Digital Transformation – Charity Comms networking event

“What does it actually mean, and what does it look like for your charity?” This post is a quick summary of the most interesting ideas that came up in discussion at this Heads of Digital networking event, 15 March 2017. The event was held under the Chatham House Rule, so I won’t be sharing anything identifiable.

Upskilling everyone equally might not be as useful as significantly upskilling some key individuals.
Build a community of product owners, train them and empower them through management of their own backlog and budget.

Digital transformation sees digital outgrow its regular home in communications and move into:

  • Service delivery
  • Business transformation
  • Making sure that the organization meets user needs.
  • Foundational business processes and infrastructure.

Don’t be proscriptive with change. Instead, invite teams to let you know where you might be able to help them achieve their goals more effectively with digital tools.

If you start by optimising a small number of key user journeys, this can give you a clear way in.
Follow this thread towards transformation. The necessary changes emerge organically, and it’s easier than getting buy-in upfront.

Management and Leadership of the Agile Organisation

Notes from a talk on Agile management and leadership culture at the Digital Project Managers meetup on 9 March by Chris Davies. Video available.

 

A large number of the reported causes for failed agile projects are management-related.

ranking of leading causes for agile failure, highlighting cultural factors

This is down to management’s way of thinking.

Why do managers think differently?

Managers still often follow the scientific management principles of Frederick Winslow Taylor:

  1. It is possible to know all you need to know in order to plan what to do.
  2. “Planners” and “doers” should be separated.
  3. There is only one right way to do things.

The harmful divide between “Planners and “Doers”

This distinction between “planners” and “doers” causes an uneven power dynamic.

The powerful (planners) are focused on ambition, politics, mistrust, greed and fear.

The powerless (doers) are focused on resentment and resignation.

This approach is manifested in management creating plans for resources to follow, in milestones, steering groups (the idea that these people set direction and the doers just follow along), progress reports, measuring individual performance, annual budgeting, organisation silos and timesheets.

The split between “planners” and “doers” may have made sense in the early c20th factory system, where you didn’t have an educated workforce. But it doesn’t make sense now that university education is widespread – and it particularly doesn’t make sense for knowledge work, where the “planners” probably won’t be expert in the fast-changing specialist domains of their subordinates.

As Steve Jobs observed:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”

Why do we tell people how to do their jobs?

We tell people how to do their jobs if the outcomes we want aren’t materialising.

We set objectives, then make plans to meet these objectives, and then carry out the necessary actions.
But we might not get the outcomes we want.

This can happen because of problems in the flow between these steps:

  • Knowledge gap: a difference between what we think we know and what we actually know. Assumptions.
  • Alignment gap: a difference between what we want people to do and the actions people take.
  • Effects gap: a difference between what our effects are and what we want them to achieve.

How does scientific management approach problems?

  • Knowledge gap: give me more detailed information
  • Alignment gap: I need to give you more detailed instructions
  • Effects gap: need more detailed controls

This disempowers people in the organisation.

How else might we approach problems?

Scientific management isn’t the only approach. Prussian General Von Moltke in 1869 advocated a different way.

  • Knowledge gap: “Do not command more than is necessary or plan beyond the circumstances you can foresee”
  • Alignment gap: “Communicate to every unit as much of the higher intent as is necessary to achieve the purpose” Intent more important than how to achieve it in practice.
  • Effects gap: “Everyone retains freedom of decision and action within bounds” everyone decides how to achieve that purpose.

So a superior management approach is to establish alignment on intent and give autonomy on actions.

  • Define and communicate intent
  • Allow each level to define how they will achieve the intent of the next level up and ‘backbrief’
  • Give individuals freedom to adjust their actions in line with intent.

diagram showing how the knowledge, alignment and effects gaps can be resolved

 

graph showing impact of high and low alignment and autonomy in combination

Some examples of this approach

  • A BA check-in staff member was presented with a gold customer running late for a flight that was taking off in 20 minutes. All the formal rules suggested that nothing could be done, and she couldn’t get in touch with her manager or with customer services. So she took the initiative to hold up the flight and personally escort a gold customer to the gate, allowing him to make his flight. This was against formal rules, but in alignment with the company’s values “To ensure that BA is the customer’s first choice through the delivery of an unbeatable travel experience.”
  • Netflix avoid top-down decision-making. They focus on ‘context, not control’.
  • Submarine Captain David Marquet (author of Turn the ship around) divested control to his subordinates. Instead of giving orders, he’d ask people to tell him what they intended to do. He’d then potentially ask a few questions. He’d then give assent. Subordinates would internalise the required dilligence, and grow in their own competence and professionalism. His focus was on providing clarity of purpose.
  • Buurtzorg – a nursing company predicated on empowered, independent teams of nurses. Teams hire their own people, and decide how to operate. Patients love it because nurses spend more time with them. And yet the need for care is 40% less than it is in other organisations. The US would save $49 billion a year if it had this system.
  • Favi – brass foundry. Legendary for on-time elivery, having not missed a deadline in 28 years. Staff empowered to do what it takes to get results, including delivery by helicopter if that’s what’s needed. This builds trust in delivery and the brand, far beyond the costs.

Changing culture results in bigger gains than changing processes

Simply adopting agile practices will generally give about a 20% benefit.
Adopting an agile culture gives about a 300% benefit. This is much more powerful.

How people rewarded or punished in an organisation determines your values. Management sets boundaries by how it treats failure. Any cultural change needs to address this.

You need to evolve into theory Y management to realise benefits from agile. Change from theory X management to theory Y management.
Put in place supporting structures, processes and practices.
Role model these behaviors by people with moral authority in the organisation.
Recognise that work is accomplished by teams not individuals. Monitor and value groups.
Divest control within teams. Give teams autonomy and boundaries to work unimpeded.
Encourage people to explore and challenge their personal beliefs. They’ll leave if they don’t like it.

Command and and control versus team-based approaches to work:
diagram showing the difference between top-down and team-based approaches to work

Digital Transformation scrapbook

Here are some key insights from articles I’ve read on digital transformation.

The evolution of (Digital) strategy

Discussions on digital: How strategy is evolving—and staying the same—in the hypergrowth digital age

“My view is that the role of strategist, first and foremost, is the mobilizer. People need to understand where the company is going and take autonomous decisions. ”

“the way to manage a company has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, from “top down, the leader knows it all, let’s execute,” to a model that’s more like a federation, where you expect empowered teams to make the right choices and follow in the general direction. So it’s even more important to have a strategy that allows that federation of little teams to do what they have to do and not refer up the chain every time.”

Be wary of taking a narrow conception of what ‘digital transformation’ is

Digital strategy: Understanding the economics of disruption

“what they had wasn’t a digital strategy, it was a list of priorities for digitization. Explicitly, it was how are we going to reduce the cycle time in our end-to-end processes, how are we going to improve the customer experience and build new apps, and so forth. It was about how they digitize. It was not actually the choices they were making about a big disruptive economic force, which is the changes that are made possible by digital technologies.”

“The word ‘strategy’ is used too loosely with digital to mean our priorities for digitization not the choices we’re going to make in terms of where we compete and how we cmopete in the face of a big disruptive force.”

“We found that going back to the fundamentals of economics, trying to understand where there is economic room to be attacked, where your open flank is, or where you could thrust a spearhead, was a much more useful way to approach the problem and simplify the problem and focus on the right priorities.”

“Do not just think digitization. Think digital strategy. How will the economics of my business change in the future? How can I change the economics of other businesses? And, therefore, what should be strategy in the digital age be?”

How companies become digital leaders

“incumbents, particularly laggards and followers, sometimes reflexively try to drive digital marketing and sales. They mistake the world of digital for the world of online-selling success. And that narrow set of levers and aspirations for digital transformation is often unsatisfying and unsuccessful. Because there is a lot of opportunity unlocked by digital: the ability to fundamentally change how productive your assets are, the ability to leverage data and your consumer base in a different way, and the ability to actually develop innovative new propositions that you could never have offered before – the world of universal connectivity and ultracheap and ultrafast processing power. the ability to do these things is often a lot more powerful than trying to get a laser-like focus on pure digital- marketing and -sales performance.”

Thinking digitally can be difficult

Achieving a digital state of mind

“One of the biggest changes digital allows is that what might have been product sales become services. … You may have bought a thermostat, but now you’re buying energy management. You may have bought a TV, but now you’re buying entertainment streaming.”

