How to scale the transformation
Feb 17, 2020
Peter Maddison

Your organization is changing and undergoing transformation. You’ve rolled out Agile (Scrum and Kanban), you’ve scaled it (SAFe, LeSS, etc.) and even applied DevOps practices (you’re using Kubernetes right? Isn’t that DevOps?) Yet still, millions later, the purported value has yet to materialize.

So how come, after all this work, we still have not realized the value?

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, perhaps we are still stuck in old ways of thinking. Real transformation requires new ways of thinking about the problems and in the case of the examples above, have we really changed? (Kubernetes is an orchestration framework for containers and does not equate to having adopted DevOps).

With millions spent already, what are we missing?

Change

A better way

In the modern world, we need a better way to respond to the rapid change brought on by technology. With the information age, how we work together to create value changes. The hierarchical systems that got us here do not provide the flexibility to respond as rapidly as we would like. However, changing while keeping the system running is rarely easy.

Incremental change is necessary to bring as much of the current organizational knowledge with you. Change too rapidly and you risk disrupting the organization. You need to ensure that people and teams feel supported and understand the reason for the change. An excellent approach to starting this is to:

  1. Measure a baseline for where you are today
  2. Experiment to find solutions
  3. Provide a vision of the future teams can rally behind

These steps are a starting point. To truly make the change stick, we need to build upon this to institutionalize it into everyday behaviour. Dr. John Kotter’s process for leading and accelerating change is one of the best-known methods for this. Kotter proposes an eight-step process to introduce change to an organization incrementally.

Evidence is showing that organizations that are successful in their digital transformations today go all-in. This is a far cry from the piecemeal approach we have taken to date, as evidenced by the lack of effectiveness of Agile transformations that occur only within a subset of an organization’s technology department. For such changes to be effective, as with Kotter’s model, we need to introduce the change across the organization.

Challenging existing beliefs

As discussed above, one mistake often made in transformation initiatives is believing the benefits of the change can be realized by the introduction of rituals at the delivery team level only. If leaders within the delivery structure are not also willing to challenge their beliefs, then often the change will stall and even die.

To scale change, there is a need to create understanding and buy-in at all layers of the organization. Companies institute frameworks such as SAFe to aid with this, but they often use them as an excuse to not really change their mindset and challenge the existing status quo.

Where is your focus?

A second problem occurs if you focus on the delivery of features over paying down complexity in the system. If all you work on are new features, you may find what you are building becomes harder and harder to change, stifling innovation.

With a goal of creating value for the customer, when we are bogged down in the beauty of the next great technical feature, we can forget this. It becomes tough to arrive at a consistent direction if the goal is the next widget, but nobody knows how that impacts the customer. This highlights the importance of creating fast feedback loops to your customers to guide what work comes next.

It is critical to balance the creation of new features by paying down the complexity debt caused by the introduction of the previous features. Without doing this, it becomes increasingly hard to deliver value without incurring even more levels of overhead and bureaucracy across teams. This further reduces the capacity for change within the organization, reducing the effectiveness of the transformation.

Conclusion

To benefit from digital transformation efforts, organizations need to look at more than their delivery teams. Discovering where best to focus your efforts can help create alignment and build that sense of urgency for the change. It also helps with understanding where to balance the creation of new features with paying down complexity debt.

At Xodiac, we work with teams to define the goals of the transformation and align the organization to them. We tailor our discovery services as a way to either get started or reinvigorate your digital transformation.

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