Digital transformation is not easy, but must succeed if enterprises are to embrace the challenge of digital disruption and continue to create value.
Rapid advancement in technologies, powering web and mobile experiences, has allowed resourceful startups to disrupt well-established business models across many industries. By leveraging digital technologies, startups are redefining what it means to be best in class at every stage of the value chain.
But just having access to the technology is not enough. Equally important is the project delivery model employed and behind many startup success stories is the practice of Agile. Enterprises are keen to learn how to be agile like these startups while avoiding the common pitfalls of implementing agile delivery practices at scale.
Here are seven best practices drawn from my experience of working with large enterprises on the road to digital transformation.
Understand the big picture
Digital transformation is about business outcomes. The best digital roadmaps are those that are aligned with business strategy from both the top down – big picture goals influence the prioritisation of features ; and bottom up – the latest technology trends are channeled to executives to help influence their thinking on the art of the possible.
It can be helpful to have a mental model of how all the pieces of strategy come together to ultimately deliver business value.
Business goals: Usually measurable achievements, such as ‘double market share’.
Business initiatives: Specific projects that serve to achieve the business goals, for example launching a mobile app to increase engagement with millennials.
Features and fixes: The outputs from the digital delivery team used by the project teams driving business initiatives.
User stories: Chunks of work that describe individual user journeys or workflows, bundled in a way that is convenient for software engineers to build.
Components: Software modules that together create an intuitive user interface or application programming interface (API) to fulfill user stories.
Services: Data flows stitched together to feed the components described above with the information they need to fulfill their functions. These could be sourced internally or via an external third party provider.
Build a platform
Building a platform requires designing a technology architecture that promotes reusability. In the diagram above, the platform comprises the components and services. Part of the challenge of building a great digital roadmap is thinking about how to maximise reusability of these components and services.
Be agile but have a plan
When building a customer experience platform there are a lot of moving parts to consider. In large enterprises, stakeholders are often spread across the globe and communication can be especially hard if your software development team is on the other side of the world. Having a baseline plan helps maintain confidence and good communication.
And while it is good to be nimble and flexible like a startup, when doing agile at scale, a baseline plan is essential. Without it, digital transformations can burn through cash at a phenomenal rate and a small period of team underutilisation can have big budgetary impacts.
I recommend planning in units of features and constraining the size of each feature. The plan then can be easily reorganised as programme priorities are refined.
Work in programme increments
While agile is usually associated with two-week sprints it is helpful also to plan and execute in quarterly stretches (13 weeks). This allows the team to align bigger picture goals to longer increments of time, for example Q1 might be about launching a new mobile experience and Q2 might be about improving performance.
Working in programme increments allows for the whole team to reflect and celebrate achievements on a regular basis.
Maintain an ideas pipeline
The best ideas can come from anywhere in the organisation, so a process is needed to enable easy capture, prioritisation and refinement of new ideas.
This provides the much-needed content to inform the business strategy and future roadmap.
Use the right tools for the right job
Tools like Jira, Redmine and Pivotal Tracker are great for developing user stories and tracking their execution to completion. However, when it comes to developing a feature roadmap and reporting progress against it, it is best to do this outside of these trackers.
Features can be defined and prioritised in any tool, even a spreadsheet. Once the features in the roadmap are baselined, the list of features can be imported into a tracking tool as epics for further user story definition.
Put your marketing hat on
Finally, it’s important to help stakeholders appreciate the value of what is to be delivered. This involves thoughtful use of words and graphics to aid in communicating the content of the roadmap.
Wherever possible, use short, meaningful, and easy to remember titles for features. A great example of this is the feature of Tesla cars that enables them to drive themselves. Tesla could have named this feature something like ‘autonomous driving agent based on artificial neural network processing of environment data’, which would have been accurate, but not as inspiring to the average user as the name ‘Autopilot’.
The challenges of driving a digital roadmap at enterprise scale can be largely overcome by observing some key management principles. Remember that improving your digital delivery is a continual process, and finding the best model for your organisation will require some experimentation. Rest assured though that the effort you put into this will be worth the benefits realised from accelerating digital innovation at your organisation.