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7 tips from the trenches for Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation is now a key differentiator and proven vital element of survival and future growth of enterprises in the 2020s. Scaled Agile DevSecOps and Smart Business Operations and Value Proposition are at core of the transformative competitive advantage in this decade.

Despite the high demand and the fact that over 90% of enterprises have already tried - at some level - to implement their Digital Transformation and establish themselves as a Digital Organization, more than 70% of Tech-savvy and 93% of Traditional organizations have failed in completing their transformation.

Lack of adequate insights into what constitutes a Digital Transformation, how it should be incrementally scoped and planned for, and how to navigate the change from the start of the journey all the way into a sustainable future state-of-being, are the top reasons for such low success rates among the failed attempts.

The following are some practical insights and actional tip based on my experience in helping my clients in Fortune 500 in multiple sectors.

Digital Transformation Tip #1:

When you are planning for your organization's DX, make sure to plan for two transformations:

1. Digitization:

Serving your products and services in a digital form. For example, moving from in-person services (e.g., in-person training, in-person coaching etc) to online training and coaching. You may want to move from physical stores to online stores, or even create digital products that you did not have before, like a mobile app that would allow your customers to access an online audio or video product.

2. Digitalization:

Adopting a new Value Proposition to your customers that is optimized for Digitized service provisioning. This would include:
- Re-configuring your business model based on how the market is changing and as new technologies create new opportunities.
- Turning your products into Platforms, so your customers can use them to generate revenue.
- Expanding your reach into your customers' networks by making them affiliates.
- Turning your competitors into your co-competitors and alliances (even your disintermediations).

Digital Transformation Tip #2:

When going through your organization's transformation, consider these Value enhancing techniques for your future-state Digital enterprise:

1. Getting more out of your Operational Value Streams, by adopting Lean practices in reducing operations cost and rising efficiencies (better integration of work, one-team (Agile Release Train) approach, Automaton, etc.)

2. Getting more from your customers: Upsell and Cross-Sell to your level 1 customers, Affiliate with your customer to sell to their customers (Level 2 customer), thus rising your "Customer Stickiness".

3. Getting more from your Value Delivery Ecosystems: Partner with your supply chain or intermediaries to form complete digital ecosystems for your customers. Share data and market retargeting insights with your allies and receive valuable data from them.

Digital Transformation Tip #3:

To succeed in the highly competitive Digital landscape, your business needs to continuously adapt the Value Proposition to the threats and opportunities in the market.

Continuous recalibration of a business model may uncover new customers and applications for the existing products, and / or lead to aggressive development of a new range of products and services to meet the shifting trends in a predicted future position, thus jumping ahead of the competition.

To be proactive about reconfiguring your business value proposition, you need to consider the:

- Key concepts of the current market value delivery,
- The predictable paths of a declining market,
- Identifying the emerging opportunities and threats,
- Planning to evolve your current value proposition toward the adaptive future state.

Digital Transformation Tip #4:

Move from “Fail Fast” to “Learn Fast”, because market exploration is costly to your budget and your teams’ morale!

Instead of running into bursts of trying-and-failing till you either get it right (or run out of budget or morale), systematically give probability factors for the variety of hypotheses what may succeed in the market and give them a higher priority for your exploratory work.

Create a clear and to-the-point prototype / wireframes and run it with your customers using a multi-factor feedback collection on what they like /don’t like and what they foresee as a good idea in near future.

That may uncover hidden patterns of new trends that are forming up and coming to surface soon and can turn out to be a side success story.

Tesla once said: “If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.”

Digital Transformation Tip #5:

Your enterprise transformation plan requires a high and mature level of organizational Agility in order to succeed. Your technological transformation cannot land on weak or partial Agility.

As obvious and widely accepted this is, we still see many organizations with partial Agile adoption and going through so much daily struggles keeping the lights on and maintaining their main Value Streams.

Among them, many organizations are trying to expand their scope of Agile adoptions but run into many adoption issues at team and management levels.

