All the right steps, but in a different order It won’t have escaped your notice that the world is getting ever more complex and inter-connected. Political upheavals in one country can send the stock market tumbling in another.
The scale and pace of digital transformation taking place is both a cause of, and is affected by, these wider trends. As technology evolves and opens up new opportunities (and threats) to existing business models, organisations have to respond at scale and pace across all dimensions – from their systems, to their data, to underpinning infrastructure, but beyond that to their people, skills and organisational culture.
But organisations – especially large, established and somewhat rigid companies and public sector departments – find this very hard to do, as the sheer number of dependencies linked to any one change initiative means that trying to implement something new has multiple, often unintended effects on other parts of the business.
This can either lead to chaos as the ripple effects take place, or (more usually) progress grinding to a halt as governance systems built for a different era struggle to make sense of, prioritise and approve the changes needed. How many expensive, multi-year transformation programmes have you seen where everyone is very busy running just to stand still as the budgetary, technical and organisational environment changes around them?

Change management

One area this really plays out is in the approach organisations take to preparing their people for the impact of change. Somewhat belatedly, companies have woken up to the need to make sure their people, as well as their technology, are ready to enact the changes required to actually see the benefits expected from transformation initiatives.
But business change is usually seen as a last minute, ‘just before go live’ activity and often limited to ‘comms and training’. Change management itself is usually viewed as an essentially linear process, with activities to prepare, deliver and embed change seen as taking place in a series of steps that naturally follow on from each other.
One of the problems of this approach is that complex digital transformations are not usually delivered in a linear, waterfall manner anymore. New capabilities are developed in iterative increments that aim to deliver value on a regular basis, not just at the very end of a multi-year programme.
The exact direction of travel during that period can vary hugely from the original vision, as the agile delivery unfolds and responds to previously unknown dependencies emerging from the complex and interconnected environment. As a result, trying to wait to the end to deliver all the required business change is hugely inefficient, and risks not realising those benefits that could be seen at every stage of the agile journey.

Flexibility first

Business change needs to adopt the same principles. By taking this agile approach, where a high level vision is articulated, but the journey to get there is delivered in regular increments that can shift direction and be regularly re-planned, the people impacted by change can be prepared for it in different ways and at different times depending on the evolving nature of the transformation.
They are not faced with dealing with all the necessary change in one overwhelming moment just before go-live. And change management activities be deployed to deliver benefits in a consistent manner, with less wasted efforts if the overall programme changes direction unexpectedly.
By teaming this more flexible approach with investment in a suitable level of business change resource, the digital transformation that businesses need can be successfully embedded amongst all its people – the only way to ensure that they can keep pace with our rapidly changing world.

About the author
Chris Bull is a Business Consultant with BAE Systems Digital Intelligence
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Chris Bull

Business Consultant, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence