To support the adoption of new digital services, writes Andi Mann, IT leaders need to restructure their teams and the activities they perform.

Every time I open a website, I read more about “digital transformation” – and it is all about technology.

By now we all know that “digital” means everything must be internet-enabled, leveraging “SMAC” (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud), connected to the Internet of Things, utilizing Big Data, deployed as a containerized micro-service architecture, delivered and run by empowered agile DevOps teams. Right?

However, there is more to digital than technology. The teams and activities that kept your traditional IT investments safe – segregation of duties, devs focused on speed, ops focus on stability, change approval boards, rigid escalation procedures, etc. – will not empower collaborative work, drive rapid innovation, or help to respond immediately to market pressures.

To support the adoption of new digital services, you need to restructure your teams and the activities they perform.

New IT Organizational Structures

Speed is especially key to digital transformation. With digital assets – customer-facing web sites, electronic content, mobile applications, online stores – you have unique opportunities to try new capabilities. Without the constraints of a physical world – producing physical assets, maintaining inventory, tooling up for production, etc. – digital teams can rapidly come up with new ideas, try them out, iterate on good ones, and redirect bad ones. The rapid “idea-to-customer” cycle time is a key opportunity in digital engagement.

That means you need to move away from all the team and activity structures that slow work down – separated teams, “Tayloristic” workflows, one-way delivery cycles, 6-month release schedules, change-frozen systems, calcified ITIL processes, etc. – and move toward a culture of rapid iteration, with the teams and activities in place to support it.

For example, to reduce cycles and enable rapid delivery of new ideas from conception to customer:

  • The streaming music service Spotify organizes into “squads” and “tribes” in an innovative structure that empowers multidisciplinary teams to collaborate on new features throughout the software lifecycle.
  • Valve, a video game software company, allows teams to self-organize to come up with new ideas, split into ad hoc teams to work on them, and deliver them to end users, with few, if any, management gates.

Organizational structures like these work on multiple levels. They improve collaboration and reduce the gaps and “waste” in the service delivery process. They encourage individuals to understand the “whole system” so they minimize friction throughout the delivery lifecycle. They enable rapid iteration, as all the critical contributors and decision makers are all in the same team, with few barriers amongst them. They drive rapid innovation, as they let teams try new things and if the projects don’t work, they fail fast, fail cheap, and fail small.

It is not just “unicorns” and cool consumer businesses that benefit from new teams and activities to support digital transformation. For example, NBC Universal enables a culture of rapid digital experimentation with new release teams and activities that enable collaboration and experimentation. Instead of sequential “plan-build-run” activities handled by separate teams, devs release new API-connected microservices into a “Gamma” environment – a subset of production servers that ops make available to test new releases – so developers, testers, and operations can all collaborate in real time on new releases. They can rapidly detect any “bad change” before it hits customers; or they can double-down on “good change” and release to customer-facing servers. This gives them the freedom to collaborate, try new things, and deliver new capabilities, all while protecting customers from failures, and innovating at “digital speed”.

Collaboration and Sharing

Collaboration and sharing are key components of new IT delivery models like Agile and DevOps – relatively new methods of delivering services at the speed of a digital organization. For example, sharing data across the delivery lifecycle has helped FamilySearch, the largest genealogy organization in the world, to connect development with operations, speeding the release of new ideas to production with Continuous Delivery. Developers can access production data (though not necessarily production servers) to monitor the health of the site following a release, and fix or rollback any “bad change” before it affects customers. This has reduced the check-in to deploy time for FamilySearch to under 20 minutes, allowing them to deliver new capabilities at “digital speed”.  

Rethinking Your Workspaces

Physical space changes the way teams work together too. Leading organizations like the connectivity software company, Citrix, have transformed the way they use physical offices, meeting rooms, and open spaces, moving from “owned” spaces to “shared” spaces, where no-one has a permanent office, but rather shares space with others based on the work requirements of the day. This has encouraged new ways of delivering new capabilities to their customers, for example:

  • Collaborative spaces for teamwork, including shared areas for scrum and standup meetings equipped with “telepresence” systems to facilitate remote teams
  • Facilities for pair programming, enabling collaborative development which is credited with delivering better code and more strategic contributions
  • Spaces for quiet individual work, to allow individual contributors to put their heads down and deliver new capabilities without the dreaded waste of context switching

Again, these sorts of modifications to physical space work as they force valuable intersections across processes and goals of digital transformation, such as encouraging teamwork, enabling rapid feedback and agile delivery, and encouraging rapid resolution through “face time” rather than inefficient back-and-forth via e-mail.

Of course, these are just some examples, and these specific new teams and activities may not work for you. Digital transformation should be designed to suit your business objectives, which may be different from NBC Universal, FamilySearch, Spotify, or Valve. However, these examples provide some ideas about where you can explore how different types of teams and activities can help you enable and drive digital transformation, by bringing teams closer together, enabling faster collaboration and iteration to deliver new capabilities with new processes.

As you explore how to apply these ideas to your organization, they will help you adapt to the pace of change and expanded collaboration you will need to harness the opportunities and full potential of digital transformation.

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