12 Secrets of Digital Transformation Services

Focusing on accomplishing hard things like the transformation of your company into a product company, Digital transformation services needs moral courage and sometimes job-risking determination to make it happen.

Insight categories: Digital Transformation

Secret #6: Don’t forget the “easy stuff”

When focusing on accomplishing hard things like the transformation of your company into a product company, it’s all too simple to lose sight of the easy, quick wins. I’ve seen a lot of situations where the big picture items are working great, but the “little things” like status reporting, defect and progress tracking, build and deployment automation, test automation frameworks, performance and system monitoring, and so on—these get neglected.

These things are “easy” in the sense that while they take intelligence and work—often hard work—the solutions are generally well understood. Good people exist who can do them and do them well, using well-understood principles and tools, and without a whole lot of day-to-day attention from you once things get started. However, you need to get good people in place, monitor and tune their output, and turn them loose.

If you don’t take care of the “easy” stuff, it can turn around and bite you, derailing your big-picture initiative. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you cannot answer simple-sounding questions like “When will you be done?”, “How is it working?” or “Does it scale?” You should get these basic items attended to first—so you can focus on the “big stuff.”

Secret #7: Be realistic about your company, yourself, and your peers

Digital transformation needs moral courage and sometimes job-risking determination to make it happen. The “powers that be” and the “status quo” may give lip service to the need for transformation, but in many organizations, opponents will come out of the woodwork to oppose or undermine any concrete proposal that has transformation as its goal. This is because by nature, transformation upsets the established order and therefore affects the people who benefit from the established order. They may see themselves as losing out or as needing to think and act differently.

Understand what motivates you. You may believe your motives to be pure and selfless, but they will be tested. Also study your peers. Are you in a company where the people at your level and above are genuinely working toward the best interests of the company? Does your company have a mission that will be served better by this transformation? In these companies, while the people involved may have real disagreements on how to get there, their focus and commitment is to the company’s success. Where this is the case, an appeal to that shared value will help you get buy-in. In many more companies, at least some of the people will be more concerned with their individual careers than with the success of the company’s mission. Where that’s the case, you need to make a different type of appeal—one based on how transformation will help the careers of the individuals who support it.

In addition, there’s the matter of how long you intend to stay at your current company, how long your boss intends to stay, and how long before the investors want to take their profit. It may be satisfying to begin a transformation project, but unless you and your supporters are there to see it through, you may be making the system worse by taking it in a direction that will not be sustained. In many cases, the honest answer is “it depends on how this transformation goes.” I think that’s a fair basis to begin a transformation—provided you are indeed committed to seeing it through—or at least leaving it in good hands—once it proves its value.

Your company’s realistic ability to make a sustained commitment is a key factor in which transformation route you should take. The level of commitment often, but not always, depends on ownership. Private Equity (PE) owned companies, and often public companies as well, generally have an explicitly stated short-term focus. Family- or management-owned companies, as well as some venture-backed and some PE owned companies, may have a longer time horizon. Short or long, it’s not a “killer” either way—there are fast transformation strategies and slow ones, both with different risk profiles. The “killer” is a mis-match: adopting a long-term transformation strategy in a company with a short-term focus, or sometimes vice-versa.

In one large public company we work with, one of the senior architects described their legacy 15-year-old production software stack as looking like an “archeological dig” of technology trends. By examining the code, he said, you could go back in history layer-by-layer and see all the waves of technology in the partially-completed architectural updates that started but never finished over the years. This is not uncommon. When companies adopt a long-term gradual evolution software strategy, they need to be able to sustain a long-term focus or they will end up with layers of half-completed work—and more complexity than they started out with.

On the other hand, there are some short-term strategies for technology transformation that can often be deployed in quarters rather than years. However, these tend to be “high risk” in the sense that they have little impact on the currently deployed systems until operational. Some companies with a long-term evolutionary focus are unable to tolerate an up-front short-term risk. There is no right or wrong here, but you need to pick a strategy that suits your company as it really is, or your transformation initiative will be short-lived.

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Dr. Jim Walsh


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