Change is constant. We’re all continuously adapting to it and rebuilding our business strategies around it. So, when the time comes to proactively drive changes of our own, it’s easy to lose sight of just how difficult it can be to make change and transformation happen.
Together, Thoughtworks and Google Cloud have been helping organizations plan and execute powerful transformations for many years. In this article, we’ll share some of the most valuable lessons we’ve learned so far, exploring what it takes to drive success, high-value change and transformation across the modern enterprise.
Do you want to change, or do you want to transform?
Saif Islam, Engineering Organization Change & Transformation Principal, EMPC, Thoughtworks
In our industry, the words change and transformation are often used interchangeably. But in reality, there are important distinctions that need to be drawn between them. One of the best ways to understand the differences between the two comes from Japan, and its concepts of Kaizen and Kaikaku.
Kaizen is continuous improvement — or change — based on an existing structure. It’s iterative and builds on an existing foundation. Kaikaku, on the other hand, is a more fundamental, large-scale kind of change — a transformation — which demands an entirely new structure and platform principles.
Whether you’re looking to drive successful change or transformation, the first step towards success is characterizing your plans properly. If you want to drive transformational outcomes, you need to be prepared to put in the scale of effort required to bring them to life. One transformation can demand a lot of very intentional and structured changes.
Change is about habits and choices. Transformation is about outcomes. Change may happen without transformation, but transformation won’t happen without change. If you’re planning on transforming your body before you go to the beach in the summer, that won’t happen without changes in diet and exercise before you get to that point. So, it’s essential that businesses think about this in terms of both the outcomes they want to achieve, and the incremental changes required to make that desired end state a reality.
How much do you need to change? Probably a lot more than you think.
Bobby Allen, Group Product Manager, Google Cloud
We’re all very good at imagining a better desired state — whether it’s for ourselves or our organization. We almost always have a clear idea of what we’d like to transform into. But, we overwhelmingly underestimate the amount of change required to make that transformation happen.
In enterprise, we often wrongly assume that a lot of the change required to drive our planned transformations needs to happen at the ground level, among functional teams. We completely overlook the changes that need to happen at the leadership level, which are either just as important or even more important than those ground-level changes.
Cloud is the perfect example. With the cloud, it’s all too easy to focus on the destination. Every conversation centers around ‘moving towards cloud or multi-cloud’, so that’s what you focus on. We lose sight of the fact that if we take old behavior to a new destination, we’re not going to see any meaningful change.
If I eat candy at the gym, I’m still eating candy — and I’m not likely to achieve many of my health goals. In the same vein, if you adopt cloud technology but don’t drive behavioral and operational changes around it, you’re not going to realize many of cloud’s headline benefits.
To drive successful transformation, and see your vision of a better desired state materialize, you need to understand the full scope of change required to get there. It takes more than just new technology. You need to embed new behaviors, and drive the right incremental changes at every level of the organization too.
Change supports transformation. But not all change is positive. We know it takes a lot of change to make transformation happen, but a high volume of change alone isn’t an indicator that you’re moving towards your transformation goals. In transformation projects you can see a lot of movement that looks like change, but isn’t actually driving anything forward. That’s when you start drifting into the realms of excess and negative change — the kinds of change that introduce antipatterns or just waste your limited resources.
There’s no such thing as technological transformation
Wade Jernigan, Program Management Principal, EMPC, Thoughtworks
One of the biggest reasons why organizations underestimate the volume of change required to make a transformation successful, or they focus their efforts on the wrong kinds of change, is that they take terms like ‘technological transformation’ at face value.
In reality, there’s no such thing as technological transformation. What people call technological transformation is really just business or organizational transformation that leverages technology.
The term focuses on the technology, making it look like the destination, rather than the vehicle used to get there. It creates an expectation that once you’ve deployed the tech, the job is done — which often leads organizations to either adopt the wrong tech, or apply the right tech in the wrong ways.
Take cloud, for example. Numerous organizations’ cloud journeys have been fueled by this abstract need to ‘get to the cloud’, because they’ve either read that they need to, or their competitors are doing so. Moving to the cloud is a great choice, but your journey should never begin that way.
Instead, organizations should approach cloud transformation as business transformation. Every journey should start with clear business goals — a picture of exactly what you want to achieve. Then, you can work back from those goals to determine how cloud technology could best help you get there. That’s the key to delivering measurable business value.
One of the key things that sets leading consultancy firms — the companies trusted to drive and execute many of the biggest change initiatives in all of enterprise — apart from the pack is that they’re outcome-focused, as opposed to project-focused. Every step of every initiative should be clearly aligned with business goals. That’s the only way to ensure that the changes you’re implementing are contributing to the right kind of business transformation, and that transformation delivers measurable benefits.
Technology enables transformation, and your technology decisions can have a huge impact on change management
Paul Curtis, Executive Partner & Principal Consultant, Thoughtworks
Technology enables change. It provides the means to both visualize a new state for your organization, and to make that state a reality. But, as we know, it takes much more than technology alone to manage, implement, and ensure that change yields the right results for your organization.
But, that doesn’t mean your technology decisions can’t influence and support change management. We’re used to thinking about the technological and organizational aspects of change in isolation. But really, the two are tightly intertwined. Just as your technology decisions should be shaped by the needs of your business and your people, your people and processes can also be supported by the tech decisions you make.
For example, if you’re moving to the cloud, your choice of provider is one of the most important technology decisions you’ll make at any stage of that process. But, that decision also has operational and change management implications too. Choosing the right cloud provider can ease the burden of change, and potentially reduce friction, too — greatly increasing the chances of your team embracing your planned changes.
If a provider presents services in an intuitive way, and those services are very API-friendly, that has a huge positive impact on developer experience, which is really important to the change process. To see transformation materialize, you need adoption. And people adopt user-friendly technology that makes their experiences better and their lives easier.
Good partners — whether you’re talking about consultancies or technology partners — understand the full breadth of what change and transformation represent for your business. And the very best ones consistently provide strong frameworks to help your transformation go as smoothly as possible. No two transformation journeys are exactly alike. But frameworks like those are hugely valuable, and help you ensure that you’re driving the right volume and type of change, for the right stakeholders. Once you’re doing that, you’re well on your way towards successful transformation.
Drive high-impact change and transformation with Thoughtworks and Google Cloud
Thoughtworks and Google Cloud have supported and enabled countless enterprise transformations, providing expert consultative guidance to plan and execute successful initiatives, and a highly flexible technology foundation that supports continuous, friction-free change and improvement.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.