Part 1 of 3: Prevailing in the Age of Accelerations

This is part 1 of 3 in the series: Building Digital Product Masters to Prevail in the Age of Accelerations

Part 1 of 3: Prevailing in the Age of Accelerations

New Risks in the Age of Acceleration Require New Solutions

In the Age of Accelerations, change occurs at ever-increasing rates. This ensures that organizations must adapt, pivot and innovate faster and with greater frequency.

These stressors expose weaknesses and introduce risks that could be ignored before. But it also offers an opportunity to dramatically improve and introduce new products and services.

New things that provide higher value for customers and, in the process, have greater long-term mutual benefiys. So instead of your offering becoming commoditized, there is more opportunity to do just the opposite.

Change is not without risk and new solutions are necessary to reduce costs, mitigate risks, react to unanticipated events, and to deploy your capital more efficiently.

There is one thing you can implement that delivers those benefits. This story is about building Digital Product Masters that model your business and is a roadmap for those new solutions.

The Age of Accelerations

I wrote a short review last year of Friedman Age of Accelerations book. The review is in my post “Thank You for Being Late” is Thomas Friedman’s 3rd Seminal Work .

The defining principle Friedman discussed is that technological change is accelerating much faster than humans ability to adapt to change.

He shows that with accelerating change, people, organizations, and societies find that what once worked no longer work. A first, we try to control/prevent disruption. But eventually, we must accept change as inevitable and adapt.

What I am referring to today is how business ecosystems change lags technology in addition to human adaptation and consumption of innovations.

Michael Moon, GISTICS Inc.

The acceleration of change coincides with increased changes through domains defined in the Cynefin framework. Technological change tends to make thing less Simple and more Complex.

By Snowden (File:Cynefin framework Feb 2011.jpeg) via Wikimedia Commons

The framework helps drive decision making within new habitats we find ourselves. It helps identify the situation as known, knowable, complex, and chaotic.

In previous ages, decision models could be defined as

Sense → Analyze → Act

The framework helps drive decision making within new habitats we find ourselves. It helps identify the situation as known, knowable, complex, and chaotic.

In previous ages, decision models could be defined as:

Sense → Analyze → Act

A new model for making decisions is needed in fast evolving COMPLEX environments with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The new model for decisions could be better defined as:

Probe → Sense → Respond

C level roles in an organization have a fiduciary responsibility to create and protect shareholder wealth (IP, Accounts, Revenues, etc).

In faster moving environments there is less time to analysis and less ability to predict. To make the best decisions we have to have a game plan.

A game plan, aka strategy and tactics, is imperative to understand how a change will affect the organization

Digital Product Master is a model that enables simulations of potential changes and what the impacts may be.

The fundamental building block is excellent documentation of processes, the role requirements and people competency needed, and the tools and techniques used. Understanding these interrelated components of activities is crucial to changing quickly.

Without understanding the current state, change shock response will require much more analysis to determine impact before beginning to define the future state.

To meet the challenges of change, and your competition, you need to be able to use a newer decision model.

What Can I Do About It?

Take a single action that delivers 5 real economic benefits

  1. Reduction of Operational Costs
  2. Greater LTV + Higher Purchase Prices
  3. Shorter MTTR from Catastrophic Disruptions
  4. Reduced Risk of Unfunded Liabilities
  5. Improved Capital Efficiencies w/ Distributed Teams

These 5 benefits all significantly affect an organization’s balance sheet and return on capital investment.

Of course, lower costs and process improvement have below the line impacts. But there several of the 5 that dramatic affect above the line.

These include higher prices, greater customer lifetime value, improved capital efficiency, and risk mitigation of service disruption and unfunded liabilities.

Michael Moon, GISTICS Inc.

Many organizations do not appropriately identify unfunded liabilities on their balance sheet. In the Age of Accelerations, these type of risks are more likely to become issues.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies, in particular, tend to have significant capital and operating cost dedicated to talent, aka people, resources. The highest costs are in engineering, product development/management, DevSecOps, marketing and customer success teams.

