Synthesis, Synergy, and Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is much talked about, and much coveted by businesses and organizations, yet relatively few have achieved transformation at a significant level. One reason is that despite the buzz, digital transformation is still emerging–its true potential and impact are yet to be understood, much less realized. Another reason is that many organizations are paying scant attention to two essential components of substantive digital transformation: synthesis and synergy. A classic definition of synthesis is “the combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole.” In the world of digital transformation those elements would include talent, leadership, business models, relationships with partners and customers, and of course technologies, to name a few. Most important is blending the right components at the right time.

But simply bringing together all of those elements (the “fuel”) will generally not lead to substantive digital transformation, let alone disruption of markets and industries. What’s missing is synergy, the “spark” that ignites digital transformation by creating a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Synergy comes from compelling vision, focus, and alignment of the components noted above with each other and with the vision; all of which, in turn, engage employees, customers, and partners to drive superior performance. The simple fact is that many organizations will achieve a modicum of success in the digital era by hiring smart people, putting effective governance in place, trying out new business models, and so forth, but a much smaller number will achieve levels of performance and disruption that shape and dominate their markets by exploiting and mastering synthesis and synergy.

Organizations will need to make decisions about where they wish (or need) to be on the continuum of digital transformation mastery, based on a realistic appraisal of the assets and intelligence, and risk and change tolerance that they have. If you need help in sorting out where you are and need to be in digital transformation mastery, give me a call at 650-766-1067 or email at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com.

Why Getting Agile is More Important Then You Think

Since my consulting practice focuses on business agility, I’m often asked why businesses should devote precious energy to becoming more agile. And by agile, I don’t mean just a general sense of flexibility or speed–I mean a deliberate strategy of adopting work practices, cultures, and ways of thinking that are iterative, evolving, and focused on deliver business value to customers.

The reason that true business agility is becoming an imperative is that today’s breakthrough is tomorrow’s baseline. In other words, what is cool, desirable, even scarce today will quickly become humdrum–superseded by the “next big thing.” In the last century, the automobile, telephone, and television each followed a “groundbreaking to commonplace” trajectory that took many years. Pan forward, and Apple’s iPhone and the music, app, developer, and accessory ecosystem it built around the iPhone were groundbreaking in 2007, but commonplace a few short years later. Even more recently, sharing economy firms like Airbnb and Uber were unique for mere months before copycat businesses emerged.

The point is that the rate at which that cool to humdrum cycle occurs is accelerating and will continue to accelerate. Market and customer wants and needs change rapidly and product/service cycle times need to keep shrinking in order to deal with, better yet leverage, that change.

Yet most existing businesses are not designed to function well in this new “agile economy.” Businesses have been designed for efficiency, stability, and predictability–not innovation-driven continuous change. As a result, businesses have to evolve from top-down, hierarchical project driven entities to more malleable forms driven by evolving visions, goals, and objectives that anticipate, better yet drive changes in the marketplace. On other words, businesses have to adopt agile practices and mind sets in order to survive, let alone thrive.

Traditional business structures that use command-control management simply can’t react to market changes quickly enough. Instead, control and decision-making needs to be pushed out to the edges of the organization where employees are engaging with customers, competitors, and partners. Agile is a very natural set of practices and thinking that works well in this era of rapid change and unpredictability.

If you’d like to discuss how I can help your business become more agile, give me a call at 650-766-1067 or e-mail at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com. My clients are businesses, non-profits, associations, and educational institutions that range from about $5 million to several hundred million dollars in revenue, or departments within larger organizations. Most of my clients are climbing the latter of organizational and technology sophistication, and the common theme in my work is transformation of organizations and technologies to become more agile, effective, and profitable.

