Digital Transformation, DevOps and Enterprise Agility

digital transformation

Digital Transformation is the phrase of the moment in industry, but as usual, there’s little agreement about what it means. In contrast to previous “transformations” such as ITIL, Lean, Agile, or DevOps, digital transformation doesn’t simply mean automating processes, becoming more efficient, offering your existing products and services online, creating an app, or shifting your infrastructure to the cloud.

What is digital transformation?

True digital transformation means transforming everything about your organisation in respect to people and technology towards an engaged, agile, happy and high performing organisation. The only way to truly achieve organisational resilience or enterprise agility is to fundamentally transform the foundations of the organisation. The list below describes just some of the aspects of digital transformation and the areas to address

  • Culture, values and behaviours
  • Practices and ways of working
  • Communication structures
  • Hierarchies
  • How financial budgets are managed
  • How teams are incentivised
  • How and what metrics are used
  • Cloud native architectures
  • Moving from projects to products
  • Team structures, topologies and interactions
  • Value stream alignment
  • Breaking down silos
  • Embedding the ability to change and adapt
  • Reducing cognitive load
  • Psychological safety
  • And more…

Why digital transformation?

What’s your organisational goal? Maybe it’s increasing your speed to market for new products and features, maybe it’s reducing risk of failure in production and improving reliability, or maybe it’s to keep doing what you’re doing but with less stress and improved flow. If you’re only looking to reduce costs however, digital transformation is not for you: one of the core requirements for a transformation to succeed is for everyone in the organisation to be psychologically safe, engaged and get behind it, so reducing costs and potentially cutting workforce numbers is not going to create that movement.

What is Enterprise Agility?

Resilience Engineering focusses on the capacity to anticipate, detect, respond to and adapt to change. Organisational “robustness” might mean being able to withstand massive disrupting events such as pandemics or competition, but enterprise agility represents the resilience engineering concept of true resilience – not just “coping” with change, but improving from it and future challenges.

Why is digital transformation so complex?

Despite many attempts to simplify the concept of digital transformation, it remains one of the most challenging endeavours we could embark upon.

Galbraith Star model
Galbraith Star model

I’m not a huge fan of over-simplifying organisational complexity into components, especially models such as Galbraith’s Star that place “people” as one of the components (and certainly not models that consider anything other than people to be the primary element). Whilst models such as this may help people compartmentalise the transformation challenge, in almost every case, the fractures between the various components don’t actually exist in the way they’re presented.

Organisations are not simply jigsaw pieces of technology, tools, and people that react and function in predictable ways. As the Cynefin model shows us, complex systems, such as sociotechnical systems (the organisations that we work in) require a probe-sense-respond approach that has built-in feedback loops to determine what effect the intervention you’re working on is having. Everything in digital transformation is an experiment.

upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Cyn...

It’s also important to avoid localised optimisation – applying digital transformation approaches to one part of an organisation whilst ignoring other parts will only result in tension, bottlenecks, high-friction and failures elsewhere. Likewise, changing one small part of a system, especially a complex system, will have unintended and unanticipated effects elsewhere, so a complete, holistic view of the entire organisation is critical.

Digital transformation is a series of experiments

This is why, if anyone suggests that there is a detailed “roadmap”, or even worse, a Gannt chart, for a digital transformation project, at best it’s naive and worst, it’s fiction. Any digital transformation process must be made not of a fixed plan, but a series of experiments that allow for iterative improvements to be made.

When you think about digital transformation in this way, it also becomes clear why it will never be “finished”. Organisations, like the people they consist of, constantly change and evolve, just like the world we operate in, so whilst digital transformation is undoubtedly of huge value and an effective approach to organisational change, you will never, ever, be “done”.

Resilience Engineering, DevOps, and Psychological Safety – resources

With thanks to Liam Gulliver and the folks at DevOps Notts, I gave a talk recently on Resilience Engineering, DevOps, and Psychological Safety.

It’s pretty content-rich, and here are all the resources I referenced in the talk, along with the talk itself, and the slide deck. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss anything mentioned, or you have a meetup or conference that you’d like me to contribute to!

Red Hat Open Innovation Labs

https://www.redhat.com/en/services/consulting/open-innovation-labs

Open Practice Library

https://openpracticelibrary.com/

Resilience Engineering and DevOps slide deck  

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1VrGl8WkmLn_gZzHGKowQRonT_V2nqTsAZbVbBP_5bmU/edit?usp=sharing

Resilience engineering – Where do I start?

Resilience engineering: Where do I start?

Turn the ship around by David Marquet

Lorin Hochstein and Resilience Engineering fundamentals 

https://github.com/lorin/resilience-engineering/blob/master/intro.md

 

Scott Sagan, The Limits of Safety:
“The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons”, Scott D. Sagan, Princeton University Press, 1993.

 

Sidney Dekker: “The Field Guide To Understanding Human Error: Sidney Dekker, 2014

 

John Allspaw: “Resilience Engineering: The What and How”, DevOpsDays 2019.

https://devopsdays.org/events/2019-washington-dc/program/john-allspaw/

 

Erik Hollnagel: Resilience Engineering 

https://erikhollnagel.com/ideas/resilience-engineering.html

 

Cynefin

Home

 

Jabe Bloom, The Three Economies

The Three Economies an Introduction

 

Resilience vs Efficiency

Efficiency vs. Resiliency: Who Won The Bout?

 

Tarcisio Abreu Saurin – Resilience requires Slack

Slack: a key enabler of resilient performance

 

Resilience engineering and DevOps – a deeper dive

Resilience Engineering and DevOps – A Deeper Dive

 

Symposium with John Willis, Gene Kim, Dr Sidney Dekker, Dr Steven Pear, and Dr Richard Cook: Safety Culture, Lean, and DevOps

 

Approaches for resilience and antifragility in collaborative business ecosystems: Javaneh Ramezani Luis, M. Camarinha-Matos:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162519304494

 

Learning organisations:
Garvin, D.A., Edmondson, A.C. and Gino, F., 2008. Is yours a learning organization?. Harvard business review, 86(3), p.109.
https://teamtopologies.com/book
https://www.psychsafety.co.uk/cognitive-load-and-psychological-safety/

 

Psychological safety: Edmondson, A., 1999. Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative science quarterly, 44(2), pp.350-383.

The four stages of psychological safety, Timothy R. Clarke (2020)

Measuring psychological safety:

 

And of course the youtube video of the talk:

Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.