A question for them is how do we distribute teams to include low-cost labor pools AND create high performing team? This emphasizes the need for well-defined frameworks and specifications.

Capital / Cost efficiency is profoundly related to architecture/technology choices, and the significant downstream cost of change, retooling, new talent, etc. This underscores criticality of a strategic CTO and enterprise architecture.

Choices and operating history contribute to multiple types of Technical Debt that create liabilities, especially in software over time, that now need to be recognized.

Taking action to minimize these liabilities and to mitigate their risk is needed.

Digital Product Masters (DPM) is the action that directly addresses t

Some cold hard truths

SaaS Startups, Adjacent Possibilities, Scalable Growth, Connected IoT, and Digital Companies face realities of the new age

New Risks in the Age of Accelerations

Most software that is developed today (In The Age of Accelerations) is developed dramatically different than in prior ages.

Software developed for internal use a decade ago was generally provisioned as on-premise, server-based and relied on heavy clients for user experience.

Today software is generally service oriented, API centric, browser clients and off-prem / cloud-based.

This describes how of Software-a-a-Service (SaaS) vendor works. A vendor that might provide software for external customers, internal only or partner-oriented system services.

Many companies are becoming SaaS provider companies even if they do not realize it. Internal development teams are adopting SaaS vendor tools and techniques. In fact the vast majority of developer work as in-house development teams

I have had experiences working with many such organizations over the last 20 years.

These have ranged from industrial manufacturing developing partner and external portals, to financial services customer web apps and tools, to healthcare related system master data portals and with a number of high tech software development.

My work is especially strong in content and asset management, cross-media / omnichannel, marketing automation and marketing resource management applications.

SaaS companies tend to be well positioned to pivot quickly and respond to change shocks as compared to others.

But they just as susceptible to the new risks that face all companies.

New risks that are predominately due to the increased speed of change and increasing complexities.

One set of risks is unfunded liabilities that were not as obvious or prevalent just a few years ago. These include:

  • TD — Technical Debt in code, architecture, and installed base
  • CS — Change Shocks from competitors, disruptors, and accounts
  • CE — Cost Efficiency of talent, partners, vendors and capital investments
What is technical debt?

To mitigate risk and to prepare for unforeseeable rapid changes they need to take action including:

  • Reduction of Operating Costs
  • Mitigate Risk and Unfunded Liabilities
  • Deeper Customer Loyalty and Lock-in

A significant risk and fear for Saas companies are Lost Opportunity Costs, and change impacts on an installed base of customer. These two tensions pull against each other and make decision making even more difficult. Those topics are frequent concerns I get involved with.

Other common Questions from clients are:

  • What do I build next when I cannot predict future in the world with increasing complexity?
  • How do I stretch our funding runway where our largest fixed cost is technical talent?
  • How do we re-architect our product and our methods for distributed high performing team?

In helping clients find answers, the reference framework I call Digital Product Masters arose.

DPM captures your organizations’ high-level Teams, Flows, and Tools. This model allows you to think through, visualize, and to simulate change.

The model makes nested interdependencies explicit and visible. Because of this, clients can execute more quickly with greater confidence.

Success is not a Given, Fast is not a Choice

Provide focus and cohesion for distributed high performing teams

So you are COE (Chief of Everything), Director of Products, or a Growth Marketing Head Honcho. You are charged with moving fast — now.

Does this sound familiar?

  • Competition as your heels or already way ahead
  • Markets are expecting miracles every day and
  • You volunteered, or are assigned, to provide them

You need to move fast with new miracles and are sometimes told to go ahead and break things.

That’s great but moving fast is not a choice and breaking things means you have to slow down to fix what’s broken.

Being fast is not A option — it is the ONLY option.

The good news is as the old saying goes, ”Mickey’s Hands Go around Twice”. The other good news is that also describes a distributed, around the clock workforce.