The Subtle Art of Restraint

Back in the pre-Cambrian era of technology (circa 1980’s and early 90’s) computing technology (or lack there of) was often an inhibitor to realization of business dreams and goals. As an IT executive, I had a head full of business problems and opportunities, but often couldn’t find viable (meaning products that actually worked) technology solutions. That sounds odd in today’s “land of plenty” era of cloud, big data, mobile, etc. etc. but it was true at that time.

That dearth of technology had some downsides, including unfulfilled business needs and a hodgepodge of homegrown technology, but it had one upside–it made it difficult to overkill solutions by larding on features and functionality or even entire applications that nobody wanted or needed.

Pan forward to today’s world and we are in the “land of plenty,” perhaps even “too plenty.” The upside–virtually unlimited ability to create engaging and useful web sites and apps. The downside–virtually unlimited ability to create annoying, obtuse, and intrusive web sites and apps. Contextualization, personalization, behavioral ad targeting–all useful to a point, but like all good things, only in moderation.

My point is not to rant about increasingly annoying and intrusive digital design practices, but seriously, if I am trying to read a news story, I don’t want it broken into pieces with video that has nothing to do with the story inserted in the middle. And no, I don’t want to buy that BBQ grill I looked at 2 weeks ago, now hovering on every web site I visit. And why would I fill out a survey about your site upon first visiting it? Or worse yet, in the middle of trying to purchase something.

Actually I guess my point is to rant about annoying design practices, but my real point is that “because we can” is not a design strategy. “Because our customers and visitors want/need it” is a design strategy. The abundance of powerful technologies at the disposal of web site, app, and digital product developers means that more attention needs to be paid to design and usability than ever before. Elegant simplicity, intuitive, engaging, and rewarding are labels that one should strive for, and that rarely happens when developers are focused on pursuing only the goals of the business.

I think (perhaps just hope) that sanity will return to web and app design just as the “ransom note” documents that sprouted with the era of Macs stocked with gazillions of fonts finally ebbed. Or not I also think that elegant, clean, useful design will ultimately win the day.

Surviving and Thriving the Business World of Change and Uncertainty

As a consultant and analyst, I spend a lot of time thinking about the interplay of people, business, and technology and how that interplay is changing in ever-faster and more unpredictable ways. I also spend a lot of time helping clients cope with, and leverage that change to their advantage. Which led me to recently consider the skills, knowledge, and traits I have personally used throughout my career to survive and occasionally thrive in changing conditions and situations–I came up with four:

  1. Understanding what makes people tick: call it empathy, emotional IQ, whatever–what matters is the ability to understand what motivates people, how they view the world (and you), and how to communicate and work with them. Hint: having an interest in their success, not just yours is a good start.
  2. Knowing how to get things done: In any workplace, there are a few people who really get things accomplished and they generally thrive–be one of them. Understanding the arcane mix and interplay of organization culture, personalities, politics, and work styles and practices and figuring out how to make them work in your favor is essential to success.
  3. Figuring out what’s important: And what’s not. In complex working environments, it is easy to get into “whack a mole” mode where there are problems and opportunities everywhere you look. Being able to discern which problems and opportunities will actually deliver value to the organization is a key success factor.
  4. Being able to adapt to changing organizations and situations: Whether moving to a new company, dealing with an acquisition or merger, or a major organizational revamp, the ability to quickly size up key people, power structures, organizational dynamics, and what the true goals of leaders and managers are can be a big factor in survival and success.

Yes, these are pretty basic, but it’s worth periodically putting together your own survive/thrive list and auditing your performance against the list. And finally, treating others with respect and dignity while showing some humility and a dose of humor won’t hurt in your pursuit of a successful career.

The Dysfunctions of Cross-Functional Teams

dysfunctionteamDigital transformation, for most businesses, requires cross-functional coordination, so many resort to deploying cross-functional teams to plan and execute the digital transformation strategy. That’s because most organizations are constructed around business units that operate largely independently of each other, and based on their unique goals and objectives. When markets and business environments are changing slowly and business strategies are stable, that can work reasonably well. In times of digitally-driven disruption and change, siloed organizations don’t perform well–they simply can’t respond to changing needs, competition, and opportunities quickly enough.