As per my observation of the past 15 years in promoting organizational Agility in a number of market sectors, the most critical problem they have is lack of proper support from their executive leadership.

In these organizations, CXOs are not owning nor championing the needed cultural and process change in all silos and cross-org, and the local efforts by the lower management levels in adopting Agile or rising its maturity level either fail or do not implement completely since there is no strategic support and committed funding for the change.

These organizations need to start with onboarding their executive leadership team, as mandated and pushed by their CEO, through training on values, concepts and frameworks that need to be adopted, and the reason behind each one.

Digital Transformation Tip #6: 

Your enterprise transformation plan is an integrated transformation plan covering both your Enterprise Agile process and your Digital product offering and Value Proposition.

Your organization needs to implement a well established and time-tested Agile Scaling solution before or as part of your DX.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) which is now at version 5.1, has the highest adoption rate, and success level in the market with 20,000 organizations (including 70% of Fortune 500 enterprise) in Banking, Airlines, Pharma, Automotive, Telecom, Entertainment, Tech [Hardware / Software services], Couriers, Insurance and more.

It is also being adopted by Government institutions and Agencies across the globe with the most prominent examples being NASA, FBI, US Department of Justice, US Department of Homeland Security, US Air Force, US Army,  US Federal Aviation Administration, US Social Security Administration, US Department of Health & Human Services, US Postal Service, Australia Postal Service and more.

Why do we need an Enterprise Agile Scaling solution as part of our Digital Transformation?

Because, as the number of Agile teams grows, their collaboration, interaction, and synchronization becomes very complex at an accelerated rate.

Agile frameworks, like Kanban or Scrum, are designed for one single Agile team, and they do not have any original inter-team synchronization and collaboration mechanism.

This will lead to a number of organizational issues that would hit productivity, morale, and revenue across all channels very fast.

Enterprise Agile Scaling is adopted as a solution to the rapidly growing complexity in inter-Agile teams’ collaboration and synchronization. This complexity leads to a number of organizational issues that can directly impact the profitability of an organization.

To name a few, here is a short list: 

  1. Misalignment between the Corporate Strategic Vision and the delivered solutions.
  2. Inefficient, siloed Value Streams with no cross-silo flows and no feedback cycles from the market exploration activities and no structure for embedding Customer Centricity into their function model.
  3. Inefficient synchronization between the teams towards joint deliverables at project and portfolio levels.
  • Lowering the delivery pipelines’ predictability,
  • Lowering product quality,
  • Rising the amount of re-work and technical debt.
  1. Inefficient DevSecOps teams, functioning in isolation within their value streams with weak or no contribution to the aggregate enterprise agility and learning cycles.
  2. Inefficient (or no) collaboration between Business and Technology as one Value Delivery Ecosystem.
  3. Lagged responses to the accelerated market trend changes and shifting customer demands, creating “opportunity debt” that will aggregate into financial crisis for the organization.
  4. Missing transparency on Aggregate teams’ performance and predictability Metrics at program and portfolio levels.
  5. Lack of required enterprise agility for Digital Transformation in parallel to maintaining business operations.

Digital Transformation Tip #7:

DevSecOps can only be implemented and maintained successfully if they are backed by the needed cultural shift that would train and engage the entire organization in adoption of Lean Agile values through the infinite loops of Dev and Ops with the Sec embedded in all of its stages.

Culture, is the first fundamental ingredient of DevSecOps and it requires, Customer Centricity,

Communication and Synchronized Collaboration, Perseverance and Tolerance, and Collaborative Exploration and Knowledge Sharing.

Automation, is the second fundamental ingredient of DevSecOps and it focuses on automating the Continuous Delivery Pipeline through integration of DevSecOps Toolchains, Version Control,  Infrastructure-As-Code (IaC), Testing Automation, Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD), Production Monitoring and Production Analytics,

Lean Flow, is the third fundamental ingredient of DevSecOps and it focuses on important factors in establishing continuous flows of value from Concept to Cash, which according to SAFe are categorized as: WIP (Work-In-Progress [Limit]) Management, Batch Management, and Queue Management.

