Digital Evolution

The days of the big bet transformation programme may be running out and organisations need to consider achieving transformation strategies through a more incremental process.

Transformation doesn’t have to be a single BIG move – consider the well-used metaphor of the transition from Caterpillar to Butterfly, used in so many transformation articles and as the poster image for transformation.  The time it takes for a caterpillar to transform, depending on species, can be from weeks to months and even longer.   During this time, while it may appear that nothing is happening, changes are taking place gradually and in a controlled manner; specialist cells are growing and organising themselves into the final butterfly.  It’s more an incremental series of changes vs. one big transformation.

Rather than a single big bang, like the caterpillar, a more incremental and iterative approach is advised – one common to INNOVATION driven organisations – with multiple initiatives all running in parallel within a try, test, review, refine, FAIL, adjust framework,  allowing assumptions to be tested and risks mitigated.

For the caterpillar the transformation happens inside a protective environment – a husk.  For organisations embarking on transformation initiatives it is important to establish their own husk; a safe/controlled environment to ‘experiment’ within without putting the wider organisation at risk.

The world today is moving so fast that LARGE SCALE TRANSFORMATIONS may no longer be appropriate. As much as you can try to control your internal operating environment, it is impossible to control the external operating environment (from the pace of technology change, societal concerns/campaigns, competitors & now, pandemics).  Large scale transformations that span years are no longer appropriate – by the time the transformation is complete the environment will have moved on and the once planned benefits may no longer be there or relevant.

As a starter for this change in approach, organisations might look towards ‘Discovery-Driven Planning’.  This is a planning technique introduced in a Harvard Business Review article (HBR Article – here) by Rita McGrath.  The main premise is that; when one is operating in arenas with significant amounts of uncertainty, that a different approach applies than is normally used in conventional planning. In conventional planning, the correctness of a plan is generally judged by how close outcomes come to projections. In discovery-driven planning, it is assumed that plan parameters may change as new information is revealed. With conventional planning, it is considered appropriate to fund the entire project, as the expectation is that one can predict a positive outcome. In discovery-driven planning, funds are released based on the accomplishment of key milestones or checkpoints, at which point additional funding can be made available predicated on reasonable expectations for future success.  Wikipedia Extract – here.

Like other management strategies of the last 20 years, Innovation and Operational Excellence – Digital Transformation is about adopting a new CULTURE, not a single deliverable.  Maybe we should start thinking in terms of Digital Evolution vs. Transformation and allow organisations to embrace the unknown.

At Clarion we have experience helping organisations define and implement strategic programmes that deliver incremental benefits and transformational change. Contact us today and hear how we can help with managing the uncertainty and envisioning the unknown.