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Is Your Enterprise Ready to Handle Disruption ?

There is a fair degree of disruption happening in industry around us. We see the effects in our interactions with friends, colleagues, vendors and service providers. The reasons for disruption vary, from advances in technology, start-ups inventing new business models leveraging the new technology, to changing demographics like greater income and wealth for millennials.

As an executive, what should you be worried about?

The market is changing beneath you. As a leader, you want to ensure the continued competitiveness of your enterprise. You probably already have the business-end of your organisation demanding more than their technology colleagues can deliver. Or, you believe that you are reasonably on top of current disruptive trends, but are curious to see if there’s something additional you can do.

Responding to disruption in the marketplace is a non-trivial exercise for most established players. It entails putting together new products and services, changing or creating new business processes, dealing with compliance and regulation, and changing the way people and technology operate. Enterprises which have been around for some time have a fairly complex technology landscape, and an organisational structure which is often a result of inorganic growth coupled with  a product-centric approach. Making change happen when you have these constraints involves transformation on an organisational scale.

You’re probably eager to start responding to the disruption. Now let’s look at what you can actually do about it.

Where Do You Start?

Here are some patterns that I have seen work.

Prioritise:  Start with ONE disruptive idea that you feel is small enough to give you quick feedback and important enough to the organisation to get attention. Prioritisation is often done at the business unit level without a realisation of the need for it to happen at the portfolio level as well. This leads to large chunks of the portfolio being work-in-progress, with only small components of it getting to complete. See if you can apply the principle of ‘stop starting, and start finishing’. For pointers on how to prioritise, this article on prioritisation is a good place to start.

Start in a contained matter: Ring fence your disruption to an area of the organisation where you can ensure it gets the right focus. This will feed into the prioritisation process mentioned above. Assuming that you have prioritised down to one idea, when you act on it, try to keep the work focused on the idea. There will be a tendency to get excited about the new way of working and spread this across the organisation immediately. However, there will be lessons to be learned from the initial experience that will inform the next evolution of the idea.

As an executive, what should you be worried about?

Create a feature team: Cross-functional teams are those that contain all the relevant skill sets to execute on an idea from end-to-end. They tend to have a larger degree of success than teams which are responsible for parts of a solution and have frequent hand-offs between themselves. In the software delivery world, these are popularly referred to as feature teams and can ensure that your response to the disruption has the necessary team focus.

The key points for you, as someone setting this up for success, is to ensure that the team is empowered to take decisions on their own and that members of this team owe their allegiance and performance measurement to the team and not to their previous line managers. This will give them autonomy and create a spirit of entrepreneurship in the team that will help them to own and drive their success.

Keep your customer in prime focus: A common mistake for any venture is to sanction a course of action without enough checkpoints along the way where you validate your line of thinking with the consumer of your products or services. Introducing your organisation to smaller planning and budgeting cycles, shorter feature delivery cycles and frequent testing with your customers will alleviate risk of a mismatch of expectations and give you the ability to reshape  your ideas.

Support from the top: There needs to be executive level (maybe even Board level) support for what you are embarking on. Responding to disruption for an enterprise is like trying to turn an ocean liner in choppy seas. Without people on the bridge who are convinced about the need for turning, you may keel over.

My last piece of advice is to start now! A combination or some of all of these patterns can work for your enterprise. What’s important is that you start experimenting. Only then will you start getting feedback which you can use to course-correct your journey.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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