Measurement and Monitoring, are jointly the fourth fundamental ingredients of DevSecOps and emphasize the importance of continuous Monitoring of the performance of the Delivery Pipelines through Measuring certain Metrics at a variety of checkpoints.

The transparency and awareness that is created through this approach will allow for frequent fine-tuning and re-calibration of our pipelines to reduce waste and maximize the value delivery outcomes.

This is the essence of Continuous Improvement that is needed across all DevSecOps streams and requires us to at least measure the following metrics: Flow Quality, Flow Speed, Flow Rate, Flow Allocation, and Flow Performance.

Two other key metrics to be considered are:

  • Product Quality– After all the hard work through the most efficient pipelines, if the quality of the product that is provided to the customers is not satisfactory, all of the efforts would fail to generate the Business Outcome that we were hoping for. DevSecOps has adopted a culture of Left-Shifting the quality considerations during the Work Item’s travel through the pipeline. This means to embed quality from the early design steps, all the way through the final products, and using proper testing methods and Quality Metrics to ensure all required qualitative and quantitative features (including Security, and Compliance requirements are implemented and tested).  
  • Business Outcome– As the entire effort of all of our Value Streams are to provide products and services that would create certain reactions in our customers (mostly paying us to buy or subscribe into using them), we would need to measure that Business Outcome to ensure it is creating the Customer Behavior that we are looking for. This metric will also provides the required indication on the share of each Feature of the products / services in creating that Business Outcome, so we can invest more efforts in expanding the most effective segments. The observed metrics also serve in fine-tuning and re-calibrating our Business Forecasts and Market Predictions. 

Recovery is the fifth fundamental ingredients of DevSecOps and emphasize the importance of frequent, sustainable Business Value delivery through the Continuous Delivery pipelines, which would require Low Risk Releases and Quick Recovery from release or operationalization failures.

There are a few approaches that can assist the organization implement the required measures for a Resilient Delivery Pipeline and to support Quick Recovery:

  • Jidokaor Andon Cord – Allowing anyone in the DevSecOps with the authority to Stop-The-Line upon discovery of any issue that would critically impact the product.
  • Push-Or-Withdraw– Once the Andon Cord is pulled, DevSecOps teams need to activate their already well-thought processes in moving with a Fix-Forward approach to minimize the delay to the deployment but be also ready to perform a Roll-Back should the issue prove to be more be too deeply rooted to be resolved inflight.
  • Design-For-Failure– As we live in an imperfect world with many ways things can go wrong, then all kinds of failures can happen throughout the Delivery Pipeline and despite our highest levels of expertise and best practices, we may run into failed production releases from time to time. Raising the resiliency and Fault Tolerance of our products require design consideration for Failover and Redundancy.

Following these 7 tips will provide the enterprise with the initial understanding of the two-thronged transformation, puts them in the right path for scaling the needed agility across the organization to support and sustain the transformation journey and to drive the progress when they arrive to the future state as a digital organization, and provide their DevSecOps teams, as  the beating heart of their value streams of the organization, with the required process and functional coverage they require to serve as the digital engine of the enterprise.

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Arman Kamran

About author

Enterprise Agile Transformation Coach, CIO and Chief Data Scientist

Arman Kamran is an internationally recognized executive leader and enterprise transition coach in Scaled Agile Delivery of Customer-Centric Digital Products with over 20 years of experience in leading teams in private (Fortune 500) and public sectors in delivery of over $1 billion worth of solutions, through cultivating, coaching and training their in-house expertise on Lean/Agile/DevOps practices, leading them through their enterprise transformation, and raising the quality and predictability of their Product Delivery Pipelines.

Arman also serves as the Chief Technology Officer of Prima Recon Machine Intelligence, a global AI solutions software powerhouse with operations in US (Palo Alto, Silicon Valley), Canada (Toronto) and UK (Glasgow).

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