Additionally, the technology landscape is enticing but challenging. You are confronted with:

  • Complicated systems → Complex systems
  • Heterogeneous Public and Private Clouds
  • Costs of “technical debt” (pay now, or pay compounded interest later)

To move fast you need team cohesion on A) how things are now (current tools, processes, roles, and as-built systems and data) B) a common vision for where we are going (future state/strategies/tactics).

DPM provides the cohesion for distributed high performing teams

So you have a Good idea — Isn’t that Cute

Quick starts are based on best practice reference architecture

Great ideas are a dime a dozen — It’s implementation that counts.

I have been approached with the next great idea many times. They are almost always coupled with, “if you help you can get in on the ground floor”.

Unfortunately, most say that 99.9% of start-ups never turn into businesses that financially reward early investors.

Why? Execution matters.

Many digital companies worry about what is the next idea. Ideation leaders and Innovation Centers are all the rage to spawn the next great thing.

Often the adjacent possible to what you are already doing. That is a great source of ideas and you may already be prepared change quickly.

Sometimes this is called pivoting, like changing your target market or re-architecting for Conversational Bots over current managing IoT device offering.

Either way changing your business and technology architecture is likely necessary.

A motto I often use is ‘Steal from the Best and Invent the Rest’.

Learn from others success and failures then ride on their shoulders to the next level. Find and adopt strategies and action plans that have worked in similar spaces before.

But, if your idea is truly innovative, it is unlikely there is a previous tactical execution plan to borrow and reuse.

While suitable plans are not available, best practice frameworks are. They can get you started down a new path quickly.

Have a North Star and a Babelfish

Strategy Schmategy — Planning intended future state in so many words

Common Language, Shared Vision

Have a universal translator that promotes team communication and unity

According to a recent Forbes article, most employees cannot correctly identify their corporate strategy. Even in higher performing companies, less than 3 out of 10 can correctly select their “clearly articulated public strategies” out of a choice of six presented to them.

This begs the question how do we get everyone aligned with the same vision? What is the North Star for everyone to align his or her internal compasses to?

By Nashpur — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The first component of alignment is to have a clearly articulated strategy, complete with A) the what and why, B) supported by steps to get there, C) and measurements of success.

Oh, and then Write It Down! Written communications are so much easy to share and to refer back on. A single source of truth easily shared is a north star for a group of people.

Clarity is of course key. Part of the process I use when starting work with new clients is to create a custom glossary of terms.

It is amazing how language is actually useless for transmitting information. So much of the meaning of a word or phrase is dependant on the circumstance in which it is used.

My glossary records what words mean in the context of a particular organization. Aligning with the local definition, I add a column for AKA or synonyms that occur in different context. Again, clarity and a single source of truth to align with is the goal.

This provides and thesaurus or universal translator for people not familiar with the local dialect. This is a form of a Babel Fish for you “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fans.

“Probably the oddest thing in the Universe.

Term definition provides clarity and improves the efficiency of communications.

This is import in domains such as Strategy Planning, Business Process Modeling and Value Chain Analysis. You would be surprised how many different ways there is to say measurement, metric, KPI, indicator… etcetera.

Having a definition of the desired outcome, stated clearly in unambiguous terms with the defined meaning, is a core part of creating successful change. Not having them is chaos, inefficiency, and inability to execute.

Strategic outcomes well communicated via DPM

Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail

Plans, steps and GPS way-points are key to success for Digital Disruptors

A typical scenario:

Everyone is pulling in the ‘correct’ direction. Unfortunately, the correct direction is different for everyone.

There is lots of hard work going on every day. The problem is there is not much in terms of results to show for it.

Often these symptoms due to two factors:

  1. Defining and communicating an intended outcome or destination has not or does not occur
  2. Individual and group roles and responsibilities and repeatable scalable action plans are not defined
  3. Different domains of expertise have different vocabularies, confounding communications

The result is uncoordinated effort at best, if not outright chaos. Think of the story of the Tower of Babel.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Over the last 15 years I have found that confusion, frustration and finger pointing occurs when organizations do not have a strategic plan or plan that itself this is not coordinated, aka not simple.

