Digital Transformation 3.0, Part 2 of 3: How?
Stay Adaptable through Dexterity
The majority of any industry still follows an N minus X philosophy, e.g. follow-the-leader; with a basic understanding of possibilities, a follower to technology as to reduce cost. This philosophy works, as long as the awareness is far-reaching. But how far is far-reaching?
Long story short: KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid. And I'll tell you a secret: Digital Transformation is figuring out what truly matters to the customer and associated revenue, and mission/vision of a total organization; by simplifying. And more importantly, trying to do so without losing the incredible talent an enterprise has gardened and built along the way. You CAN be a gardener and an engineer.
A key part of why Digital Transformation has a somewhat mixed reputation, is that transformation implies a singular event. Being dexterous means being able to deftly change and pivot when needed. As a technologist or business professional, simplicity should always be the goal, even though life is complex. Here are a few proven tips and trends that help, and are pretty unanimous or evolutionary upon various professional services in 'digital transformation'.
Truly Reorganize Operating Models by Product/Service and Employee Interest
This one is simple, but contrary to common business practices like 'synergies' or similar architectural principles such as the hallmark 'reusability'.
ESPN is a good example of this, at one time in the recent past a leader in an organization came in and asked everyone "what job do you want?" and essentially gave that job opportunity to those people, ultimately re-organizing in a relative nightfall their entire organization. Today Disney owns ESPN, and ESPN is finally making up ground. This successful transformation is in part to an organizational structure aligned to employee passion, service, channel and product; not the hulking mess ESPN was in the past, so fused with one monetization method: TV advertisements. A radical change in operating model, but ultimately; a smart one, digital/streaming is a better match for their customers.
I'd even espouse the hallmarks of MVP or Minimum Viable Product, a concept that is so prevalent in business nomenclature today I'm starting to see numerous variations of the theme. One thing will remain true: the product is revenue. If people like it, they will buy it; a great historical reference is the rise of Venice as a global power, based on one product: Salt.
Venice went from a marshland set of villages to a global superpower for hundreds of years on the quality and availability of salt. Keep it simple, focus on the product and the service: customers want the best quality product for the least cost (note: "time is money friend"). Embed all manners of IT roles within a business as directly related to product and/or service as possible. Solve challenges as a cohesive team with focus.But keep the product simple, think 'venice:salt'.
Embed Governance: Focus on the Cause not the Symptom
This one is tough for me to admit, but having architecturally reviewed and governed quite a bit (probably 2000+ projects and solutions over 15 years), I've seen a small majority actually morph after a governance review; and the reviews more than likely have recommended changes. Usually, it's educational to the culture, and it's well vetted by people already more familiar with the product or development ahead of time.
There are positive things to be said for hierarchical or 'ivory tower' decision making, it's slow, but accurate.
A disclaimer, however, I've also seen governance avoid huge potential risks, but again, very rarely. Auditing or forensics can often achieve the same outcome at a much lower cost but is usually too late, and at a minimum serves to stem an already bad implementation from becoming much worse.
In general, minimizing governance, or even stopping it all together and accepting the risk, is a current successful trend. Reinvesting governance into talent growth/education, empowering your developers/data scientists, and auditing will serve better in the long run. I've also seen ad-hoc reviews utilizing Carnegie Melon's SEI ATAM method to work proficiently on high-profile programs, but they usually interrupt the program/project's timeline. What I would suggest, if governance is required, is putting the action of governance reviews on the product/service owner; a trigger they should be able to pull, knowing full well, the hiccups that may occur.
Ideally, governance should not ever be needed; in today's world it is just too slow to be competitive in the marketplace, speed to market is king; failing fast is best. Utilizing SOCs (Systems of Control) at various levels of product/service delivery should suffice: Pivotal Labs is a great example of bringing this mode of thinking to bear as a consulting model and professional services branch of larger tech giants; but more importantly, focusing on Continuous Delivery will assuage the pain of governance.
I won't go into the details of CD (Continuous Delivery) here, but the starting and remaining objective via the linked wiki is a great starting point. Be wary of going down a Professional Services route; CD is best accomplished from within, through education, passion, and clear accountability. Adaptability and dexterity is best a learned through discipline and practice, not a singular event.
Stop the Bleeding, Simplify Responsibility
Give people very succinct baseline responsibilities directly related to product/service. RACI's (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed), a PMI concept, was a prevalent construct to help here; but I've found that many organizations found four variations to be too complex to integrate. I've also seen RACI be super successful as well, but rarely, a not without significant effort. It doesn't sound like much in four letters, but exponentially reorganizing dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of multi-discipline professional people into various capacities turns out to be very hard in large enterprises.
Keep it simple, make people responsible for certain aspects of services/products and that's it; give them time to be innovative and focused. This leads to less 'noise', less 'churn', and overall happier employees.
