Did “Your business is on crack” or “Addicted to poor IT” strike a chord but leave you wondering so what next? How do you kick your poor IT habit?

Tim Hanley, CTO at Rainmaker shares his view:

I’d like to share some key insights that we gained by helping organisations transform themselves. Each started with a habit of poor IT. A habit which held them back, and prevented them from innovating through the use of technology and digital services. We helped them change that and empowered them to continuously excel.

Don’t feel you need to go cold turkey. This will only distract you from where you really need to focus.

Your rehab shouldn’t entail a big ‘A to B’ type of change programme, like a new target operating model (TOM), as that won’t work. We all, when we reflect on our experiences and are honest with ourselves, acknowledge that.

Regardless of how well qualified or intentioned, these big change or transformation programmes don’t work, because they:

  • are static in an ever changing world;
  • are a tyranny of what and how, when you should be focusing on where to act and why;
  • often rely on a single way of working, for example, ‘agile everywhere’, or a single sourcing approach such as ‘outsource it all now’, or ‘in-house everything’, when in fact, a mixture will work the best;
  • often utilise point-in-time latest fad organisational design rather than a deep understanding of what is actually needed — for example, bi-modal teams, or any other organisational term coined by the big consultancies to push their latest drug on you;
  • frequently define strategy based on what other people are doing, or by latching onto the latest industry trends and buzzwords, rather than determining what will help the organisation actually achieve their vision;
  • regularly put in place bureaucratic governance structures that are all about talking and not about decision making;
  • force budget approval mechanisms that are not staged and iterative, but rather require crystal ball gazing into the distant future;
  • encourage products and services to be designed around organisation structures and politics, instead of user needs.

The importance of where and why

Your transformation should be defined based on a clear way of knowing why you should act and where. This will be unique to you and will help you create manageable and iterative change to achieve your Vision. Worry less initially about the what and how, these will follow naturally.

What do we mean by where and why?

An example of “where” you should act and “why” would be identifying which changes will have the greatest impact on achieving your vision and understanding why they are the best ones to make. For example if your vision is to introduce a new and novel service, (i.e. something that hasn’t been seen before), you will need to make sure your resources are focused on that and not on “keeping the lights on” activities (e.g. email, hosting, networks etc.) that could be better sourced elsewhere.

Strong aspirational leadership. That’s the first thing that needs to change.

Although we don’t recommend wholesale change to your current IT, your mindset and approach to leadership, strategy and delivery must. This is mainly about changing the way your organisation thinks and acts, and providing them with the environment they need to iteratively transform your services and products to meet constantly changing customer needs, and to exploit constantly changing market and technology opportunities.

Fine, so you are repeating what everyone else is saying. It’s all about culture change. How do I get beyond that headline and into the nitty gritty of making it a reality?

What you need is absolute clarity of purpose to anchor an aspirational direction of travel and to provide the foundation for making informed decisions throughout this evolution.

This way you initially focus on the where and why, not the how.

Clarity of purpose

Before doing anything else, define a clear and ambitious vision of where you want to get to, what you want to achieve and what stands in the way of achieving that vision.

This way you initially focus on the where and why, not the how.

Co-create with your leadership team the principles and values that will guide your decisions. These will empower your team, rather than constrain them with a one-size-fits-all set of blueprints, rules and processes. It also ensures buy in for your vision and direction of travel.

Now be really brave and extend this collaboration to include the business.

Remove the fog that obscures your understanding of your current IT.

Situational awareness

Next, it is important to remove the fog that obscures your understanding of your current IT. Map the components that make up your services (both IT and business), understanding how they currently meet your users needs (or not) and how they help you achieve your vision. Based on that you can visually work through where you might act and why.

Your situational awareness and strategy development technique must help you to simply and visually:

  • Understand what IT you currently have (technology, information, practices and suchlike), then focus on where and why you should act to achieve your vision — utilise what you have that is good, and focus your limited resources on change that will really make a difference;
  • Understand the sourcing models that are most applicable to each of the components that make up your services;
  • Utilise the best management methods for undertaking each change, not a one-size-fits-all method;
  • Understand which types of resources you need for your change activities.
Learn this mantra: design before you buy.

User centric design

Adopt a Service Designapproach to creating and iteratively improving services. Place your user’s needs at the heart of your design. Not the needs of organisational silos or divisions. But rather needs defined by the roles of your users from their perspective, the true needs of your clients and the ever changing opportunities presented by market forces and technological advances.

Service Design Thinking will help you create an end-to-end experience, identifying your user’s points of pain so you can act to overcome them and create services people want to use.

Deliver change in small, achievable, prioritised chunks.

Iterative and pragmatic transformation

Deliver change in small, achievable, prioritised chunks, not huge complex programmes.

Use the most appropriate technique to manage the change. For example, Agile is not useful for building a network to connect your offices, and Waterfall is not helpful when you need to experiment to create a new and novel service.

Make use of the relatively recent fundamental shifts in technology capability (platforms, integration tools) and supply models (commodity services, open source tools) to make iterative delivery easier.

Hmm, ok, then.

Work around the “departments of no”

Centre the security discussion around understanding behaviours, business risk and acceptable mitigations. Don’t let it be about filling in endless technology-based checklists that calculate useless risk scores, or about developing hypothetical technology-based risks, and then imposing restrictions on the business irrespective of the impact.

  • Embed procurement in the situational awareness team, so they help identify the most appropriate supply models and deliver contracts that enable achieving the vision, not ones that make their lives easier.
  • Build an IT organisation that creates, delivers and celebrates exceptional solutions, not one that focuses on identifying every potential reason why not to act. Understanding the types of personalities you need is key, not a static TOM based org chart of skills or competencies.
  • Gain buy-in from the wider organisation though working-out-loud, co-creation and multidisciplinary teams.

Conclusion

If you really want to kick your poor IT habit, you need to adopt an iterative approach to transformation. Do away with your TOM and define a vision of where you want to get to. Utilise situational awareness tools, and adopt service design thinking. Iterate, identify and deal with the blockers to change. You may think it will be too costly or complex, but it needn’t be. Let us help you.

If you would like to delve into more detail on our approach, please check out our article on turning vision into a digital transformation plan.