At NJ-GMIS Tech Conference, Audience is Inspired to Apply Agile Methods to Reduce Internal Bureaucracy

Some 125 IT professionals working in government (local, county, state and federal) or education (K-12 and college level) gathered at the New Jersey Government Management Information System (NJ-GMIS) Technology Education Conference on April 20, at The Palace at Somerset Park.

The NJ-GMIS organization puts together a yearly conference to enhance innovation, education and networking opportunities for public-sector technology professionals. The educational sessions ranged in topics from “Surviving a Ransomware Attack” to “Daniel’s Law: How to Comply.”

Participants also attended information sessions given by conference sponsors.  Each year there is a show floor filled with vendors certified to sell to New Jersey governments. This time some 49 vendors showed their wares at the show, and the organizers mentioned that there was a waiting list for vendor booths.

A view from the NJ-GMIS show floor | Esther Surden

Embracing Agile Leadership

The conference also featured keynote speaker Kaliym A. Islam, an award-winning expert in corporate education, whose topic was “Agile Leadership (How to Excel in an Environment of Constant Change),” which was relevant for those attending. He started with a story about his mom noticing how disengaged people in his family had become, with everyone looking at their phones instead of talking to each other.

It wasn’t until several years later that he realized that what “she was trying to teach me that day was that, no matter how good the technology, no matter how much of it you have, if the people don’t interact, your organization will die.”

Essentially, the way to solve this problem in the workplace is to embrace agile leadership processes, he told the group. “I’m going to make the case today that the same values that drive success in the software-development process and software-development approach can be applied to leadership, and can get results.”

Islam said that one company he had worked with to employ agile leadership principles increased its productivity by 75 percent. “We’re not talking about tools. We’re not talking about tactics. And we’re not talking about techniques that we use to develop software. What we’re really talking about is you as leaders, embodying these ‘agile’ values in your behavior, and embedding those practices into your daily work activities with your team.”

Engaging in agile leadership means “that you care about individuals and interactions, you care about working solutions and customer collaboration, and you aspire to change more than the things we buy, more than processes and tools, more than comprehensive documentation, more than contract negotiation.” Leaders should decide that if they “have a choice between telling people to follow the documentation [or] getting a solution out to the people who need it, get the solution out to the people that need it.”

He pointed out that when teams are forced to use a piece of software or a process that doesn’t work for them, they will spend more time looking at the documentation than actually working.  And if leaders speak to their teams, they’ll find that the teams aren’t having fun in their jobs. He told the audience members to walk around their municipalities, find the people with the long faces and ask them what could be eliminated in their jobs to make them happier.

Putting together a cross-functional team to evaluate processes is key because “one of two things is going to happen by having people from different departments having conversations about the processes. One thing that might happen is, after having these discussions, the teams realize, ‘I don’t like this process, but understand that it’s important, so I’m going to do it,’” he said.

“The second thing that might happen is that you may come to consensus here: This is not good and something stupid, and we need to get rid of it. In any event, it’s important that you go ahead and get that cross-functional team together, so that they can evaluate the processes.”

During the Q&A period after the talk, the audience was interested in how ChatGPT and other AI software would change their jobs and their municipalities, and this sparked a lively discussion.  One way this software could be useful for IT leaders is by taking bias out of performance evaluations, Islam noted.

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