Foster Respect and Collaboration before Bravery
High performing organizations don't always have to be the most aggressive; fostering a mutual respect should come before the talk on bravery.
Great examples are rife in the history of collaborative and respected leaders accomplishing great things, but they didn't do it alone. A fantastic example of this is the 2018 NBA Basketball Finals; Lebron James would put up nearly 50% or more of the points for his team, but the teamwork of, still stellar, players on the competing team accomplished more. Lebron James is considered by many to perhaps be the absolute best of all time in his craft. Heroics are fine and dandy, but teamwork wins in the end.
Be a team before you become a heroine or hero. Greatness, a betterment for societies or companies, is rarely ever achieved alone. Conversely, being a team does not mean communal scapegoating, be sure responsibility is individual and task-centric, not team and time-based. Just as we enjoy detailed requirements to help us accomplish a goal, we enjoy when expectations are clear and concise.
Temporary Silos or No Silos
That Sun Tzu quote is in a chapter about being cognizant of the ground you are fighting on as well. It's the 21st century, we can shape the ground now!
Similar to product reorganization, silo's in an enterprise are actually commonplace and product specific. However, unnecessary silos occur in every enterprise. The simple fact of the matter is people form communities, but it doesn't mean these communities should last forever under one banner. Customer expectations change more rapidly than what fast re-orgs can accomplish; this level of politics may lead to stagnation or a 'time-based' work rather than 'task-based' work.
A common trend in highly profitable companies like Amazon, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Alibaba, and more is the advent of AGILE methodologies but with a devilish focus on collaboration. Working together and breaking down barriers of compartmentalization can lead to profound discoveries that just wouldn't have been possible with extensive walls/silos.
However, there are grey areas that should be considered; not everyone can have the same title, compensation, etc. and still provide specialist work; a happy medium needs to be found.
Be functional and simplistic in 'destroying the monolith' of culture without neglecting the needs of your core customers and talented employees. 'Be like water', don't use silos in a permanent way; treat them temporarily as to be agile for coming innovations and working trends. And more importantly, this mode of thinking needs to be employed from top-to-bottom. Organize work by service or product and task, even R&D and I.T.!
DesignOps, DevOps Evolved
While DevOps gains popularity due to several factors; primarily speed-to-market, Continuous Development and MVP, it does have many challenges in practice.
One of these gaps is Design and User Experience. My own experience, architecting and delivering hundreds of multi-million dollar programs, has been that the product is usually only as good as it's design and requirements; precursory, it all depends on innovative new requirements.
Proper requirements are the true design of any solution, and greatly detailed and easily understood requirements let the creativity bloom but also makes architecture, development, and deployment a breeze. That being said, I can also fully relate to the challenge of objectively articulating complex requirements in piecemeal fashion. This is no easy task, especially if your SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) are operating AND creating requirements.
In walks DesignOps: DesignOps is everything that supports high-quality crafts, methods, and processes. A great article in-depth regarding DesignOps can be found here. The design is the first thing your developer, user or customer may face, make it easy, make it good, start here. Not only does this have parity with EA logic (start high, dig down, more data!), it helps drive clearer requirements and ultimately; smoother delivery.
Be Human, Be Compassionate: Use Psychology in a Good Way
While doing some research into the psychology of decision making and justification, I came across an intriguing study via Psychology Today: A call to action for 'truth', from a Psychologist's perspective.
While digging deeper and researching, 'going down the rabbit hole', I came across the system of an academic department regarding a Theory on Knowledge, or ToK. What struck a cord, was not the reiteration of previous material to design new models/viewpoints, but rather the distinct similarity between TOGAF ADM (Architecture Design Methodology, a methodology known to be focused on getting to an ideal state), and the Hypothesis on Decision Making. Two decision models, with a similar model.
What I walked away from with this was not a curiosity into why they resemble each-other, the subject matter is definitely not like-for-like. Rather what I took away from this tangent was that architecture is decision-focused; and that eventually we all need to make decisions, professionally. This was a reiteration that a humanist and healthier organization is a better performing organization.
Mental health is a continuing challenge in America and the world; our understanding and measurement have gotten better. Be compassionate and empathetic to others perspectives at all times, foster a culture of respect before you attempt to foster a culture of courage. Just like the prosperity of Big Data, happier and more open employees can lead to new discoveries and fostered innovation.
Diversity should include all aspects, not just sexual identity or racial genealogy; embrace different modes of thoughts and different personalities. I recall a seminar from Edward Tufte, American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University; when talking about cooperation and collaboration challenges he's faced throughout his long career, stated something similar to this (and I'm paraphrasing from memory here):
You'll find innovation through the open and honest collaboration of ideas in people; through cross disciplines, not a singular book nor a class nor a speaker nor event.
Thanks for reading, part 3 will focus on putting the pieces together.