Yet cross-functional teams can be problematic–problems arise when they are used to “paper over” cultural, organizational, and communication issues. A study reported in a recent HBR article found that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional, based on failing at least 3 of 5 criteria: 1) meeting a planned budget, 2) staying on schedule, 3) adhering to specifications, 4) meeting customer expectations, and 5) maintaining alignment with corporate goals. The dysfunctionalities stemmed from unclear goals, lack of accountability, unclear governance, and most important–lack of executive sponsorship.

While that is a daunting finding, the article goes on to note that establishment of a senior executive or cross-functional team that both sets an example for, and provides governance for project cross-functional teams can raise project success rates from under 20% to over 75%. To that I would add the following additional success factors:

  • Ensure that project goals and the team’s mission are understood and embraced by all members, and that they align with the business’s goals and needs
  • Establish clear and actionable metrics that define success
  • Chunk large projects into smaller, more manageable ones
  • Adopt agile practices practices such as Scrum that build toward solutions in an iterative fashion
  • Select team members for their ability to collaborate, not just based on technical or other skill sets

Cross-functional teams are an important and necessary tool for digitally transforming businesses, but they don’t succeed without being nurtured and guided by executive stakeholders.

As always, I’m happy to discuss any needs you may have relative to your own digital transformation, or IT and organizational optimization. Just call me at 650-766-1067 or email at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com

Synthesis, Synergy, and Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is much talked about, and much coveted by businesses and organizations, yet relatively few have achieved transformation at a significant level. One reason is that despite the buzz, digital transformation is still nascent–its true potential and impact are yet to be understood. Another reason is that many organizations are paying scant attention to two essential components of substantive digital transformation: synthesis and synergy. A classic definition of synthesis is “the combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole.” In the world of digital transformation those elements would include talent, leadership, business models, relationships with partners and customers, and of course technologies, to name a few. Most important is blending the right components at the right time.

But simply bringing together all of those elements (the “fuel”) will generally not lead to substantive digital transformation, let alone disruption of markets and industries. What’s missing is synergy, the “spark” that ignites digital transformation by creating a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Synergy comes from compelling vision, focus, and alignment of the components noted above with each other and with the vision; all of which, in turn, engage employees, customers, and partners to drive superior performance. The simple fact is that many organizations will achieve a modicum of success in the digital era by hiring smart people, putting effective governance in place, trying out new business models, and so forth, but a much smaller number will achieve levels of performance and disruption that shape and dominate their markets by exploiting and mastering synthesis and synergy.

Organizations will need to make decisions about where they wish (or need) to be on the continuum of digital transformation mastery, based on a realistic appraisal of the assets and intelligence, and risk and change tolerance that they have. If you need help in sorting out where you are and need to be in digital transformation mastery, give me a call at 650-766-1067 or email at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com.

Marc

The Digital Dilemma (and Remedy)

Digital transformation is all the rage–seemingly “everyone’s doing it.” But in reality, many organizations are seeking the transformative power of digital technologies, but not sure how to start: which technologies?, what applications?, how to monetize?, the list of questions seems endless. The simple answer is to start by asking more questions:

  • What are the organizations goals relative to digital transformation?
  • What resources is the organization willing to commit and what competencies are lacking?
  • How aggressively will leaders pursue transformation?
  • What changes can the organization make to its business models?

More importantly, structure those (and many more) questions into a framework and process as depicted below. The flow column represents major steps in the process and the dimensions represent the questions that need to be answered at each stage.

DigitalTranProcessV12015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diagram depicts a much simplified approach to digital transformation initiatives starting with goal setting–in essence, figuring out what the organization wants and needs to achieve in leveraging cloud, social, big data, mobile, and other technologies for operational efficiencies and to create superior products, services, and customer experiences. The process moves through assessment of the organization’s “readiness” to undertake digital transformation, development of strategies for digital initiatives, and finally execution of the strategies and measurement and analysis of resulting business impacts.

