Lumentum CIO Ralph Loura on adopting a challenger mindset

May 11, 20226 mins
InnovationIT LeadershipProject Management

Having creative tension on your IT team produces u201ca much more effective outcome than the old IT order-taker kind of role.u201d

tug of war
Credit: Thinkstock

In the early months of the pandemic, Lumentum SVP and CIO Ralph Loura, like many of his peers, found that IT’s annual planning wasn’t nimble enough to respond to the rapid project prioritization the business needed. The result was a new approach to optimizing IT planning that more closely mirrors the business.

Loura sat down with contributor Maryfran Johnson on a recent episode of CIO Leadership Live to discuss how he has changed his approach to project prioritization and IT planning, the importance of adopting a challenger mindset in IT, and embracing “shallow IT”.

Based in San Jose, Lumentum designs and manufactures optical and photonic products for optical networking and laser applications worldwide. The company is a key player in the telecommunications industry, with annual revenues of $1.7 billion and 5,000 employees around the world.

Loura joined Lumentum in October of 2018, bringing with him three decades of IT leadership experience. Before joining Lumentum, Loura served as CTO at Rodan +Fields, and before that, as CIO of the Enterprise Group at Hewlett Packard, and as SVP and CIO at Clorox.

Following are edited excerpts of Loura’s conversation with Johnson. For more of Loura’s insights, watch the full video embedded below.

On prioritizing projects:

One of the reasons I came to Lumentum was for Alan Lowe our CEO. Really fabulous leader, incredibly experienced in this industry and also a very transparent and approachable and candid leadership style, which really resonates with the way I work. And Alan would challenge me: “We are spending lots of money, and you are doing lots of projects, but how do I know we are working on the right projects? And why did you do that project and not the other one? And defend to me which one has the highest value. Why are we doing that?”

And honestly, I began to realize I really couldn’t give him a good answer. I could talk about oh, “This is critical for our ability to enter a new market” or “This is a regulatory requirement, and therefore it is a risk we need to achieve” and so on. But it was difficult for me—in a quantitative way—to compare the projects.

On optimizing IT planning for the business:

Our focus [pre-COVID-19] was largely on hitting a predictable set of project delivery for a very predictable cost. And the best way to do that is to look a year out and then really manage things very closely.

Well, of course, that is great until the entire world economy [is impacted by a pandemic]

And then what do you do? And so you are making these ad hoc decisions around reprioritizing your full portfolio that you spent 3 months getting alignment on what you were going to do or not do. So, it was not working.

The good news is we had begun an Agile transformation, moving away from traditional delivery models to more of a scaled Agile methodology, which lends itself to this idea of looking at that backlog and using a scrum board and picking the work we are going to do this month, and doing the work, and so on.

We took that at an operational level and then we went back to our planning process that was annual and really married the two and kind of found a happy medium.

On adopting a challenger mindset in IT:

Data has shown—over time—with many, many companies and many relationships, that people who are essentially “yes” people, that just sort of say “yes” to everything, they are trying to be really polite and just nice to everybody and appease everybody, are not looked at as highly as people who are basically honest with you, and occasionally challenge you, and say, “You know, that is an interesting request. However, I think you may want to consider this other idea. Because you may not be aware of this, this, and this.”

Obviously, it is not a license to be a jerk, it is not about being argumentative, but it is about having a creative tension and a positive tension and sharing ideas. And that happens in a Socratic model where there are often people kind of at odds with each other. And that ends up with a much more effective outcome than the old IT order-taker kind of role.

On embracing “shallow IT”:

We have a model within IT where we engage the IT organization and others within the company around ideas, challenges they see, and opportunities. And then we are trying to create a bit of an incubator to go solve those problems, test those solutions out.

As an example, while I was at Clorox, there were about 30 people in the sales team who we found were taking files out of our SharePoint sales portal and dragging them out every week into a cloud-based storage platform, and then using them on their mobile devices to talk to customers.

And so we engaged with them. And at first they were like, “Ooh. Are we in trouble? You know, did we do something wrong?” And we are, “No, no, no, no, no. We like what you have done.”

Because what they have done is they figured out a problem.

What we do then is what IT does really well: We take shallow and go deep. Hey, that poor salesperson taking 40 files a week and syncing them, I can solve that for you. I will build an automated sync; we will cache it. I can make sure it is regulatory compliant, that it is secure, that we are not sharing inappropriate information, etc.

So IT says, “Great. You found the nugget. Now let me refine that and create a service that everybody can benefit from.”