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Uncovering Sustainable and Scalable Solutions for Digital Transformations

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Using the term "digital transformation" limits our change approach to traditional linear management techniques which are ineffective in dealing with today’s organizational complexity. We need to focus on understanding the context and the organization’s inner working to come up with sustainable and scalable solutions for organizational change.

Alberta Soranzo, transformation design director at Lloyds Banking Group, will give the presentation "Fit for Survival" at the Agile Summit Greece 2019. The conference will be held on September 19 and 20 in Athens, Greece. This year’s Agile Summit theme is "build great teams that can change the world".

According to Soranzo, one of the biggest challenges of digital transformations in organizations lies in the label that is used. Her view is that we’re well past the point of focusing on the move from analog to digital — everything we do is digitally-enabled these days — but the term "digital transformation" inherently gives us permission to look at the delivery of "digital things" as transformative. "When we define transformation in its purest form as a marked change in form, nature, or appearance, it’s easy to see why only focusing on one of the many facets of service provision is limiting", she argued.

The institutions and businesses in which we operate, the very same we aim to transform, are systems of systems. Soranzo believes that because of their linearity, traditional management techniques are ineffective in dealing with the inherent complexity of today’s organizations.

Dealing with transformational challenges starts with understanding context, history, flow, and needs. According to Soranzo, you can only truly recognize needs and demand when you have a complete picture of the environment and the organization’s inner workings, and only then you can begin to realistically frame the problem and start hypothesizing about solutions that are both sustainable and scalable.

She suggests overcoming the challenges of digital transformations by helping organizations understand how they function first (as surprising as it sounds, the vast majority of businesses don’t truly know how end-to-end processes work), fully appreciating the hidden drivers of demand, and considering the impact of decisions on the system and its users.

InfoQ interviewed Alberta Soranzo about the challenges of digital transformations, applying modern management models, managing talent in organizations, and designing organizations that are able to transform and adapt to market needs.

InfoQ: What are the challenges of digital transformations in organizations?

Alberta Soranzo: Despite all best intents, the majority of transformation initiatives become centered on some kind of optimization activity — optimize the customer experience, make a digital journey shorter, or increase the uptake in digital self-service — completely missing the opportunity to drive real change.

Nevertheless, management loves these optimization strategies, because they lead to positive short-term outcomes, and positive business outcomes tend to lead to tangible reward.

InfoQ: How can organizations move from using older management models to applying modern models?

Soranzo: Organizations must learn to trust their real experts — rather than relying on boilerplate knowledge provided by "transformation specialists", whether internal or external, they should harvest the deep expertise of the people who work in the system, starting with frontline employees and working back to the very top.

In transformation circles, there’s much talk about empowerment and willingness to experiment, but organizations tend to remain risk-averse, and therefore unwilling to deviate from "tried-and-true" methods that are based on generic conditions and theories, rather than tailored to their specific circumstances.

Modern models are just that — generic frameworks, that should however be only used as a loose blueprint for building a customized approach.

InfoQ: What’s your advice for managing talent in organizations?

Soranzo: If we’re talking about organizations that are determined to transform, then talent management is crucial. It should start at the very top, with strong leadership that sets the direction and then surrounds itself with courageous and talented team members who are empowered to take the time to learn, and held accountable to transform that learning into a deliverable strategy.

Matching individual skills and aptitudes with business and user goals, hiring a diverse workforce and promoting a culture of curiosity and respectful challenge is, I believe, the key to achieving transformational outcomes. In my session, I plan to share a bit about this talent management philosophy and some of the tools that organizations can employ to facilitate this approach.

InfoQ: How can we design organizations that are able to transform and adapt to market needs?

Soranzo: It’s hard work, and I’m not sure that I have a definitive magic formula. I also think that there is a big difference between designing organizations from the ground-up and redesigning them, the latter being a much more complex affair. In both cases, however, I advocate taking a systemic approach, beginning with a clear picture of how things work and fit together under the hood, to understand what is required and what can safely be discarded, in order to eliminate unnecessary complexity from the system and reduce the constraints that limit flexibility.

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