Note that the dimensions listed are only a small portion of possible ones in order to reduce complexity of the diagram. The orange arrow shows that the process is iterative and never-ending. By iterating through the process, over time, an organization gains digital competency and maturity.

Agile Business Logic has a series of services designed to take organizations from square one to digital empowerment and can assist at any and all of the digital transformation steps outlined above. Give Marc Strohlein a call at 650-766-1067 or drop a line at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com.

The Energized Enterprise Defined

A while back I published “The Energized Enterprise: How to Tap Your Organization’s Hidden Potential,” and wanted to share some excerpts from the book. This post is from the introductory chapter which introduces the notion of an energized enterprise.

Energized enterprises are “1 + 1 = 3” organizations. They optimize, align, and balance their strategies, people, processes, and technology – and, importantly, the interactions of those elements – so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In contrast are enervated or de-energized organizations, which lack vigor and sometimes can feel like black holes where energy is sucked in but never released. They plod along, managing to stay alive, but are punching below their weight, ripe for disruption or even annihilation from more energized competitors.

The figure below compares these two kinds of enterprises. Most of the differences relate to ways of thinking and doing, which means you don’t need to invest massive sums of money to move from enervated to energized.

 Moving from Enervated to Energized

energized

© 2012 Agile Business Logic 2012

Myriad factors contribute to performance (or non-performance) of organizations. I’ll focus on eight that I call the engines of an energized enterprise, summarized here and explored further in subsequent chapters.

  1. Smart Work Habits. Energized enterprises continually examine what’s working and what’s not, and refine their ways of thinking and acting. They use continuous learning and iterative refinement to keep the organization growing and improving. Energized enterprises work smarter, not harder.
  2. Compelling Purpose. These enterprises have a higher calling, and their purpose is clear, important, and known to all employees, customers, and partners. Strategies, goals, and resources are aligned from top to bottom, and every employee can explain the enterprise’s mission and how their role contributes to it.
  3. Focused Leadership. Leaders know how to figure out what is important and what is not, and how to stay focused on the former. Leaders focus on delivering value to customers and manage priorities in pursuit of that aim.
  4. Engaged Employees. Employees are not merely empowered; they have autonomy and are highly engaged in mastering their roles and delivering value to their customers.
  5. Customer Intimacy. Customers are viewed as a wellspring of innovation and energy. They are seen not as a revenue source or support drain but as collaborators and co-creators of value.
  6. Dynamic Culture. Leaders and employees take joint ownership and accountability for success. Employees and managers say “we,” not “I” or “they.” The culture embraces change and thrives on success and customer satisfaction.
  7. Enterprise Collaboration. Leaders focus on clearly communicating goals and on creating an environment where collaboration happens naturally and effectively. Employees work together in cross-functional teams to maximize achievement.
  8. Transformational Technology. Technology not only enables the business mission and purpose but also drives it forward. Technology is not seen as a cost center, but rather as a source of innovation, customer delight, and new revenue.

Notably, these engines aren’t specific to any type or size of organization—they apply equally well to teams, departments, start-ups, non-profits, government and educational organizations, and global businesses. I selected them for the book because they are equal opportunity engines. If you’d like to energize your enterprise, department, or work group, call me at 650-766-1067 or email at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com

Why You Are Overdue for a Technology Assessment

Optimization. KeyboardFor starters, you are probably wondering what a technology assessment is. The answer is quite simple–it is an assessment of an organization’s technology, people (talent), organization, and processes and their collective ability to deliver on the organization’s stated mission, goals, and objectives, now and in the future.

Think of it as having a mechanic check out your car before making a long or difficult drive. Like car engines, technology investments tend to lose their punch over time if not properly maintained and occasionally fitted with new parts. And if the car engine was a poor choice to begin with (try driving a 4 cylinder mid-size rental car), then the car (or technology) will never perform to its potential.

