Towards a New Transformation: Part III Agile Business

Agile is not a Gift I can Give,

Nor is it a Method I can Teach,

It is a Choice You must willingly Take,

And a Journey You are willing to Make.

The road Never ends,

It Twists and it Turns,

But the Road is your Road, 842868_328911177209410_1719693579_o

And it’s your Trail which Blazes.

Don’t be a Passenger,

Don’t pay a Chauffeur,

Grab hold of the wheel,

And Pick your own Pace.

Take those Detours,

Enjoy the Delights,

Splash in the Fountains,

Chase those Green Lights.

from http://www.agileinsider.org/2012/01/agile-a-poem/

Putting It All Together

To summarise the previous blog posts:

  • We started by looking at large transformation projects and thought about some of the reasons that they fail
  • We noted that many formal techniques had been developed to help these type of projects succeed but had not (in general) made the impact expected of them
  • We postulated that there was still a challenge to connect business and IT in a way that both could work well together
  • We explored some of the new ideas in business thinking that are bringing agile practices into business

So now let’s see whether we can adapt this approach to deliver better transformation projects?

Agile Business: What does this mean?

TM Forum has published eBooks on becoming an Agile business and has a development track that combines Agility with SDN and NFV (interesting combination of topics). One of the interesting features of this eBook is that it takes a very technology and IT-centric view on the operator business (not surprising perhaps when the audience is the technology and IT staff who are members of TM Forum).

And this is the challenge for many of us who come from a technology background, how to re-frame our approach to be sensitive to business needs so as to synthesise with IT to deliver true agility!

The closest approach that I have seen to formalising this is the work being done around Design Thinking at business schools such as Rotman, Columbia, Darden, at design schools such as Stanford and Muenster, through design firms like IDEO and boutique strategy design consultancies.

However, in practice it is the startup businesses that are learning to pivot and sell themselves to consumers and businesses alike. So I will borrow a few thoughts from their playbook.

Design Thinking

The video “Design the New Business” (https://vimeo.com/31678404) offers some food for thought around what might be in store for business thinkers as this century develops. It features business people from automotive, manufacturing, telco as well as designers talking about challenges and solutions for their new world of customer experience driven business design. All in all it adds up to a new formula for business and one that those starting a New Transformation initiative might be well advised to pay attention to.

So, what is the formula? I’d like to propose 6 principles that may help businesses to develop a better way to approach large-scale IT transformations …

  1. Search out those that have a Design Thinking Mindset (the ability to integrate analytical approaches and intuitive approaches) to be the sponsors of these projects.
  2. Use a Customer Development approach to find the early adopters that will help to influence the project direction and encourage broad-based adoption.
  3. Adopt a set of Design Tools that help enable or support a strategic conversation.
  4. Institute Learning Metrics into the measurement criteria of the project (measure learning as scientifically as you would measure costs).
  5. Allow the business to Iterate and Pivot through the right contractual mechanisms (based on Learning Metrics) to develop the transformation.
  6. Develop a Scaling Framework that allows multiple iterations to be aligned to overall program goals.

These principles have come about via a series of hard-won experiences on delivery projects, combined with some positive experiences in using more agile techniques and some reading and talking to the new breed of entrepreneurs who are using Lean Startup and Design Thinking to change the world.

So let me try and explain why I have selected these 6 principles.

Sponsor with a Design Thinking Mindset – large transformation projects or programs typically have complex choices to make – compromises are not easy to digest therefore the integrative thinking principles espoused by Roger Martin and others seem to address this issue. Since I have personally found very few people with these skills in my 30 years I suspect this will be one of the trickiest principles to fulfil.

Customer Development Approach – when I came across this technique in the Steve Blank HBR article and read his book it just seemed so obvious … yet one of those things we do not practice in a scientific way. Simply put, it is attempting to analyse your customers, discover those who are early adopters and prioritising their needs. Then using a validation technique to expand development from early adopters to early majority.

A Set of Strategic Design Tools – whilst the proverb states that a “fool with a tool is still a fool”, no consultant would be complete without a toolbag. The strength of using a set of carefully chosen tools is that it serves to amplify the effects of your design work.

Learning Metrics – well I stole this directly from Eric Ries but this is the hardest for people like me to learn. Having been brought up on project costing methodologies and earned value it is hard to accept that this is not THE most important metric to measure. I am still struggling with this but if you can validate learning, measure validated learning and get your steering committee and executives to both understand and recognise the value then (I feel) you will have “crossed the chasm”.

Iterate and Pivot – in general a principle that is well understood by the Agile Community except for a subtle twist when it comes to Pivot. The timing of any Pivot is critical – too early and you may not have the validated learning, too late and you have wasted time, cost and people’s effort. I have a few examples of poor pivoting on projects.

Scaling Framework – this is another that is worthy of a separate blog post. The experience of successfully delivering a revolutionary new customer care system in under 6 months and then seeing much of the good work dissolve over the next 2 years as we scaled from 100 users to 10,000 users convinced me that this is so, so much harder than Agile.

Conclusion – Ending – You Name It

So you have read this far and maybe the blog sparked some thoughts or criticism or maybe it seemed like irrelevant tripe.

What’s your take-out? I am interested to hear.

For me the journey continues. I am extremely motivated by the change that I see happening … keep learning, embrace change, adopt new ways of thinking.

For  business leaders the message is about needing to learn that ICT is not a black box, that transformation is achievable but that it takes hard work and strong leadership.

For ICT professionals it is about always learning, being adaptive and responsive to change. Creating opportunities to collaborate and design the new business.

Here are the 2 previous posts in the series for the sake of completeness:

Towards a New Transformation: Part I Fixed Price – Fixed Scope

Towards a New Transformation: Part II The Opposable Project

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