical.
Butler’s advice to CIOs wanting to move to a more collaborative operating model? “Set a vision for the future and take others on the journey with you. Be 100% transparent with the good and the bad,” he says. “Every time I join a new organization, I ask my peers and to their direct reports about their challenges, and I listen. Once my team and I have a clear understanding, I can present my thoughts on the strategy, roadmap, and team needed to support them. »
Butler also spends time making sure his colleagues fully understand the product stewardship approach before asking them to participate. “I invite them to the product model discussion,” he says. “I explain to them the why, the how and the what? Why are product management and agility the right approaches? How will this affect you? What will be the impact? I think you have to look at the why before people have to ask. I do it in advance, so that people can find their way around. I want to create advocacy outside of IT for what we’re trying to do. The loneliest place for a CIO is on an island.