Digital Economy Dispatch #064

28th November 2021

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Is it Time to Take a Pause for Thought in Your Digital Transformation?

On one of my many conference calls recently, I had to force myself to put my microphone on mute, throw the mouse to the other side of the room out of reach, and sit on my hands to stop myself from jumping into the discussion. Perhaps my need to interrupt is due to a growing impatience, a false sense of certainty that comes with age, or increasing bravado. But it seems to be happening more and more. Whatever it is, it is annoying. Both for me and for the people in the calls. I’ve promised myself that I’ll do better in future.

At both an individual and organizational level, this tendency to act without thinking is something that we see more often. Perhaps it is inevitable as we come to terms with a digital world where more data is generated more quickly than ever before and when speed of action is so highly prized. An obvious consequence is that there is increasing pressures to “act now, think later”. Yet, in the depths of digital transformation, perhaps the most important thing you can do to increase your effectiveness is to slow down and take a pause for thought.

The Digital Transformation

In these turbulent times, there is considerable emphasis being placed on how organizations are preparing, enabling, and supporting their digital transformation journey. Driven by the key role played by digital technologies in maintaining business continuity during the pandemic and in anticipation of the volatility being experienced subsequently, leaders are being judged on their ability to master this transition.

Under such scrutiny, it is inevitable that many are concerned with demonstrating that they are taking action. In these circumstances, it is tempting to view digital transformation through the lens of “more is better”. The greater the activity, the greater the progress. However, it is important to reiterate that digital transformation is not an end in itself. It is the means to an end: Managing the shift required to be a sustainable, effective organization responsibly using digital technology to enable growth, create efficiency, drive innovation, and respond to emerging opportunities.

In our digital world, transforming organizations to be more efficient, responsive, and better aligned with stakeholder needs must drive the use of digital technologies and guide the practices that are adopted. Success demands that everyone in the organization is not only digitally-aware, but also aligned to operate in sync. With the rapid evolution of digital technology, this will be an ongoing process of education, experimentation, and delivery.

The Need for Speed

To achieve this goal, the approach to delivering digital transformation in most organizations is heavily influenced by a priority to optimize flexibility and accelerate the pace of change. The first step in many organizations is to look to agile methods for inspiration and support.

Driven by demands for delivering more software more quickly, organizations have studied the practices of high-performing teams to see how they could be replicated, with a focus on how those teams tried to shake off the overly constraining processes they believed were hampering innovation and creativity. From this emerged a series of principles for agile development, most famously captured in the “Agile Manifesto” and a series of development practices that encapsulate those principles, notably the Scrum method.

Widespread adoption of agile approaches in many organizations, particularly in those sectors where software plays an important role, has been at the root of many activities aimed at increasing the pace of response by driving individual performance and encouraging deeper team interactions. Consequently, agile practices are becoming an increasingly important element of all organizations offering digital products and services, and an essential part of every organization’s digital operating environment. Their appropriate use is seen as fundamental to success in a digital transformation programme.

Unfortunately, blindly interpreted, these agile approaches are too often seen as a mandate to avoid planning, eliminate documentation, and change direction at will. Supported by deceptively simple slogans such as “Fail Fast, Fail Often” and “Delivery is Strategy”, the tendency can be to prioritize any action rather than take time for thoughtful review. A failure pattern that is frequently highlighted in digital transformation programmes.

How to Achieve More by Doing Less

Paradoxical as it may seem, the answer to how to increase your digital transformation success could lie in a simple fix: Do less. Rather than focus maniacally on driving the speed of activity and accelerating productivity, the way to increase impact may well require a different slower paced path. By taking a step back you may find a better way forward.

What does this mean in practice? There are 4 ways in which you can improve your focus to do more of the things that matter and optimize how you spend your effort:

  1. Listen More. In the midst of a digital frenzy, it is easy to be carried away with the activities underway and lose connection with both the customer and the rest of the team. Listening is a critical and undervalued skill. To address this, build and maintain a constant dialogue with the customer, and encourage frequent open feedback across the team. Talk less, listen more.
  2. Ask Why. The best way to “maximize work not done” is to ensure you prioritize activity on what matter the most. As Simon Sinek has highlighted, starting with “why” is critical. However, maintaining focus on “why” is equally important. Keep asking “why” and manage your activity accordingly.
  3. Give Up Control. The temptation in moving fast is to organize tasks to make sure you keep control. Agile approaches are more effective when control is delegated to teams to be as close to the coalface as possible. However scary this may seem, practicing an approach of “trust but verify” is the way to go.
  4. Practice Masterful Inactivity. Too often, we act when we should not. There are times when introducing new ideas and additional tasks, no matter how well meant, actually cause more confusion and distraction for overloaded teams. To make progress, less can frequently be more.

Zoom On

In a world of constant change, moving quickly and increasing flexibility are essential characteristics to address an uncertain future and respond to the volatility we now face. But it is important to ensure that rapidly adapting to the context does not become chaotic and increasing agility must not lead to being rudderless. Taking time to pause for thought is not a luxury. It is critical to success in digital transformation.

So next time you are on a conference call, perhaps like me you will make sure you’re on mute and push your mouse to the other side of the desk. You’ll be surprised how often others on the call with thank you for it.

Digital Economy Tidbits

How AI is Reinventing What Computers Are. Link.

A great summary of how AI is changing computers. There are three different ideas highlighted – how they are made, how they learn, and how we interact with them

Well, computers haven’t changed much in 40 or 50 years. They’re smaller and faster, but they’re still boxes with processors that run instructions from humans. AI changes that on at least three fronts: how computers are made, how they’re programmed, and how they’re used. Ultimately, it will change what they are for.

 

How Software is Eating the Car. Link.

I was very interested to read this recent discussion about the growing impact of software as the dominant areas for innovation in cars. Nearly all vehicle innovations by auto manufacturers, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), are now tied to software. Moving to self-driving cars and electric vehicles will only increase this direction.

Ten years ago, only premium cars contained 100 microprocessor-based electronic control units (ECUs) networked throughout the body of a car, executing 100 million lines of code or more. Today, high-end cars like the BMW 7-series with advanced technology like advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) may contain 150 ECUs or more, while pick-up trucks like Ford’s F-150 top 150 million lines of code. Even low-end vehicles are quickly approaching 100 ECUs and 100 million of lines of code as more features that were once considered luxury options, such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, are becoming standard.

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