In our previous post, we described five pillars where we see Connected Organisations delivering great products and services in the enterprise. Each of these are valuable places to get started.
However, our experience working with the likes of Unilever, Transport for London (TfL), and Ford suggests that those who advance fastest on their journey consistently exhibit a number of foundational capabilities; we call these Accelerators.
Accelerators enable you to create value with your great software quickly. They help your enterprise identify the right problems to solve, speed the trial and adoption of solutions that work, and reduce the cost of ongoing experimentation and continuous improvement. In this post we explore four of these Accelerators:
- A process for identifying and prioritising ideas
- Shared, reusable components
- Enterprise Technology Architecture
- Empowered, cross-functional teams
In most organisations, there are more business challenges, customer and employee pain points to solve, than there are resources to solve them. Great software only delivers value when it’s focused on solving real customer, employee, and business problems by creating new capabilities or services - or enhancing existing ones. No matter how exciting it is on the hype cycle, or how ‘quality’ a product may be, if software is not solving your organisation’s most critical problems, it’s as bad as having none in place at all.
A key role of leadership is setting, and sharing, the framework for prioritising what problems to solve. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Establishing a ‘north star’ - key metrics to focus on, the tools to submit ideas and a fair way to rate them - can be incredibly powerful. Teams can then prioritise based on whether a solution is going to move that metric, and how much. These frameworks accelerate the delivery of great software by helping the organisation make decisions about where to focus their efforts.
At TAB, we use Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI) to uncover the metrics and opportunities that matter the most. And the answer won’t just be software - the processes, operating models and organisational hierarchies that determine the way technology is used, are a critical part of the solution.
Solving the same problems over and over is going to slow down your ability to make great software. There are going to be problems that multiple teams will need to grapple with, where creating one-off solutions isn’t an effective use of effort. For example, employees switching between tools shouldn’t be confronted with interfaces that need to be learnt from scratch. Creating shared, reusable components that solve problems can accelerate progress across multiple products and projects. At their best, they form a cohesive ‘product delivery platform’ for the business.
User Experience or Design guidelines are great way to do this. They can help tie different products together and reduce the need to rethink the look and feel of a tool from the ground up, when starting a new product or iterating a feature. These shared components can also be software themselves, built to solve for a common outcome for the business. You might create a shared authentication flow, mapped clearly to the wider enterprise architecture, that makes logging into enterprise applications efficient and secure across channels and tools.
It’s important to remember that components shouldn’t become static, or constraints on building better solutions. They should continue to be improved over time, with the feedback and learnings from the teams applying them to solve their problems. Shared components that become drags on connecting your organisation, rather than Acclerators, need to be retired or updated.
To accelerate the Connected Organisation, the technology architecture has to support rapid, continuous improvement. This means closing any gaps between the developers of, and the operational owners of, your software. Otherwise, their interests start to diverge. Developers can become focused on shipping software quickly without thinking about maintenance, while operational owners need to clamp down on changes to make sure things don’t break.
In a small startup, developing this collective ownership is much easier - they’re usually the same person! In an enterprise already operating at scale, this is more challenging. To accelerate connecting your organisation, focus on the enablers of software quality. You can move fast without breaking things.
This requires the capability for automated deployment, testing and monitoring built into the infrastructure. For example:
- Representing your infrastructure as domain specific code, that can be owned and understood collectively by the whole team, breaks down barriers to co-operation.
- The right hosting infrastructure will enable standardised and largely automated deployment.
- Automating critical change management processes, like testing or security certification, enables rapid deployment of software while still assuring that it works.
- Application performance monitoring, whether metric driven or based on detailed logging, should be rich enough to identify potential problems and the root cause of issues; as well as surfacing the right alerts when required.
- Robust logging and monitoring can enable ‘self-healing’ infrastructure, with automated applications that can correct themselves when things go wrong.
This focus on automation in your core technology architecture is a powerful Accelerator. It enables the rapid deployment of great software, and reduces compromises between high speed and high quality. It’s a big topic, and we’re just scratching the surface here. Look out for more from TAB on this soon.
Your people are the key to creating a more Connected Organisation. Efforts at ‘digital transformation’ are frequently configured from the top down. Huge programme management structures are set up, the chain between delivery and decision making grows and grows, and the enterprise architecture becomes a monolith. After a mountain of time and money has been spent, the results aren’t up to scratch.
What’s needed, is a programme and organisational structure that gives software teams ownership, autonomy and focus, while allowing for the ability to pivot to new ways of working, or more valuable output. This means creating empowered, cross-functional teams focused on solving the valuable business outcomes you’ve identified. Those teams can self-organise, and discover the best ways to make progress. Having the first three Accelerators in place multiplies the effect of this one, creating the empowerment that’s needed to give small teams the real ability to deliver results at scale. Along with that autonomy comes accountability - responsibility for their own KPIs that are tied to company growth and key initiatives.
It’s critical that these teams have a continual learning approach at their core. That means generating new hypotheses from insight, testing and gathering data by running small experiments and scaling up the most valuable ideas through fast feedback loops.
Accelerators enable Connected Organisations to make, deploy and use great software faster and more easily. It’s great to start building in one or more of the five pillars, but without developing accelerators to build these, eventually, you’ll see progress slow down. Getting the Accelerators in place first will allow you to go faster.
Connected Organisations ultimately create virtuous cycles of continuous improvement, where they develop both elements in tandem. That is, great software that delivers real business results across the five pillars which is rapidly improved by Accelerators that are themselves being continuously iterated upon. For these organisations, the journey is never over. They're always striving to be more connected.
Here at TAB, we work with large enterprises to help them get started on becoming Connected Organisations and supporting them on their ongoing journey. Grappling with the challenge of ‘digital transformation’ in your organisation? Get in touch to discuss how you could take advantage of these Accelerators.