Organisations starting out may see impasse as transformation failure. Others, who may have seen some success, are not prepared to concede they have hit a ceiling and are therefore blind to further improvement. We think the cause of both is transformation sequencing?

The litmus test of successful transformation is the customer view-point. Are customers happy? Has quality improved? Is risk lower? Is the business maintaining pace with competitors? Is the ratio of investment to value acceptable? Are you able to forecast change cost and schedules?

Let me explain my own observations drawn from a pastiche of many such transformations.

A CIO introduces a new positive culture. Teams are re-organised, quarterly planning takes off and the work is visualised and tracked. Automation happens in pockets and early reports from teams are encouraging. Then a powerful combination of potential limits grinds transformation to a halt:

  • Release and change management don’t embrace pre-approval or automated releases. Changes still require manual intervention and get bundled into major and minor releases.
  • Infrastructure and Security teams cannot work collaboratively with build teams to prevent long delays at the end of project cycles.
  • Finance is determined to budget on long project cycles with fixed scope destroying the ability to be agile.
  • Newly visualised technical debt weighs on progress but has no champion for prioritisation.
  • Delivery teams have automated what they can, and perhaps product owners are empowered to make decisions on priority. But they are constrained by concerns outside of the team; dependencies, release windows, skills and ability to integrate automation across the various test, release and deployment environments.
  • Communication from teams isn’t flowing to management to explain the constraints and, management is unaware of the issues that stop teams improving further.
  • The business is pleased to be more involved in decision making but now has two jobs. The old job running BAU and a new one prioritising and liaising with IT. Something has to give.

How do you break through these ceilings and create an environment that can take the next step? It’s not easy. It requires coordination across leadership, organisational capability, delivery teams and technology.

Non-political bridge building

Luxuries we enjoy as an external party are the absence of political baggage and hierarchy constraints. We are usually free to navigate across domains and rapidly build alignment and agreement for improvements.

We have found that short, iterative experiments with measurable goals are powerful motivators across all management domains. Such experiments are short enough to get commitment and the targeted results lead to rapid adoption and evolution of the transformation.

Seeing is believing. Sharing success and failure and bringing others into your domain is the beginning of trust and collaboration. It is a first step towards sharing and aligning improvement and of the sequencing of your transformation. Repeating across your multiple domains brings consensus, sustainable and continuous change for the better.