Business technology resembles car technology in those two respects–where it differs is that the impact of sub-par or poorly chosen technology is often much less visible, in fact, almost insidious in its impact on a business. Another big difference is that a car and its engine grow old together–businesses, on the other hand change strategies and directions and render their technologies and technology strategies obsolete.

Some key reasons why you should consider a technology readiness audit:

  • You simply have a nagging feeling that you aren’t getting the full “bang for the buck” that you could from technology investments,
  • You believe that better technology decisions could make your business more competitive,
  • You own technology that is not appropriate (too big, too small, too fragile, too slow, etc.) for your current and/or future mission and needs,
  • Circumstances that drove technology selection decisions have changed creating mismatches and gaps,
  • New technologies have entered the market place that obsolete your current mix, or provide untapped opportunities to change or transform the business,
  • You are seeking to transform your business and want to explore how technologies can help enable or drive that transformation.

The last bullet is especially important–if your business and technology strategies haven’t changed appreciably in say the past 3 years, you are likely missing opportunities for operational efficiencies and/or product and service revenue streams–you are overdue for a technology readiness audit. So if any of those bullet points resonate with you, give me a call to discuss your technology assessment. For more detail, view the Technology Assessment and Optimization Service description.

If you’d like talk about how I can help you–call me at 650-766-1067 or e-mail at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com. My clients are businesses, non-profits, associations, and educational institutions that range from about $5 million to several hundred million dollars in revenue, or departments within larger organizations. Most of my clients sell or use content and information as a core part of their business and are climbing the latter of organizational and technology sophistication. The common theme in my work is transformation of organizations and technologies to become more agile, effective, and profitable.

Why You Need an Organizational Assessment

business graph goldMost organizations are in some stage of entropy, whether their leaders recognize it or not. Once efficient and effective enterprises become sluggish and hide-bound–unable to react to changing market conditions. While it is a popular notion that such lack of agility comes from size, I don’t buy that because I see the same phenomenon in organizations of all sizes.

A better explanation is that organizations are complex “systems of systems.” The larger enterprise comprised of sales, marketing finance, HR and other functions is itself comprised of other systems including people, culture, processes, technology and so forth. It’s tough to design those systems properly in the first place and even when that’s achieved, over time those systems get out of alignment and performance degrades. Common symptoms include:

  • A general lack of energy and enthusiasm in the workplace
  • Decision-making concentrated at the executive level
  • Lack of speed and agility in getting things done
  • Flat or mediocre financial performance
  • Excessive meetings that lead to more meetings
  • Complaints from employees about not “being in the know”
  • Stagnant innovation in products and services

I could go on, but these are some common symptoms that I find in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many organizations respond by attacking symptoms, a bit like running around and trying to stomp out small spot fires while ignoring the larger brush fire. And that is where the “systems within systems” notion comes into play.

Because all of the systems and components are interconnected, tweaking one aspect will affect another, often adversely. In example, a mandate to reduce meetings with no other adjustments will exacerbate employees’ concerns about knowing what’s going on, and will also lead to more decision-making by executives.

The solution? A systematic assessment of the organization’s current state, coupled with a road map to optimize its performance, such as described here. Why hire an outsider to do “management’s work?” Because organizations and executives become acclimated to culture and “ways things are done,” and in my experience, end up overlooking opportunities to improve performance.

As always, let me know if you’d like talk about how I can help you–call me at 650-766-1067 or e-mail at mstrohlein@agilebusinesslogic.com. My clients are businesses, non-profits, associations, and educational institutions that range from about $5 million to several hundred million dollars in revenue, or departments within larger organizations. Most of my clients sell or use content and information as a core part of their business and are climbing the latter of organizational and technology sophistication. The common theme in my work is transformation of organizations and technologies to become more agile, effective, and profitable.