In this series of blog posts, follow along as we revisit Mark Schwartz’s book A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility. Five years after its publication, it’s still highly relevant and chock full of tips, tactics, and learnings. Join us as we follow along with Online Marketing Assistant Lucy Softich as she reads through the book for the first time. Make sure you start with the introduction post!
We’ve made it to Chapter 6: Transformation, which is a hot-button word if ever I saw one.
If you work for an enterprise company, especially in an IT department, I’m willing to bet someone has proposed or even begun a “transformation” for your company. As Agile and DevOps concepts took the world by storm, many companies recognized the need for change and tried to do so in a big, sweeping transformation. Unfortunately, as Mark discusses in this chapter, a big, sweeping transformation is not the best way to create lasting change—especially without garnering a lot of ill-will along the way.
Mark says it very well at the beginning of the chapter:
Transformation projects are evidence that a mistake has been made…whether these projects are to transform business capabilities or their technological underpinnings, they are the result of poor stewardship of IT assets and old ways of thinking about IT governance and execution.
If you’ve read The Phoenix Project or The Unicorn Project, you’re familiar with the kind of major setbacks that can force radical change. Maybe you’ve even experienced something similar in your career (my sympathies). But while these moments can open the door for needed changes, those changes will ideally happen before a company reaches its breaking point. And the way to achieve that is through the kind of slow, incremental change Mark discusses in this chapter.
Conversely, when companies try to force large-scale change all at once, the odds are not good for their success. In Sooner Safer Happier, Jonathan Smart et al. discuss how the time it takes to adjust to a Transformation gets long the bigger the Transformation is, and the in-between time is fraught with unhappiness.
In large, diverse, regulated, multinational organizations where the cultural norm is mostly command and control, you can expect a capital “T” Transformation to generate denial, frustration, and anger. A big change stands a higher chance of cultural tissue rejection, with more ammunition for those averse to change… The organization needs to have a big risk appetite. Things will get significantly worse before they get better.
Sooner Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns for Business Agility
by Jonathan Smart with Zsolt Berend, Myles Ogilvie, and Simon Rohrer
New Year, New You, New Transformation
Mark likens these significant structural Transformations to New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of making changes when you identify a problem, you make the active decision to wait. Whether you make the decision to start a new workout routine on the 1st or an Agile Transformation next year, you are putting off changes that you know need to happen and diminishing your motivation in the process. While you wait for that fateful day to roll around, your muscles are getting stiffer and your technical debt is getting larger. And what’s worse: you’re sending a message to your team that their problems are not worth immediate action, that it’s going to get worse before it even starts to get better.
Mark has a lot of suggestions for addressing this mindset and enacting small, flexible changes that can integrate with legacy systems while paving the way for new systems—slowly tackling a larger transformation through regular upkeep and creation.
Like with so many things, the most important thing is to start; you can figure the rest out once you’ve seen some results, and once you’ve developed a habit of continuous change.