Digital transformation is a ‘hearts and minds campaign’
Watching Agile come onto the scene and change our perspective of product delivery, further maturity into DevOps, and the freight train of digital disruption steaming into once safe industries and ploughing incumbents off the tracks before they knew what hit them. What a time to be alive!
You would be hard pressed to find an article, presentation, or conversation that didn’t refer to use cases Google, Amazon, Zappos; and everyone wanted to 'Uberise' our IT department, or 'Spotify' our whole company.
So, companies rebrand the IT departments to be called 'digital', centres of excellence are turned into guilds, and teams realign around products or platforms. Beanbag chairs are bought, foosball tables are found, and open floor plans offices become collaboration spaces.
Indeed, new digital technologies and business models are rapidly changing the landscape of industries and the wise organisations are quickly adapting to this reality, or they join Kodak, Blockbuster, and Nokia.
I am a strong proponent of new operating models such as Agile, DevOps, etc. However, like all good movements, there are misunderstandings, misapplications, and poor practices that give these a bad name.
There are some great articles out there on the pitfalls of digital transformations and how to avoid them (see some of my favourites at the bottom).
If you will indulge me, here are a few of my musings on the topic.
Companies rebrand the IT departments to be called 'digital', centres of excellence are turned into guilds, and teams realign around products or platforms.
Horses for courses: One of the things that strikes me when some executives come back from their pilgrimage to Silicon Valley determined to 'Uberise' their company is that they sometimes overlook the environment in which these technology icons operate. Many of these tech companies are, in essence, self-contained software development houses. These tech giants have complete control of the analyst, development, testers, and assets – they can re-prioritise work, resources, and software releases to meet their objectives.
However, throw a heavy reliance on third-party systems, legacy mainframes, tangible assets, and outsourced development partners on other continents, and your span of control and ability to influence agility reduces considerably ('That’s great that you are big in New Zealand, but here at ‘Global Mega Corp’ – we don’t work that way. You have to get in line behind our other users and hope that your idea gets enough votes at our next User Forum').
Can legacy organisations become more agile and responsive to the rapid pace of change? Absolutely! (Indeed, they must!) However, it is important to note that agility may look very different depending on the industry and the markets within it operates. (If your favourite music streaming stops working, that is inconvenient. If medical equipment stops working, that is a bit different.)
It is vital to understand the principles enabling agility and better customer engagement; and how these can apply to the specific organisation.
'A silo by any other name would smell so sweet'… Or not: With apologies to William Shakespeare, often businesses complain about there being too many 'silos' – an organisation that rather than working together, have teams that work in isolation, to their own agenda, poorly communicating, and rarely cooperating. If teams are formed around products or platforms, but behaviour doesn’t change to become more collaborative the silos remain.. they are just called something different.
Not only a 'burning platform', but an inspiring vision: In change management, the compelling reason to change behaviour is often referred to as the 'burning platform' - the key message that clearly answers the question 'Why should we change?'.
If that message is rooted in a fear of being disrupted ('We need to do this, or else bad things will happen!' ) then staff might opt to use that burning platform to jump ship!
On the other hand, if the reality of industry disruption is also presented in light of the exciting opportunities for innovation and reinvention that it also holds, the future state becomes a positive inspiring vision to rally behind that your team will want to be a part of.
It is people, it is people, it is people: Coming from the United States, my knowledge of Maori culture is limited. However, when I heard this Maori proverb, it stuck with me: 'He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people'.
The first principle of the Agile Manifesto is 'Individuals and Interactions over process and tools.' Even in digital disruption, technology is a means to an end. It is about creating value. This value is defined by, and consumed by, and delivered by… humans. There is no success without people. Therefore executives must see this as a 'hearts and minds campaign'. There must always be strong change management activities to support transformation of the culture, not just the implementation of tools.
- Harvard Business Review – How to Make Agile Work For The C-Suite
- Brian Solis - The Biggest Mistakes Companies Make In Digital Transformation and Innovation
- MIT Sloan Review – ‘Digital Transformation’ Is A Misnomer
Chris Pope is a consultant specialising in business transformation and delivering large organisational change programmes. He has spent the last 20 years leading complex projects and programmes, running a PMO, and improving practices in industries such as airline, local government, education, internet and healthcare in the US and New Zealand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn and Twitter: @chrispopenz
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