How to make friends and winfluence people.

Sorry about the title. I live on hateclicks.

I work in transformation teams, which I think earns me about as much love from organisations as turning up with bubonic plague. For a lot of organisations, the inertia of “the way things are done” means that any challenge is existential. If I turn up with my jeans, macbook, Wardley Maps, Business Model Canvas and user centred design then my work will at the very least generate work for other people (learning a new thing) or at worst make them redundant. At least in their (my straw man’s) perception.

I work in transformation teams who haven’t learned their lessons. There’s a lot of talk about “cargo culting GDS” around and about. The problem is correctly diagnosed that to transform an organisation, you place some clever people in a room, they make some things (maybe meeting some user needs in the process), show the thing and wow, everyone is won over by agile service design processes and we ride into the sunset overtaking slower, shitter businesses.

And then we wake up.

On a recent trip to Australia, I was chatting with a friend at Treasury who described her opinions (which I am paraphrasing only slightly) on the Digital Transformation Office (the Australian GDS cargo cult) as “we’re going to crush them. I will not be told how to govern by a load of Brits with macbooks”.

So that leaves us with a big bit of uncharted territory. I have not seen a digital transformation programme that got outreach right. I’ve seen push comms, push comms dressed up as engagement in the form of roadshows, social media and cake, but I haven’t seen a user needs led approach.

There are two parts to this problem. The first is the canard that developers are special people who can’t be woken up from their deep thoughts lest they die of context switch, unlike everyone else who are basically struggling to type and breathe at the same time.

RIP all podcasts

The idea that the rest of the business is a distraction to the special team of special people is a pretty sure fire way of getting yourself hated. It’s this attitude writ large.

The other issue is that organisations can’t stand still while a transformation process happens. A couple of years ago at Service Experience Camp, I saw a workshop where designers were proposing a one week service jam with public servants in public facing roles in Berlin local government to make their working lives easier and design new systems for them. This ignored that their had been workforce cuts while demand was increasing so there was no way on earth enough people to be useful would have one week of spare time to not do their work. It also leant on the idea that workers can self organise their schedules. Mostly, they cannot.

This translates to lots of organisations. Product teams need to embed or have people from other places embedded in them, but that risks decreasing the productivity of the organisation as a whole as often, those people cannot reasonably be spared.

So I think there’s an impasse and I’m interested to see examples of how this has worked for people (if it ever has).

Can you get out and integrate with the rest of the business without:

  1. Slowing the team down?
  2. Slowing everyone else down?
  3. Going wagile to accommodate other people’s timelines and expectations?

I think it’s the missing pilar of how to do transformation (at least in terms of a model to follow/challenge/adapt.

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