In this article

  • CIOs everywhere have faced the challenge of an audacious project with an equally audacious deadline
  • For the HP separation, CIO Scott Spradley put together a team of all-stars, analyzed the task at hand, considered the risks, created a timeline and set to action
How this CIO tackled the project of a lifetime

We all know that CIOs face continuous pressure to bring transformation, change and delivery at a pace that is always challenging and never-ending. All of this happens against a backdrop of infrastructural advances, cost constraints and tight time-to-value based expectations. On October 6, 2014, HP announced plans to separate into two industry-leading companies by November 1, 2015 — just over one year ago. The news of the separation sent shock waves throughout the IT industry and touched a nerve with CIOs and IT industry leaders. I received calls from concerned colleagues and peers who wondered how breaking apart HP’s massive, interconnected IT infrastructure would be possible on such a tight schedule. They also worried that successfully executing a project of this scale on this aggressive timeline would set a precedent, creating new expectations for IT leaders across industries.

CIOs everywhere have faced the challenge of an audacious project with an equally audacious deadline. For the HP separation, we put together a team of true all-stars, analyzed the task at hand, considered the risks, created a timeline and set to action. We laid out goals for a single month that might normally take more than three months. We committed to building out five times more infrastructure in a six-week period than we would typically build over several years. We pledged to test 75,000 interfaces, exit one data center and divide up two data centers. Now that the separation is complete, I want to share key takeaways and revelations for CIOs that I learned from this incredible experience.

1. Don’t let IT be a roadblock IT organizations sometimes inhibit their companies from moving quickly, thinking that large projects must take two to four years to complete. In reality, IT should be the greatest champion for speed, setting a strong pace, bold milestones and executing against them like crazy. That pressure will guide the rest of the business to move equally as fast. Let IT establish the “new normal” that brings other internal teams along a path to accelerate everything. We proved this at HP. In fact, I started saying to anyone who would listen, “There is HP speed, and then there is everyone else’s speed.”

For our company separation, the key was to pursue speed over elegance — build it/clone it/separate it to enable the schedule and hit “Business Day 1,” then transform later by adding features and robustness. As we performed test and design cycles, launched rapid prototyping, drove clones and cleansed data, we created many new best practices.

2. Decide in the moment Traditionally, IT groups make decisions by committee, but with a project moving at this pace, taking a week to make a decision would kill our timeline. Escalations that lasted more than a few days would not work. The key for the HP separation was empowering people to make decisions in the moment and holding them accountable for the results. We made major strategic, framing decisions early on via committees by gathering the experts for each system and making rapid decisions on what could or could not be done. But once a clear path was chosen, our team had to commit to it and deliver.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate Transparency within the IT team — and for all HP employees — was critical. Leaders needed to be clear about the “what and why” for the separation, passing that knowledge to their groups. Employees were encouraged to ask questions of their managers, who would then seek and provide answers if they didn’t have them.

Everyone on the team needed to understand where we were going, the spirit of what we were trying to accomplish and the consequences of not achieving our goals. I believe that our transparency and willingness to communicate helped unite our team and build the right culture for Hewlett Packard Enterprise going forward. Simply put, we made sure everyone knew everything they needed to know to make sure that we were all going in the right direction to enable this aggressive challenge.

4. Believe in your team The best thing about this entire process was seeing how good our team is, thriving under pressure and approaching this massive project with so much enthusiasm, passion and conviction. They appreciated not only the scope, but also the meaning of this project. We all viewed this task as the new frontier.

For example, HP typically shuts down its office during the winter holiday, a time many of us spend with our families. Last year, I asked many IT staff to work through that week and not a single person said no. These teams didn’t make these sacrifices because of extra pay or bonuses. They did it because they were excited to play a role in something this huge and historic.

As a CIO or IT leader, you’ll face your own daunting challenge. Go fast, learn quickly and allow your team to surprise you in the best ways.
Connect with Scott Twitter: @spradley_hp LinkedIn: View profile Hear more from Scott on HP’s history-making separation.