Group effort of any size requires team coordination, project planning, initiative objectives, and navigation way-points. The synonyms for plans goes on and on.

I like to just call it strategy planning, although that scares or turns off a lot of people.

What is the reason why organizations large and small do not do strategic planning? If they do why do they not do it well?

I hear two excuses most often:

  • Excuse #1 It’s too hard and takes too much time
  • Excuse #2 I don’t know where to start

Many make strategy too complicated and in doing so make to hard to communicate and understand (Think of the Forbes article on 70% Don’t Get It).

Strategy is composed of 3 simple things:

  1. Where are we going and why?
  2. What are the steps to take us there?
  3. How do we know how we are doing?

Strategy done well can be complex (but not complicated) if it is complete, multi-layered and all-encompassing. But each part is a simple set of those 3 elements. Simple makes them easy to understand and communicate.

Strategy should also be fluid and be able to react to changes on the field. The most important plan, write it down and share it.

DPM provides GPS way-points and steps towards success

A Framework Model w/ Benefits

Digital Product Masters (DPM) frees time to concentrate on developing competitive advantage

Developing a new or enhance business capability is much quicker when using established lessons learned based reference frameworks.

Do not reinvent the wheel… learn from where other have been first.

You can innovate and adapt or pivot faster and with greater chance of success.

  • Reference architectures provide a frame of reference that help you to get an overview of a particular domain and they provide a starting point for your own enterprise architecture effort
  • They provide you with basic structures so you do not have to reinvent the wheel (which often turns out to be square anyway)
  • Reference architectures are most valuable for those aspects and elements of your organization on which you do not compete with others. (pay attention to what make a difference)
  • Reusing industry best practices provided by reference architectures ensures that you are not behind the curve on these non-competitive aspects.
  • The standards and building blocks provided by reference architectures facilitate connections and interoperability
  • A related benefit is that using standards improves flexibility, because it is easier to exchange building blocks that connect via standardized interfaces; vice versa

Not only can new capabilities be developed faster, reference architectures can solidify the necessity capabilities of your organization.

By Capabilities rich (Template:Mark McCormick and Richard Lynch), via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, enabling necessity capabilities can successfully be outsourced or your operation based on common implementations. This can leave time and energy to development of distinctive advantage capabilities.

DPM leverage business capability management and reference architectures with methodologies cherry picked for usefulness and effectiveness.

Define and execute scalable enabling capabilities with less effort

Why should I (we) begin building a DPM?

To Prevail in the Age of Accelerations take the Action to Bolster Balance Sheet

Best Practice is another ‘bad’ word, at least that’s what many tell me.

Part of the issue is best practice standards, as well as maturity model references, are often cited with only the highest / world class practices.

In contrast, an industry maturity model usually defined five levels ranging from entry level to ‘the best’.

Each level has a description of the state or behavior of that level. An assessment by the individual or organization will identify which level best describes their current state.

The description if the next level helps identify the ‘Next Practice’ that an organization, group, individual, or practice area can work towards.

Digital transforms are not accomplished with one huge step. Transform first occurs when the culture develops continuous improvement as a shared value.

The shared vision then changes as next practices are achieved. And then, if it makes sense for the competitive landscape and business ecosystem, a world-class practice may become the target.

I have worked with clients on developing Next Practices for eCommerce, omnichannel communications, semantic data masters, manufacturing and healthcare hubs and portals, Software as a Service, Content as a Service, as well as web2print and marketing automation.

More recent discussion with clients and prospective client have been on IoT services, BI / Machine Learning / Big Data / AI, Conversational Commerce, AR, ChatBots and Voice Interface.

All of these involve creating or stretching business capabilities and internal competencies, processes, and infrastructure.

DPM provides the framework for building custom versions for your next practice. Achieving your desired future state is the reason to begin now.

Software is Eating the World

Soon every organization will have to have a SaaS capability and practices

It has been prophesied by Marc Andreessen (I admit a geek crush) that “Software is Eating the World”. Most organizations in every industry are becoming a software company.

