Digital Transformation and Organisational Dysfunctions

  1. A gap between strategy and delivery – we know what we want to do, and we have the people and tools to do it, but we can’t seem to do it. We end up building something different to what we intended in the strategy. This may be a sign of weak strategy, or it may be a product ownership problem – translating business strategy into the products and services to be delivered.
  2. A gap between desire for pace of delivery and ability to deliver. We want to go at 100mph, but we can only go at 30mph. The pace of delivery may be constrained by capability, tooling, process, constraints, or simply capacity. It’s usually not actually a capacity problem, however. In technological domains, this is the realm of DevOps transformations and the practices that enable value to be delivered at high velocity whilst maintaining reliability and quality.
  3. A lack of organisational observability that results in poor understanding of value flows across the organisation, poor awareness of sociotechnical aspects of the system as a whole, resulting in problems that are known by teams taking leadership by surprise, if they ever become aware of them. A lack of systems thinking, combined with poor psychological safety across the organisation, results in executives only being told what they want to hear, or information becoming diluted as it flows “up”.
  4. Short termism – poor incentive structures (indeed, most incentives) or cultures mean that people are focused on immediate short term wins rather than long term value and outcomes. This is also manifested by an adherence to project methodologies where the delivery of value has a start and, specifically, an end date, instead of a long-lived product approach that provides people with greater ownership of outcomes, longer lived teams, lower technical and operational debt, and higher quality products and services.
  5. Quality issues. We can build the right things, but we can’t do it well. Conflicts of interest or capability issues mean that products and services are delivered, but they suffer from reliability, consistency or architectural problems. Technical and operational debt is high, and teams feel like they are always firefighting and dealing with unplanned work. An approach of late inspection rather than building quality in to the process is often part of the cause of this dysfunction.
  6. Poor organisational ability to learn. Systems, cultures and processes hinder people’s (and groups of people, such as teams or business units) ability to learn from failures and successes. The same mistakes are made repeatedly, and when successes do get made, the valuable learning from them is not institutionalised. Psychological safety, along with rituals such as retrospectives, may be lacking in this organisation.
  7. An excessive inward focus. Focussing too much on “what we do” rather than looking out at the world for challenges, opportunities, and a changing landscape means that opportunities are wasted and challenges can present existential threats to the organisation through a lack of capability to become aware of them, let alone adapt to them. A strong organisational cultural identity, whilst a powerful and valuable aspect of an organisation, can result in this dysfunction.
  8. An excessive outward focus. A focus only on the external means that market and environmental opportunities and threats are detected, but threats to performance or opportunities for improvement arising from inside the organisation are not detected, mitigated or exploited.
  9. A bimodal approach to value where the products and services delivered to customers far exceed the quality and features of those delivered to people within the organisation who are expected to use those services to do their job. We wouldn’t provide surgeons with blunt scalpels and expect a great result for the “customer”, but many organisations provide poor quality services and tools to employees whilst expecting high quality outcomes.
  10. A culture of fear over a culture of experimentation. An organisation that enforces behaviour or strives towards goals based on the consequences of failure or divergence from the norms, will move much slower and gradually grind to a halt. In these organisations, the safest thing to do is to comply with rules and take as few risks as possible, rather than suggest ideas, try (and risk failure), or admit mistakes.
Spread the love