Cultural breakthrough: 5 change management tips to support your digital transformation

Digital transformations typically demand major shifts in thinking, processes and behavior across the organization. It’s rarely, if ever, easy – especially when it comes to scaling and sustaining the transformation. Inevitably there will be a cultural shift, especially when you consider all the moving parts: the software delivery teams, the product owners, the multiple business lines. Fortunately, there are effective ways to massage and support this transition to aid a cultural breakthrough:

  1. Empower the teams who build the software products and services to lead the change
  2. Apply systems thinking to scale learnings across the organization
  3. Provide a supportive environment to incubate the right behaviors
  4. Sustain the desired behaviors through rewards and recognition
  5. Finding a common language around the flow of value across software delivery value streams to help the business and IT to work better together

1. Empowering your teams that create value

A project to product transformation leverages DevOps and Agile practices within the organization, without which it will be difficult to achieve the flexibility that a product-based organization demands. The cornerstone of both methodologies is entrusting the people doing the work to know the best course of action – which in a way decentralizes the decision-making. But in traditional organizations who use a top-down approach, this can be daunting. The change can feel much like taking the training wheels off a bike. As a result, behaviors can take a while to get embedded into the culture.

Behavior change is one of the hardest to realize, especially if the outgoing behavior has been long rooted into the organization’s psyche. The longer a particular behavior has been fixed in the teams, the harder it is to change. And once changed, it does not take long to reverse (as demonstrated in the Backwards Brain Bicycle experiment). Often, unlearning takes place again and teams revert back to old behaviors, so patience and perseverance are crucial.

It is a delicate balance though. It is important to give the current state due credit for getting the organization to where it is through a number of triumphs. But even Buckingham Palace has had to go through numerous changes and modernizations over the centuries to keep up with the times. So rather than being over-critical of the current state, it’s vital to embrace the ethos of continuous improvement.

2. The role of systems thinking

Any change is easy to implement on a small scale in a small team as a proof of concept. But it takes a lot more to operationalize it across the entire organization. Much like the story about the blind men interpreting the elephant as a snake, a tree, a wall, a rope; individual experiences at a small scale are all accurate, but being able to extrapolate it to the whole is important to look at the bigger picture. This is where systems thinking comes in: taking the learnings and experiments from proof of concepts and smaller team experiments, and applying the lens of people, processes and structures to operationalize and scale the changes.

This is where an enterprise-level center of excellence around flow or an Enterprise Flow Team can come to the aid. A paragraph from the book Standing on Shoulders : A Leader’s Guide to Digital Transformation comes to mind:

“In the Mothman Prophecies, the “expert” character in the movie…makes the following observation, ‘If there was a car crash ten blocks away, that window washer up there could probably see it. Now that doesn’t mean he’s God or even smarter than we are. But from where he’s sitting, he can see a little further down the road”.

An Enterprise Flow Team can provide this level of visibility by leveraging their learnings at a Product Value Stream Level.

The team comprises the Value Stream Product Owner, Value Stream Architect and a Value Stream Implementer with the Executive Champion being responsible for the overall team. The Value Stream Implementers provide the mechanics to make the change happen and help visualize the impact the overall outcomes like revenue, cost, quality and happiness; the Value Stream Architects provide the systems thinking needed to scale the change across all the products. Their experiences and insights can be elevated across product domains to incubate new ideas and scale change.

3. A supportive environment

People make organizations and determine the organization’s culture. It is no wonder that People is one of the 4 P’s in Lean; and Agile and DevOps focus heavily on people, as well. So it would be wrong to not put them front and center in this journey.

An infant learning to walk does not walk steadily right away. It is a process with lots of failures, experiments and adjusting tactics based on feedback in the process. A parent or carer may assist the child and guide them along the way with encouragement and rewards to help speed up the learning, but it is ultimately for the infant to learn what works for them and build on it. How we deal with changes is no different.

To catalyze behavior change, it is important to provide support structures that promote, value and reward the right behaviors. For example, individual performance-based compensation may be counterproductive in a product-led organization, because collaboration and team/value stream performance is the end goal. DevOps and Agile put heavy emphasis on experimentation and failing fast. Leadership not only needs to provide the psychological safety for teams to be able to fail and recover but also facilitate learning opportunities to enable teams to develop the necessary skills to embark on the new journey.

4. Sustain the desired behaviors through rewards and recognition

Celebrating the small wins are important. Stories of the teams going through the change and talking about their journey is far more powerful than a plan on a wall. Every organization is unique due to its people and processes, and so is the path to transform. It is their own story to write and catalyze, and inspire more teams to join in.

The Flow Framework™ ties the Flow Metrics of a product value stream to business results. At any point in time, you can visualize the changes in inputs that cause an increase or decrease in value to the business and the metrics themselves. By experimenting, teams can find the right mix that works for them to deliver against their North Star.  It also provides pointers on looking into where issues might arise from in real-time.

5. Creating a common language between business and IT

One cause of the long-standing divide between IT and the business or even non-IT teams has been a rift in the language. Every IT Product within the organization is different and operates differently and hence the metrics that represent the current state of one product value stream can be wildly different than another. This can make combined reporting of multiple product value stream a challenge to understand and interpret – especially by the business who work on notions of cost, value, revenue, quality and so forth.

Flow Framework provides a common language between business and IT but abstracting the various technical work within software delivery into 4 primary groups – Features, Defects, Risk and Debt. It recommends 5 simple to understand yet powerful metrics – Flow Velocity, Flow Load, Flow Time, Flow Efficiency and Flow Load that can be applied to these 4 groups of work and relate them back to business metrics of Value, Cost, Quality and Happiness.

This simple yet all-encompassing framework provides guidance to business on each IT product within the organization and represents all the work that IT teams have to take on (even the obscure ones like technical debt and risk) at a level where business can relate to. By using a common language across all IT products, IT can work closely with the business and build products that better serve the organization’s end customers.

Transforming through Flow 

Though the Flow Framework is not geared directly to drive cultural change, it enables and instills the right behaviors to support product-based organizations and focuses attention on the North Star rather than other distractions. The framework provides the support structure to channel the focus on the business outcomes and in the process, provides a visual snapshot of changes to inspire and motivate other teams to join the journey to realize the benefits. Like a satellite launched to its orbit in space, it takes a lot of effort and energy to launch transformations like project to product–until they reach orbit–after which the behaviors and practices become ingrained in the culture and are self-sustaining in the long term.

Want to know more about flow?

We also offer specialized workshops and courses with the industry’s leading authorities on flow and value streams:

Visualize your value stream (with one of Tasktop’s Value Stream  Architects): This free one-hour consulting session will help you identify the value streams within your organization today, visualize the flow of work, and help identify opportunities to make your value stream more tangible. Learn more.

Introduction to value streams (with Brian Ashcraft): This two-hour training course enables you on the fundamentals of getting started with a VSM initiative, including common attributes, an improvement methodology, analytical methods, and a tooling assessment. After attending training, you will have the knowledge to become a VSM ambassador at your organization or agency. Learn more.

Flow 101 Workshop (with Dominica DeGrandis): Flow is the continuous smooth and fast delivery of business value, and is the first of the three foundational principles underpinning DevOps. This two-day hands-on workshop shows you how to enable flow in your organization using lean practices. The workshop is best suited for teams engaged in Agile or DevOps transformations who are looking to leverage Value Stream thinking to make their transformations more successful. This gives teams the opportunity to discuss and determine prioritization policies, workflow design, and metrics used to measure team performance. Learn more.

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