Thursday, April 2, 2015

Can You Order Transformations Over Easy?

Transformation can be a scary word and it's better when it is not a "forced march".  If a business sees an opportunity to enhance or change their business model, supported by newer technologies, there is a positive feel to transformation despite the fears of the journey. However it is not always the choice of the business. If there is an erosion of customer base, competitive threats, downward trends or an upstart in the industry that redefines your sector, this may become a forced march. There are those that believe the emergence of new digital technologies will create an environment where organizations will have to step up or else. I have seen three kind of transformation strategies used and had the challenge to implement with all three, but they were rarely easy. I was fortunate enough to live through all three and deliver value to the organizations that employed them.

Big Bang:

It's bit like taking a plunge in a lake without know the temperature of the water and racing at full speed before you sink. This is where a large scope with a high risk / reward situation is in play. The benefit of  these kind of transformations is that they can deliver big results that take advantage of emerging opportunities or protect from emerging threats. They can take a long period of time before the benefits flow and take an incredible amount confidence and patience. This is what I call the "all in" approach to transformation that requires extreme nerves and not for the frail of heart. Instrumenting measures and progress by trusted managers is the key to success here with more than the normal amount of communication. Quite often, many external skill bases are imported temporarily to make this happen to overcome inertia. Having worked on a successful "super sized" big bang effort, it took some super savvy executive leadership to pull it off even with a very talented skill base of near 1000 people over the duration of this 500 million dollar plus transformation.

Incremental Transformation:

This approach is a slow emergence approach to get used to the water over time. This is where a large transformation is broken into "bite sized" pieces with benefit delivery points along the way to help fund the overall transformation. This approach allows everyone to see the benefits and learn incrementally while building up skills and confidence as you go. This mitigates risk and the amount of investment needed to get the benefits. This is what I call "try it you will like it" approach that requires a smaller initial investment, but it does take a longer time. The advantage is that you can do this with you existing staff and help them learn and grow over time. This can be called a small steps to a big change over time approach. You can enjoy the cooling of the water with or without swimming. This is a balanced approach. Having worked on an innovative departmental based effort that set the target by creating a user experience first and filling in the more difficult, but beneficial features later, delivered the goods for us.

Aggressive Incremental Transformation:

If you want to swim quickly, but want to back out of the water at any time or switch strokes in the middle of your race, this approach works well. This is where small portions of a transformation are tried and cobbled together quickly delivering experience, good or bad, and making appropriate adjustments. You have to have "a fail fast; scale fast mentality" that puts a premium on "do it, try it & fix it". This is a great approach where there is a significant amount of new skills, technology and methods. It is easy to fall into a trap here. One can just play and wander around without a larger target in mind or make adjustment to the larger goals and target business model. If the end game is considered well here, the speed to market is greatly increased over just incremental transformation. Having worked on one of these approaches with a rotating "c suite" representative per day for confirmation of results, we ended up with a chaotic way of managing.  Eventually we steered ourselves to a final result that made all smile. The problem was that the executives wanted all projects going forward to work this way. Unfortunately we had legacy code to deal with for our traditional processes and applications.

Net; Net:

Keep in mind these can be used in combination if planned well or adjusted quickly based on results. I believe that a digital transformation is in every organization's future and those who learn to manage it well will be the winners. I also believe that adaptive and agile processes that create a better customer experience will be a key support ingredient along with many of the new emerging digital technology combinations. So what do you believe? Wait until it is a forced march or get ahead of the trend?

Reference Reading: