Today is my first day at InfoTech Research Group! I have been hired to lead their Application Development and Portfolio Management research practice. Last week I had the opportunity to meet with the team and see them define their next research projects. I was impressed with the structured approach they took to analyze the topics and identify the research content they will develop for InfoTech’s members.
Their interest in the subjects was delightful.
I am shocked every time people describe application delivery as a dry subject. While it can be a challenge to make the topics exciting, it is one that I have been fortunate to be up to according to my colleagues. However, one of my critics also accused me of getting people overexcited when change is so hard. Here is why; the organizations we work for spend billions on IT and application development.
If you’re not excited about better development, someone else will be.
Every one of the organizations I have worked with in the past few years is in the midst of an IT transformation. It might be Agile, Lean, Digital, DevOps, or something else, but the times they are a changing. There are many voices clamouring for our attention, usually offering a silver bullet for the ills of your IT organization. The drive for change is there, and you cannot allow yourself to be bored. Consider Digital Transformation.
If you are not part of one, you will be soon.
I have seen many organizations take one on without a common or complete understanding of what they have gotten into. That is not surprising. As Shahyan Khan found in his Ph.D. on the subject, few agree on what a digital transformation is. However, most agree that it is the primary challenge leaders face in organizations today. Khan also found that leadership literature is mostly silent on the subject of digital trends despite the profound effects they are having on our professional and personal lives. I have been fortunate to be at the intersection of these topics and seen approaches that have worked and failed. In my experience a Digital Transformation is one of the most complex changes organizations can undergo. Traps and pitfalls abound, and here are a few you must avoid at all costs.
Avoid Local Optimization in a Vacuum.
Sure, you can take your team Agile and start churning out working software every couple of weeks. This works for small software companies, why shouldn’t it work for you? If you spin up one cog in a large organization then the gears with gnashing teeth will grind it down because they are still working in the old way. DevOps is in part a response to the need for operational IT departments to react to more rapid development and deployment cycles. Even that is often not enough. One of the leaders I have worked with walked away a change I recommended that would significantly improve the efficiency of a part of his organization. While he saw the benefits of the change I proposed, he simply said, “We’re not ready yet.”
Do Not Oversimplify.
Many consulting companies understand the need for broad solutions when you transform a large organization. Unfortunately their prescriptions are often, in the words of a colleague leading a transformation here in Toronto, “An inch deep and a mile wide.” A Digital Transformation requires a deep understanding of the interactions in your organization. To be successful you need to change how multiple disciplines work and collaborate dramatically. Practitioners cannot just lob documents over the wall to your peers and hope for the best (and point fingers when they do not) any more.
Break Free from Tunnel Vision.
The most common and glib comment I hear about digital transformations is that it is a culture change. Sure, and while never easy, culture change is only a piece of the jigsaw. Focus on culture at the expense of methods, tools, skills, policies, standards, education, politics, and more and you may well find that everyone is nicer, but they still do not get anything done. As I have written before, a holistic approach is required to drive success
Get Out of the Ivory Tower.
I once saw a well meaning PMO lead develop a new application development method based on industry best practices for her organization in isolation. Despite warnings the new method ran head long into the capabilities and current practices in the organization and stopped dead. No matter how good a practice is you cannot simply implement it and expect it to work. You need to understand the current way (or ways) of working in your organization in order to map out a path forward. Often you need to start with baby steps. While in principle Agile teams should be self organizing, most teams need to start with a standard process that is designed to work in their organization. They can begin to self organize once they understand how to work effectively in a new method.
If you have not started what are you waiting for?
While a Digital Transformation of your IT practice is not simple, it is urgent. Your competitors will (or have already) embraced new ways of working as a competitive advantage. Whatever your concerns, you are not alone. Everyone is struggling, often alone. It does not have to be that way. Help is a phone call away.
What do you think?