Mar 24, 2020  

Digital Transformation Leadership & Delivery for Business

Digital Transformation Leadership & Delivery for Business

We are living through an era of immense technological change, the opportunity to use digital and cloud technology to transform your services and better engage with customers is huge – those who adapt and are first to market will thrive, those who continue with their existing services and an ageing technology stack will find themselves falling further behind.

With advancements in digital and cloud technology almost every business aspiration is within reach – but to take full advantage leadership teams must understand how to successfully design, build and operate technology.  Just looking at how many transformation programmes still fail today it’s obvious that delivery is complex, that it requires a specialist skillset and, most significantly, that many leadership teams do not understand how to structure digital transformation programmes for success.

Digital transformation and cloud technologies will completely change the way your company operates – transformative change impacts every aspect of your organisation, including your people and customers so don’t be surprised by the complexity or by how long it will take to truly change the way you think and operate. Transformation, especially for larger organisations, is a journey… a lifestyle change that starts with the leadership team.

I like the simplicity of Kevin Krise’ definition for leadership…. “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. “

So, how do you set yourself and your teams up for success?  In order to land digital transformation you need experienced transformational leaders… you must ensure you have the right people in the right roles doing the right things – specifically you need three strong leaders, each of who feel they are fully accountable:

  • A Business Strategy lead,
  • A Delivery lead and
  • A Technology/architecture lead

They will need to work together as one unit so it’s important to assign the roles with that in mind.

Yes, complex technology delivery is often involved, but fundamentally Digital Transformation is about people so you need to start to with why, being clear about your purpose, strategy and intent.  You might get inspiration from the following video from Simon Sinek:

Setting the direction, the ultimate goal, then sharing that clarity and intent widely is critical – you must ensure that everyone involved is clear and unambiguous on “why” the team is in place and “what” they need to achieve.

Don’t underestimate just how difficult delivering a consistent message is – ensuring that you and your team are on the same page about what matters and what it really means…  If you don’t get this right you run the risk of everyone in your organisation pulling in a different direction. Not only will that impact delivery pace, it will be demotivating and tiring for the team who will all be working against each other unintentionally. In contrast, if you have alignment you will enable your teams to pull together and accelerate towards achieving the goal.

Your vision and mission is what your teams will aspire to. For inspiration it’s worth listening to Guy Kawasaki talk about creating a Mantra.

Strong agile organisations have a “north star” and guided by this they are reimagining both who they create value for and how – incredibly customer centric focused, whilst at the same time creating a shared purpose and vision that enables the team to feel personally and emotionally invested.

Make sure that your vision is printed in large letters on the wall, it should be part of your internal slide template and re-iterated at every Town Hall or team event. Make it part of your culture so that everyone in the building can repeat it without rehearsing.

And don’t forget it’s not just the ultimate goal, the top of the mountain, that you need to clearly articulate and regularly repeat. It’s the path up the mountain, the staging points and the next goal. Picking a goal that is too ambitious and which the teams don’t believe is achievable is just as demotivating as not having a goal at all.

This is not an easy ask, especially in a large scale complex digital transformation, so focus on the what and why, not how.  As the leader you need to set and maintain strong alignment around the purpose, strategy, and priorities – you need to communicate the desired business outcomes, explaining both the what and the why. Never assume that once is enough, your delivery teams need to keep being reminded what the ultimate goal is as well as the short term target.

What we call the “go to market” strategy goes hand in hand with the long term vision, ultimately it should describe what the first staging point or release is going to be including those features which are absolutely required (rather than ‘nice to have’). If you can paint the steps of transition for your teams they will understand the journey and sign up to helping you get there – that’s not to say it won’t change, a go-to-market strategy must remain flexible and be updated as a result of customer feedback, changing market conditions, competitor response to your product etc.

A ”go to market” strategy is most important where companies have an existing technology estate and need to keep their current services running while moving to a new way of operating. You must carefully balance those processes and the departments who will benefit most from new systems alongside the risk of pushing a new system which hasn’t had all of the kinks worked out and improvements implemented… transition is usually tougher for the early adopters.

In leading digital transformation, it is essential that you never lose sight of the strategic business ambition and required outcomes; and be alive to the fact they may change – they adapt with changing conditions, and so must you.

Recognise when change is required and be confident you have the ability to make informed and disciplined adjustments quickly… and that you know how to prioritise and stay focused on achieving the long term goals by taking deliberate actions to make them a reality.   Remaining outcome focused to increase the probability of success and achieve your organisations vision.

Some transformations will take years and people will change through this period, it is critical you keep your shared vision and mission front and centre and that over time the direction isn’t allowed to “drift”. Maintain alignment on your purpose, strategy and intent and you will enable people to pull together and accelerate delivery towards the achievement of your goal.

Teams will rise to deliver against a clear goal, but no matter how well planned you are, inevitably the last few metres before the finish line will be a scramble and leave loose ends. Allow for a short period to stabilise and let the team breathe however, don’t wait too long before shifting to the next goal. Teams will stabilise and polish the solution for as long as you allow them so you’ll need to judge when it’s time to switch up gears again.

It’s essential the leadership team is clear on the next short term goal before the first is delivered. You don’t want to distract your teams ahead of time but you must be ready to go once they have achieved the first goal and stabilised, really important that you keep the pace and drive of transformation going – don’t let the fire go out!

Once the first goal is delivered you must make sure you are measuring and sharing the results with your team – even if those results are not great. Be open and work with the delivery team to make the necessary improvements that will turn it around. We’ve seen clients berating delivery teams because the leadership group got the business strategy wrong… that’s not going to help on the motivation and staff retention front.

Remember most of all that you won’t get it right first time, Digital Transformation is a journey, Continuous Assessment and Improvement is a vital part of the process. You must regularly review what you are doing right and how you can improve – this isn’t an exercise for the leadership team to do in isolation but rather an open process across the whole team. If the Delivery Teams see that you’re listening to their feedback and making improvements, it will engender loyalty and ultimately build a happier, more productive team.

Jackie Keane

READ MORE

You might also be interested in these

Agile Product Backlogs – How to Transform your Vision
Mar 25, 2020
BY Sam Rapley

Agile Product Backlogs – How to Transform your Vision

The only reason a delivery organisation exists is to create amazing products that delight and bring value to customers.

The reason a product exists and how value is derived…

read more
Has agile got a higher success rate than waterfall?
Feb 17, 2020
BY Neil Butler
Culture, Delivery, Teams

Has agile got a higher success rate than waterfall?

Greenfield is simple and frankly you should ONLY be considering an agile approach because it provides early validation that your service works and there are customers who want…

read more