Evolution vs. Revolution – The Science of Change

In my most recent assignment, I was the Director of Enterprise Architecture, promoted to take over all of the Applications, and then, with the departure of the CIO, responsible for the Digital Transformation for the company.  Sigh, yes, Digital Transformation … an overly used buzz word, which really doesn’t mean anything.  It did, however, give me an opportunity to study Change once more in a different company.

This company is interesting, and like many, challenged with how to make impactful change.  This isn’t too unusual.  In my experience, if you have a room full of people in an organization. Unless the organization has zero problems, most, if not everyone wants some change. If you went up on a podium, built out a beautiful vision of the future, got them all excited, and yelled, “and who wants change?” Almost everyone would raise their hands. If you now say “who wants to change first?” The crickets may be deafening… We all may say we like change, but what we really want if for everyone to do what WE are doing today. Such is the nature of change.

Most companies of this age know they want the fruits of change, but they don’t really want to do the work to gain those fruits. In some companies, like this one, they have had double-digit growth over the last decade. They KNOW this growth will not continue since the processes will not scale, and they are not gaining all the synergies of their M&A activity, but it is not like the wheels are falling off the truck ….. yet.

So, what is a business guy who just happens to be responsible for the technology to do? I can’t say what will work for everyone, but I can tell you how I am trying to solve the problem.

  • Acknowledge that culture change is hard. One of the biggest difficulty of transformation is culture change. Businesses act the way they do for a reason, and this culture, for good, or ill, touches everything. This is critical to understand since if the transformation is swimming against the current of the culture, real and lasting change is almost impossible.

    The real problem, from a technologist’s perspective, is we rarely can have any impact on the culture change as a whole. Though we can be visionary, and partners, we can’t do it alone.

  • Know you have top-level buy-in. Depending on the company, the top leadership can be passively or actively involved in the transformation. Oh, I know you want them ACTIVE, but sometimes though they can see the vision, current operations keep them focused on today. Still, passively or actively, they must be 100% behind the transformation!
  • Build the foundation: organizationally, technically and politically. Though we can’t change the company all at once, we CAN change the IT organization.
    • Organizationally – Many IT organizations are designed to be reactive. They get tickets, work tickets and get the business what they want. It sounds good, but what the business wants isn’t always what they need. To help drive change, IT needs to be proactive, and get ahead of the demand.

      In this last case,  I created self-directed work cells led by Architects over main business domains – Commercial Operations, Product (Manufacturing and Supply Chain), Services (Services and Projects in the Field), Productivity (365 Apps), Data and Finance. The teams support all demand (projects, enhancement, and support) to help give complete visibility to capacity,  and work with the business to prioritize work. The team works with the business areas to do end to end business process mapping, identification of improvement areas, and solutioning. So far, it has been very successful, especially in addressing the foundation for the future.

    • Technically – When I got here, I found that the base technology platform had many burning platforms (i.e. ERP’s that were homegrown and supported by a single person; unsupported business applications; ERPs out (or near out) of support; and just missing items like PIM).  One of the first steps was to clean up this technical debt.

      Maybe not everyone understands Technical Debt.  You know all those things that should be done in IT, like documenting, keeping up with application patches, etc?  That is technical debt.   Like any debt, you want to pay close attention to it because you ARE going to have to pay for it one day.  We can kick the can down the road, but eventually, the piper needs to be paid.   I consider it as important as preventative maintenance on a manufacturing machine.  Sure, you CAN not do it, but the machine will have more failures, and you will lose revenue because of downtime.

      My theory on technical debt is it should be a very high priority item.  There is the work we need to do today for the business, but the second priority has to be this technical debt.  If you always just go for the high-value business project, you will start to falter operationally.

    • Politically – Yes, you need to pay attention to politics.  My favorite method is by giving key players some quick wins.  Microsoft’s Power Apps and BI are great apps to help this, assuming you build a decent governance model around their use.  Quick wins gain credibility, credibility gives you trust when push comes to shove which will happen with change initiatives.
  • Get agreement on the problem AND the solution – Change Management 101, people don’t change if they don’t acknowledge the problem.  It is important to note that you want to get as many people invested in both the problem recognition and the solution phase.  If people can understand the problem, fewer people will fight you on the change needed to address the problem.
  • Not all change has to happen overnight.  Change doesn’t occur at the same rate for all companies (and at all times). Some companies can only absorb a slow rate of change (evolutionary), and some companies can handle a great deal of change (revolutionary).  Neither is wrong, but you need to be able to identify which situation you are in.  If you are planning for a revolutionary change, and the business can’t get behind it, you are going to be discouraged.  If, however, you are thinking a slow evolutionary change process it good, but the company wants to hit warp speed, you will not be addressing their needs fast enough.

Change is hard, and there is a myriad of factors which I am just briefly touching on.  Just remember the law of inertia, a force needs to be applied to a body at rest 🙂  People don’t change just because …  There must be something in it for them, and that has to be clearly communicated for you to win.

Good luck!