Tackling Transformation…You CAN Get There from Here
Many enterprises are faced with digital transformation and, according to a McKinsey study, 90% of CEOs believe their industry will be digitally disrupted but only 15% feel well positioned to execute on a high frequency digital strategy. The cloud provides the ability to automate testing, security, and infrastructure, in addition to offering a pay as you go model. This can provide a foundation for innovation by speeding up delivery while providing consistency and safety. For enterprises, the cloud quickly becomes the easy part. Repositioning your organization to operate effectively in this new environment is where the challenge lies.
When I speak to enterprises about migrating to the cloud, standing up a Cloud Enablement team is inevitably part of the conversation (often referred to as a Cloud Center of Excellence, or CCOE). It is a centralized team that helps your organization move to the cloud and optimize your people, processes, and workloads. Training, technology adoption, security, cost management, etc. are typical focal points of this team. The idea behind the Cloud Enablement team is to provide guardrails that speed up the organization while creating consistency, developing new muscle (like cost management and cost-effective architectures), and ultimately shepherding the organization through a safe transition. While the focus and activities will vary, you can leverage the idea of a transformation enablement team to tackle different areas requiring change, including Agile and DevOps. In fact, we had an Agile delivery team at Cox Automotive that enabled our Agile transformation.
In my opinion, you need to expand your aperture to take full advantage of all the cloud has to offer, which typically includes tackling your delivery and operations practices. Let’s explore ways to do just that.
The Lightbulb Moment
Training your team on new concepts is an obvious starting point. However, these new concepts require you to think differently if you want to maximize the benefit of new techniques. It is no different if you are considering a cloud, Agile, or DevOps transformation (or all three!). Learning to think differently about solving problems similar to those faced previously is not easy. A key aspect of your reskilling process should include how you think about solving problems, prioritizing work, and measuring value. At the end of the day, most enterprises need to optimize the following:
- Which problems they choose to solve.
- How they choose to solve them.
- How much their solutions cost.
- Proving that they solved the right problem, the right way.
It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s easy to get started if you’re willing to take risks and willing to make mistakes along the way. I believe your future success will be based on learning and iteration, so I recommend starting to build that muscle as part of the transformation and reskilling process.
There are different techniques that can be used in reskilling your team, but in my opinion, sharing a compelling vision and making it clear why transformation is required is a critical starting point. My personal preference is to tell stories and share analogies that help the audience step back from the details and the day to day. I find it helps people see what is happening more broadly and how that point of view relates to the needed change. In addition, it can lead to a much needed pivot point, “the lightbulb moment,” where everything clicks for an individual. For cloud, you can draw on the comparison of the cloud to the history of electricity. For data and machine learning, you can surface emerging techniques to capture data: like how Fabric allows consumers to create a will for free or how reCAPTCHA uses a security mechanism to block bots while getting consumers to annotate data for machine learning (e.g., select all images that have a traffic light or store front). Solutions like this turn the challenge of capturing data and labeling data on its head. By taking a broader view of the change, people can begin to see how thinking differently opens new doors.
Making It Real
By broadening people’s perspective, you solidify a foundation to build upon. From there, it’s important to make it real for teams and prove value quickly. Most transformations start small and later gain momentum and exponential adoption. I’ve found that having early wins helps even skeptics open up to change. But that typically happens after hearing credible stories from previous adopters. By starting small, you can create a growing community of experienced teams within your organization, and you can leverage that experience as you look to more broadly onboard teams and kick the transformation into high gear.
At Amazon, we use tenets to describe how we’re going to do things. They help us focus on delivering customer value (whether the customer is internal or external) and tend to be specific and memorable and serve to distinguish what makes a team or process different. They often serve as tie breakers as well, helping to inform our choices. One option is to create tenets for your transformation to help with decision making along the way. The tenets would also provide a means to communicate your intentions to your future adopters. The Agile Manifesto is a good example of tenets for Agile software development. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) can be a challenge with transformations. Being clear and intentional with what and how you communicate, and helping adopters understand how the transformation will benefit them (What’s In It For Me [WIIFM]) will facilitate a smooth transition. Remember, while the actual execution is important, context and buy-in goes a long way when behaviors need to change.
Here are a few tenets for a delivery transformation to get you started:
- Team over individuals: We will organize and operate in a manner that puts the success of the team first.
- Customer obsessed: Building the right product/feature/service is more important than achieving vanity metrics.
- Offload and master: We will focus on and master what sets us apart and offload anything that does not.
- Outcomes over beauty: We will prioritize customer outcomes over perfected solutions.
- Adjust and iterate: Things change, and when they do, we will adapt, learn, and respond swiftly.
- Speed, speed, speed: We will enable speed by delivering automated guardrails, not gates, that allow value to flow freely, frequently, and safely to our customers.
Making It Stick
At the end of the day, your approach to transformation certainly matters but what will help make it stick, is the environment you create and the behaviors you allow. Take a step back from the change you are looking to implement and observe the behaviors that exist today. Examine the environment, especially the physical space, and consider if that environment invites the behaviors you desire. Gather data upfront and revisit those observations to measure change beyond your project plan. And, while there is a place for project plans, transformations should not have a start and an end date. Consider yourself and your organization as being on a journey. The journey will never end and things will change along the way, so learn to “adjust and iterate.”