The digital transformation story is well known by now, and many of us have had a lot of success with it. But what about when things go wrong? To understand what happens when things go wrong, you have to think about what’s been successful. Up until recently, digital transformation has concentrated on introducing a combination of lean and agile practices and various accompanying technology innovations, for example:
- Management and organisational practices, such as using Scrum and Kanban to organise teams and their work, and give visibility to progress and blockers
- Testing as a matter of course, and extensive coverage of those tests to minimise the combinatorial risk that accompanies change in ever-increasingly complex software
- Continuous build pipelines that automate that testing, as well as the deployment of software and servers.
- Paired programming as a way to improve quality, by ensuring that communication happens continuously during the development process
These innovations have solved many of the problems with quality and delays that vexed the early decades of the internet age. With those problems solved, we’ve moved onto new ones, like how to connect the various parts of our business, and how to manage and get value out of all the data we’re creating.
As we’ve moved on to new problems, however, we’re now being forced to reckon with issues that were swept under the rug in many large-scale transformation efforts. While the team focus and flat organizational structures brought along by agile ways of working provided many benefits, they also worked to reinforce silos within the organisation. Because different parts of organisations have their own working practices, often for very good reasons, agile practices can become a further source of division.
But, the problem isn’t as intractable as it might seem at first glance. What we’ve found is that many of the successes of digital transformation can be carried across the organisation simply by recognising that the language of product development can be alienating. To succeed, it’s important to find a common language and the shared way of thinking that comes along with it.
That’s just one example that’s making it clear that leading the next phase of transformation efforts requires us to accept change ourselves. Letting go of something that’s been successful in the past can be difficult, but isn’t that what we’ve been practicing for the last little while?