What ‘digital’ really means
“diverse perspectives [on what digital means] often trip up digital teams”

“digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things.”

  1. “creating value at the new frontiers”. This could be about developing new businesses in adjacent categories, or identifying and realising value pools in existing sectors.
  2. “creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences”. Obsessively seek to understand each step of a customer’s purchasing journey, regardless of channel, and think about “how digital capabilities can design and deliver the best possible experience.” e.g. supply chain to give flexibility and deliver the product efficiently and in a way that the customer wants.”
  3. “building foundational capabilities that support the entire structure” “Being digital is about using data to make better and faster decisions, devolving decision making to smaller teams, and developing much more iterative and rapid ways of doing things.” [see below on decision making and oversight] I.T. should be delivered in a two-stream model. Legacy systems that support critical functions should work at a slower pace, and a separate stream supports fast-moving, often customer-facing interactions.

Making the cultural case for change

Digital disruption is impacting every sector, even law firms

“We should not try to convince management of the importance of digital. Instead we should frame the conversation around their pain points and struggles. Every senior management team has certain objectives that they need to reach or barriers they need to overcome. The chances are that digital can help with those and that is how we should position it.”

Customer obsession

Achieving a digital state of mind
“Everybody will say they’re customer oriented, but, as digital leaders would say, they have to be customer obsessed. And that’s something that a lot of organizations still struggle with. So that’s where you should start. Take the customer perspective.”

How to think about building digital services

Digital disruption is impacting every sector, even law firms
Not like creating a building, where you draw up the plans, then build, then do minor maintenance.
It’s more like planting a garden. Start small, then add more elements. Keep pruning, trimming and evaluating as you go.

Design sprints

Preventing the Executive Swoop and Poop with Design Sprints

  • Takes a week
  • Uses a team of participants from different roles and perspectives in the organisation.
  • Define and unpack a problem. Built a shared understanding
  • Generate ideas and decide which ones to pursue for testing
  • Build a prototype of their ideas, and validate assumptions by observing real people using it.

This helps you escape the risk of designing by starting with a list of stakeholder requirements, which may not be correct. “Unfortunately, because there’s usually no validation process built into the conventional design process, it isn’t until late (sometimes as late as when the product ships) that the team learns they went down the wrong rabbit hole.”

“Trying out what seems like a great idea and discovering that you’re wrong is a fantastic way to learn. Doing it quickly and early in the process mitigates the risks associated with heading down the wrong paths, delivering more educational value to your organization at lower cost.”

“When an organization integrates design sprints into projects, they see a dramatic decrease in outside influencer disruptions and an increase in their design quality.”

Continuous optimisation

Optimize Customer Experiences With Online Testing And Continuous Optimization

Improve your online testing through the following continuous optimisation objectiveS:

  1. Learn from every possible customer interaction
  2. Test customer interactions across the entire lifecycle
  3. Align with a customer-centric strategy
  4. Deploy testing within every possible digital channel

Failure and experimentation

Amazon’s 2015 letter to shareholders

“failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there. Outsized returns often come from betting against conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is usually right. Given a ten percent change of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you’re still going to be wrong nine times out of ten.”

Different types of decision need different types of oversight

Amazon’s 2015 letter to shareholders
“One common pitfall for large organizations – one that hurts speed and inventiveness – is ‘one-size-fits-all’ decision making.”
“tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. the end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention.”

There are actually two types of decision:

  • Type 1: consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible. “one-way doors”. “these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and
    consultation”. A minority of decisions are Type 1.
  • Type 2. Changeable, reversible. “Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.”

    Data-enabled decision-making and the role of top management

    An executive’s guide to machine learning
    “Frontline managers, armed with insights from increasingly powerful computers, must learn to make more decisions on their own, with top management setting the overall direction and zeroing in only when exceptions surface.”

    How companies become digital leaders
    “Not doing anything may be the riskiest move of all.”

    Rapid development and measurement

    Achieving a digital state of mind
    “If you’re doing to do a rapid ‘test and learn’ and get those feedback cycles, the whole philosophy has got to be that what we do is measurable.”