Maintaining the winds of (digital) change

Here’s a picture of a badass goat I saw in the Dutch town of Bergen last month. The honey badger has nothing on this goat.

I’m often asked how to get executives on board with cultural and process change. It seems that product teams buy into the ideas of lean and agile relatively quickly but convincing management is an order of magnitude more difficult. We’ve discussed several reasons for this in previous newsletters. But let’s just assume that you’ve made your case to management. You were compelling. You collected evidence and proved the value of continuous improvement and customer centricity and management listened. Great, right? It is until the inevitable backlash occurs.

We’re watching this scenario play out in real time and in public with the teams at the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS). For years now, GDS has served as an inspiration to complex bureaucracies, in government and beyond, in the fields of digital transformation, agility, continuous learning and customer (constituent) centricity. If you don’t know the story of GDS, it’s worth digging into it. There’s no shortage of material but if you don’t have a lot of time, this recent summary by Bob Gower at Inc. magazine is a good start.

GDS has transformed how the citizens of the UK connect and interact with their government. In the process they’ve brought previously outsourced services in house giving large swathes of autonomy to dozens of product teams across the country. Sounds amazing, right? You can’t get more bureaucratic than government and if a country on the scale of the UK can change the way they do business, surely any organization can. Except, not everybody’s thrilled. In recent days, an effort has surfaced to dismantle GDS and return the work they’ve been doing back to the consulting companies who’ve been cut out of the loop thanks to GDS’s success.

Change is difficult. And with any change there are winners and losers. We expect the “losers” to take defeat gracefully, evolve and join us in the new reality. This is, unfortunately, an overly optimistic point of view. What then, can a fledgling transformation effort do to ensure its momentum continues and that those displaced by the change eventually join in the transition?

Here are 3 things:

  1. Don’t stop evangelizing — Once change takes hold it’s easy to get complacent about maintaining momentum for it. Change scares many people and as soon as momentum seems to die down for it, those folks may push back. Ensure that the tactics that got your revolution going are maintained even after transformation takes hold.
  2. Ensure a place for those displaced by the change — The biggest fear people have against change is not seeing themselves in the new reality.Where will my job go? What will I be doing? I don’t know how to do that.Reach out to colleagues impacted by digital transformation. Explain to them how their roles will evolve and what training opportunities are available to get up to speed on that change. Make it clear that this training is not just relevant to the current workplace but will be valuable in their future endeavors as well.
  3. Be even more transparent — Lack of transparency kills momentum. Showing off what you were doing and how it was working got your digital transformation underway. Not that it’s rolling, turn up the transparency. Broadcast your activities, wins, losses and plans to the entire company. Let everyone know what’s coming. No one likes surprises, especially ones that feel like they threaten careers. Continue to prove — through showcasing of evidence — why this way of working is better and how it benefits your customers, your company and your colleagues.

Have you run into a situation where a nascent organizational transformation encountered severe backlash? Reply here and let me know.

[Jeff]

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Book News

Both Sense & Respond and the 2nd edition of Lean UX are now available for pre-order on Amazon. Josh Seiden and I have been busy this summer ensuring both of these books supply your teams with clear tactics and your managers with proven methods for building organizational responsiveness and agility.

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Upcoming Workshops

The second half of 2016 will be a lot lighter on public events. Here’s where I’ll be for the rest of the year:

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA — August 23 — I’m super excited to visit David Hussman’s DevJam in MSP for a 1-day Lean UX in the Enterprise workshop. We’re halfway sold out with 3 weeks to go. Don’t miss out on my last 1-day event this year in the US.

New York City, New York, USA — Sep 15–16 — This 2-day class is a partnership with my friend Jeff Patton. Jeff is one of the most respected leaders in product discovery and agility and I couldn’t be happier to collaborate with him. You’ll receive your Certified Scrum Product Owner certification from Jeff in this class as well.

Graz, Austria — October 17–1-day Lean UX in the Enterprise workshop as part of the World Usability Congress.

Linkoping, Sweden — October 21–1-day Lean UX in the Enterprise workshop as part of DevLin conference.

Lean Startup Week, San Francisco, California, USA — Oct 31 — Nov 6 — after several years absence, I’m thrilled to be back at Eric Ries’ premiere Lean Startup event. I’ll be teaching a short workshop and giving a talk.

As always, if you want me to work directly with your company on training, coaching or workshops, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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