Rebecca Chenery of Watercare: Distilling the chief digital officer role

After three years as business transformation manager, Rebecca Chenery made the leap to the newly-created position.

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“When we talk about a standup, a showcase or release, we have generated enough training and awareness that people are able to understand and discern what is relevant to them and apply it to their jobs.”

Chenery says when Watercare first started on their STP, they worked with IBM to support the design thinking process.

Now, they already have a group of people that they use to do these things and support the other business units when there is a desire to learn more about those practices.

The shift has also highlighted new roles, such as product owners and scrum masters, and less need for the traditional project manager role.

There is more need for a delivery lead who can apply agile work where appropriate and focus on outcome and value, she says.

An agile mindset is a number of things, she says. “It is an open mind, growing curiosity and a willingness to learn and explore and critique and apply critical thinking to a situation or a challenge.”

“You constantly ask why, why, why,” she says. Building a resilient team is also part of the transformation.

“When you are moving teams, it is about creating a level of resilience in people so they are actually happy to move around,” she says. “They are comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“Increasingly we live in a world where grey is the new black, so the level of certainty is lower than it has ever been and the level of ambiguity is higher.”

“So people have to be resilient to live in a world where they do not necessarily have all the ‘knowns’ and are comfortable being uncomfortable in that space.”

“Our job is very much in supporting them to get there, and helping them.

“What you need is the ability to apply judgement given what they know in any given situation.

“First, focus on people, getting our people to a space where they understood what we were trying to do, why we are trying to do it when we were doing it,” she says, on what worked for them.

“If we don’t capture their hearts and minds, if they don’t feel a sense of ownership, if we haven’t taken them on that journey, we won’t be successful.”

’People have to be resilient to live in a world where they do not necessarily have all the ‘knowns’ and are comfortable being uncomfortable in that space’: Rebecca Chenery, chief digital officer, Watercare

Future focus

A focus for Chenery and her team is this: “We need to understand what is happening on the horizon, what is the next innovation, and how it will affect our organisation?”

To do so, they are looking right across industries, apart from water and utilities.

There is a huge application for AI in our business. What is happening with IoT? Smart metering? Health and safety?”

She says her team uses a mixture of agile and waterfall methodologies.

“What we are trying to build is an agile mindset. An agile mindset is always appropriate whether we use delivery of it by waterfall,” she says.

The agile mindset will ask: “What do I need to deliver? What is the most appropriate approach to achieve it? What are the risks? What is known, and unknown?”

What pleases her is how this mindset is “spreading amazingly” beyond her division.

Early this year, for instance, Watercare won in the successful procurement change category at the 2018 New Zealand Procurement Awards, held at EY.

The award cited how the procurement team led the uptake of agile methods across Watercare, having the organisation’s first product owner and ‘scrum master’, and leading in the rollout of learning sessions and executive showcases.

“Our infrastructure teams are also looking at agile ways of working,” she says, on another division that is also moving into the agile path.

She says the Watercare staff realise some of the things they are doing are already aligned with this methodology. “They just did not give it a name.”

“The agile philosophy is growing organically across Watercare,” she says.

“We have not said, ‘use agile everywhere’.”

Their approach was: “Use agile ways of working where it is appropriate, and agile mindset through the rest of the business.”

Left field opportunities

Chenery says she did not have “a master plan at play” as she was building her career.

She just took opportunities as these came, even though some of these opportunities were “left field”.

Chenery has worked for the telecommunications industry before joining Watercare.

She was contracting at Watercare, managing board and governance processes.

“It was not something I had experience in or had a particular aspiration to do,” at that time, she says.

But she knew she would learn all about governance that she can apply to any situation.

“It was pretty much a leap of faith,” she says, “but that opened up the opportunity to the business transformation role.”

In her current role, she says reporting to the chief executive officer is absolutely critical.

Previously, the technology leader at Watercare reported a layer down, the GM corporate services.

“We are committed to technology and people as true enablers to shift this business,” she says.

She says it is thus important to have a voice at the table.

“Reporting to the chief executive is absolute commitment to that.”

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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