A Short Guide to Winning at Agile/Digital Transformation

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There is almost a barrage of reasons given for why transformations fail to meet expectations most at odds with each other, but where there is agreement is on the core topic: that transformations have become very difficult to pull off. You need a guide and here it is.

Top Three Facts to Shape Your Thinking About Digital Transformation

  1. IT departments are good at changing, the business is not.
  2. Unfortunately what the IT department has created makes life more difficult for the business.
  3. Good communication can change that but it won’t be enough. You need an agile approach to transformation.

Let’s look at each of these before turning to the issue of change methods.

IT Departments are good at change because they do it all the time.

For twenty years now, progressive companies have been moving away from big, time consuming projects to smaller, nimbler ones, usually called agile. But inside of that, IT has been using a variety of new tools that come in quick succession, all driven by powerhouses like Google who share their methods and tools with the developer community.

Unfortunately what the IT department has created makes life more difficult for the business.

A combination of mergers and acquisitions and new operating model requirements (data warehousing, supply chain management, the mobile revolution, AI, single view of the customer) have generally been added on top of old systems without the fundamental root and branch rationalization that would allow firms to modernize. The result is what we call the core platform problem.

The core systems that support your business are almost certainly creating huge levels of dysfunctionality. When you try to transform or become better at rapid business proposition development, core systems are holding you back. However, most transformations avoid the problems created by the core platform problem and that contributes to poor outcomes.

Good communication can change that but it won’t be enough.

You need an agile approach to transformation. You need to bridge the IT divide through better communication, informing the business what IT can offer, ensuring that IT is not swamped by development requests but also understands the business' priorities. However, this is nowhere near enough. It's necessary but not sufficient.

Core Platforms and the Transformation Sprint

You still need to address the core platforms problem. Because of the complexity of this, we developed what we’ve called the Transformation Sprint method. Very often a transformation will be set up in a traditional way, with plenty of consulting reports and slide decks and a big program of work that the PMO gets hold of and creates governance around.

What this represents though is a paradox. How can you use old, traditional techniques to create a new kind of company? It's impossible and another red flag.

In the Transformation Sprint, you use newer agile techniques to define a project that will help lead the way for your transformation or help pull you out of a transformation that’s become messy. The principle is simple, use agile techniques to become agile and digitally empowered.

Transformation Sprints typically lead to smaller projects that help in four main ways.

  1. They allow you to experiment with a new way to work
  2. They are a learning mechanism because they allow you insight into what needs to change and what you need to learn in order to manage change well
  3. They should be designed to deliver value early
  4. They are low-risk and low-cost


What could possibly be better? Well, many senior executives just like other investors prefer to see big programs because, in theory, that means they only have one project to manage.

In reality though, by sponsoring a large transformation, you have an 80% probability of failure. It’s your fiscal duty to avoid that and with a Transformation Sprint you can.

Take a lead in the Sprint and you will be learning more about what your company actually needs. It’s just a better way.