This is necessary to leverage game-changing and increasing low-cost software systems to replace, or significantly enhance, their products and services.

I have helped strategize digital transformations with intention of changing previous analog operations into digital ones.

By create digital data, or collecting digital exhaust, processes can become better-faster-cheaper, but more importantly, enable organizations to learn faster.

I have led software development teams to mature into software product teams and to develop Agile Development, Product Management, and Agile marketing capabilities .

Usually, this means crafting role and responsibilities that interconnect competitive intelligence, business development, customer success, product planning, software development and software operations.

It also means no matter where a development team operates currently, there is a next best practice to target and to move towards.

Common topics are Agile Development, Epics-Features-User Stories, Automated Testing, DevOps, Continuous Deployment, Cloud Integration, Containerizations, and Serverless.

For most organizations, these are not familiar or well understand terms.

Many are at least in the beginning maturity level of having software development capability. Some are a level or two beyond that. Everyone can look to the next level for inspiration and improvement.

They realize that their old systems are not able to adapt to new competitive landscapes. They need to acquire or create services that may serve one organization or several partners.

As they become more adept at developing software services for external customers or internal use, they are maturing into an as Software-as-a-Service company.

Soon every organization will need to have SaaS as a capability to prevail in the new age.

DPM encapsulates the blueprints for capability maturity

At the Core of Change

Adopting next best practices is a core piece of the transformation puzzle

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many organizations who value my expertise in software development, product management, and omnichannel marketing automation.

A large motivating factor of developing a digital product master model framework is to enable these type of organizations to fully integrate new and emerging capabilities quickly and to leverage those to deliver strategic outcomes.

I believe the value of DPM is derived from the areas of emphasis in the model.

The first is that everything is strategy driven. Each element at each layer has a definition of desired output or outcome. KPI’s or metrics are defined to understand success, and the rationale of why this outcome is desirable is defined.

Second, a strategic value chain and value streams describe activities and a strategy map identifies how layers of activities support creating or capturing stakeholder value.

The third is that the organizations’ activities modeled in a DPM are described as Teams Tools and Flows. These are connected via actors, actions, and data.

Tools Teams Flows — ©2017–2018 Asterius Media LLC

A Tools, Teams, and Flows structure breaks activities into functions and eventually into enabling business capabilities. Business capability mapping then decomposes each into People-Process-technology elements.

These components and elements a semantic graph of digital artifacts. Digital artifacts that are living documents having defined interdependencies that connect elements across layers.

Strategy-driven change models are nothing new. What is new is coupling it with a structured multi-discipline methodology that spans multiple area dn domains.

I have harvested many familiar and useful elements from numerous enterprise methodology… but only the good parts.

This is why I call DPM modeling Right-sized Business and Enterprise Architecture.

A DPM provides the framework model for actions that transform

DPM is the Change Needed

Digital Product Master for Teams, Tools, and Flows with four framework models and interconnected digital documents

Strategic outcomes, metrics, and activity benefits connect each layer to other layers. The result is that benefits are traceable from the lowest artifact component to the highest strategic value captured or created.

Where many artifacts will be familiar in enterprises from many domains, the defined interdependencies provide real value to the model. This is exemplified by the ability to do what if and impact analysis of proposed changes, or problems identified.

The new value delivered by a DPM is connecting what used to be cross-discipline domain concepts that are connected in theory only. The digital models generated are the first step towards the development of Digital Twinscapability, but about and for any sized organization.

Alignment of talents, career paths, organizational process role responsibilities, and application infrastructure

DPM is a living digital model that are the stem cells for systemic change

The remainder of your questions will be answered in the next two parts. Look for them in the coming weeks.

Part 2 of 3: Meet a Digital Product Master

How a DPM is constructed and how the domain specific integrated and support each other

Part 3 of 3: A Case to Study

Sample of elements from a SaaS company are shown to fully demonstrate to power of DPM

In the meantime if you have any questions, let me know!