What is Digital Transformation really about?
I was invited to do a talk on Digital Transformation in early 2019 but it didn’t work out. I did all the prep so I thought I’d put my thought on virtual paper.
You are probably asking yourself: What makes him a Digital Transformation expert? The truth is that I’m not, but I’ve been around the block enough times to able to talk about it.
During my early days at Finning Digital, I stumbled upon the book “Exponential Organizations: why new organizations are a lot faster that traditional ones”. Even though originally didn’t like the structure of the book, it actually summarizes a lot of similar thoughts I’ve had along my career regarding change and technology.
Through a series of very well known case studies (e.g. Google, Netflix, TED, Valve), it defines a framework to create a highly performing organization. One where its impact is disproportionally large compared to its peers because of the use of new techniques and technology.
So what are some of these principles?
Staff on demand: these days with an ever evolving technology stack it’s hard to find and retain staff, so leverage strong development partners that can bring technical know-how to complement your subject matter expertise.
Community & Crowd: leverage early access / preview builds of your product to beta-test your ideas and get feedback early in the development cycle.
Leveraged assets: use cloud services like Azure to quickly spin up and down resources and leverage a pay-as-you-go model to manage costs.
Autonomy: design an org structure that fosters independent thought, that it is empowered to take risks and to make their own decisions.
But at the end of the day, the real challenge with Digital Transformation is with people, how it impacts them and how they embrace it or not. I group these challenges into three categories:
Culture: “Work hard, play hard“ was more than' just a cliche saying on several teams I worked for, they were words we lived by. They gave us the determination to chase ambitious goals and helped us get through tough times. Define what kind of culture you want for the team that will drive Digital Transformation, create an environment that fosters it. It’s alway about the little things. I like saying: “There’s no rollback with a release, only roll-forward“ to create a culture where the team can make mistakes but must think and act quick to fix things.
Process: even if you work for a large company that is process heavy and likely to slow you down, find ways to leverage automation and modern tools to compensate for them were possible. Never settle for a bad process. Get people outside your team to be part of those steps that you’ve improved and see how those old processes slowly start to improve.
People: At the end of the day, it all comes down to the people you work with so know your allies and the part of the organization that support your crusade very well. Not everyone will be on board Digital Transformation, specially those that feel threatened by change.
Surround yourself of like-minded people and get their help to bring those on the fence into the transformation fold. Let’s say you can’t get your HR team on board. Work closely with teams aligned with them (e.g. recruitment, payroll) as a proxy to get to the former.
Digital Transformation is hard and have to start somewhere. I definitively encourage you to read some of the theory from Exponential Organizations but put it to practice by creating the right culture, challenging archaic processes and surrounding yourself of a team that is willing to take on the challenge.