Recently I read the book ‘The professional agile leader – the leader’s journey towards growing mature agile teams and organizations’. The writers share some interesting insights that can help us to perform better, in any role we play, in digital transformation initiatives being agile or waterfall.
According to the writers of the book ‘are leaders not superheroes. Leaders are everywhere and opportunities for leadership are everywhere, waiting to be seized. Leadership is a learned response to challenges in the world. Everyone can lead at different points’. To me this means, when participating in challenges as digital transformation initiatives, we should listen carefully to all participants. And decide for different points in time who would be the best leader for that step of the transformation. You can help to identify the best leader for the next step of your digital transformation. Or it might turn out you are the best equipped leader for some steps. And sometimes the best leader is not the obvious…
The writers of the book state that ‘dependencies are the enemies of change’. In many digital transformations we see indeed complex processes and systems that are highly dependent on many other processes and systems. And I recognize these entanglements of processes and systems where we are afraid to change something because of the risk of breaking something else. In our digital transformation initiatives, we should constantly look at reducing dependencies to make change possible. Our best option to make a change happen is to choose a small area (e.g. a specific process in a small business area) with a great challenge. And then start making this area less dependent on others so it can change in small steps to meet customer needs.
According to the writers of the book ‘traditional leaders often determine the product or service the organization is going to deliver, then decide on the process by which the organization is going to deliver it and then form teams to follow the process to deliver the product or service. Often the result is disengaged teams who passively follow a process to deliver products and service that don’t meet customer needs’. Indeed, I have seen this happening in some digital transformation initiatives. And I believe we have the highest change of success if we don’t change an existing team to work on the challenge. But instead form a completely new team to work on the chosen challenge in the selected area. And ideally the team members volunteer and are empowered to form the team themselves. The team decides on the process to realize the change. And the team is responsible to measure along the way, if the change meets the customer needs.
The writers also experienced that many organizations ‘identify problems that are to be understood, an approach is defined, the right practices are selected, a plan is created, and the execution of that plan is monitored. The plan is right and deviations to the plan indicate that something has gone wrong, and that corrective action is required. However, when working on a complex product, it might be that the plan is wrong, and the team is doing the right thing. The problem is that measuring the activities and output of the plan often have little to nothing to do with achieving the results the organization wants. Alternative is to measure outcomes delivered directly’. And I agree, instead of measuring output (the execution of the plan) we should measure how well we deliver the outcome the organization wants to meet customer needs. We can define metrices that measure customer satisfaction today and during the implementation of the change. We can measure the outcome of our change and adapt if we need to.
The Who and the Why
The writers have seen that many organizations ‘start with a portfolio, then define a product backlog and agile process and then they create an implementation strategy and last they try to motivate everyone to take part in the change’. And this approach will often fail.
In our digital transformations we should start with the ‘who’, the people with the right skills to lead in different steps of the transformation. With the right people in the team we should listen to the customer to understand the real customer needs to identify the ‘why’ of the change. We can then define a mission in terms of a desired outcome for the customer and we can define goals towards that mission. This will help us to define what to do now and what next.
Of course, the above is not easy. It is a journey of many small steps from which we learn for the next step. Would you like to know more about digital transformation please contact me on https://www.acorel.nl/