There is no digital without delivery

Delivery drones

The digital revolution keeps spinning but organisational success in adapting to the new reality has little to do with “digital” and everything to do with “delivery.”

Organisations that improve their ability to obtain new ideas, design them effectively and then ship them quickly will be the real winners.

This means focusing on a delivery revolution consisting of three core elements that must all work together: creating business agility, adopting DevOps engineering and utilising Lean Change thinking.

Digital context – A brief history lesson

Sometimes to understand a problem we have to both look back to the past, and also lift things up to a macro level.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter was a smart guy. He predicted today’s digital revolution back in 1942.

Perhaps that’s not entirely accurate, but he did say that in a capitalist world the economy moves in cycles, and that roughly every 45-60 years we would undergo some sort of major technological revolution.

He called it a Kondratiev cycle.

Simplified Kondratiev Wave Pattern

Figure 1. Rursus, Kondratiev Wave, graphics by DXC, CC BY-SA 3.0

Interestingly, he believed that these cycles were the result of a phenomenon known as “creative destruction.”

He stated that creative destruction is caused by innovation that “incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”.

Situations emerge in the process of creative destruction in which many firms may have to perish that nevertheless would be able to live on vigorously and usefully if they could weather a particular storm. – Joseph Schumpeter

To summarise his sentiments: “If society is rapidly changing due to technological change, you’d better be innovating or you’re in deep trouble.”

Innovation is the market introduction of a technical or organisational novelty, not just its invention. – Joseph Schumpeter

Schumpeter went one step further. He knew that the solution to winning was not invention itself, but instead the delivery of innovation. In other words, “If you don’t productise and release your ideas, then you’re also in deep trouble.”

We see this playing out in many organisations. Innovation is a buzzword that feels good to talk about but it’s not something that is made real and sustainable.

Let’s assume that Schumpeter is correct and we’re in the middle of a revolution.

That means that all organisations — regardless of their industry, size and scale — are under threat from innovative competitors who are revolutionising the economic structure from within, destroying the old and creating the new.

Therefore, we need to engage in practical innovation within our own organisations to survive and thrive.

Why do organisations have trouble adapting?

1. The wrong problem

Most organisations look at the problem the wrong way.

They worry that they will be outpaced by digitally-enabled competitors and look for the simplest solution that will not break their current business model.

This thinking is obvious but dangerous. It leads organisations to focus on point solutions: “We simply need a few good ideas to keep us ahead.”

It is also narrow-minded. It implies that processes, systems and culture are fine in their current form and that the organisational machine simply needs to pump out some new stuff.

A tell-tale sign of this thinking was the rise of the innovation lab, centre or business unit.

There is a fallacious belief that by creating an area that is a hotbed of innovation, the organisation can transform its business and beat its competitors.

The result has been some smart ideas but, overall, a significant failure to transition them to day-to-day business operations.

2. Good product design isn’t all about the product

We all love finding solutions — it’s fun to jump straight to the answers. That’s human nature.

Unfortunately, this is problematic because we often don’t spend enough time defining the problem.

Furthermore, once we move to solution mode we often lack a holistic focus and forget that our organisation is an integrated set of people, processes and technology.

Holistic product design clearly tells us to focus on five areas when building a new product:

  1. The solution itself
  2. The technology and management architectures in which the solution resides
  3. The operational processes that will interact with the solution
  4. The management information systems that will support the solution
  5. The measurement and metrics that will tell us if the solution is working

Most product design is really good at 1, and then really poor at 2-5.

The problem is often compounded when we work on “innovation or rapid” solutions, which are often developed in isolation from everyday business processes.

A common mistake is the assumption that regular business processes, architectures, systems and measures should be bypassed because they are too slow.

That may be true in the short term. However, the way forward then lies in modifying or re-designing the existing business architectures, processes, etc. as part of the design of the new solution.

3. We don’t know how to “ship”

Schumpeter understood that ideas are nothing and delivery is everything when it comes to the digital revolution.

All organisations have great ideas but they often lack the basic processes that allow them to test, implement and release those ideas.

Even worse, most large organisations have spun a tangled web of infrastructure, applications and data integrations that impede their ability to test simple changes that could potentially have big benefits.

The path of delivery must be as smooth as possible, like a productive factory floor where raw materials enter at one end and finished products are delivered at the other, and every cog in the machine is being used for maximum efficiency.

Best-selling writer Seth Godin tells us that shipping is also very much a people problem. Our “lizard brain” in search of the perfect answer creates resistance with a myriad of “buts” and “what ifs.” This stifles our ability to experiment, test and improve.

It’s time to focus on the delivery revolution

To create the delivery revolution, organisations need to focus on three key elements:Delivery Revolution Diagram

Creating business agility

Moving towards agile delivery mechanisms is nothing new to most modern organisations. Many organisations have now executed and managed agile initiatives.

Over time, many of these organisations have recognised that the adoption of agile techniques was not the goal at all.

Instead, the goal is to manage the flow of customer demand, prioritise and then deliver while managing significant scope change throughout the process.

To achieve this the actual business must change, including governance structures and funding models.

Tackling this daunting proposition is the key to successful business agility. That is, an organisation must be set up, structured and funded to deliver on agile initiatives.

Building business relationships, and gaining small successes that can be built on, are the starting point.

Adopting DevOps engineering

DevOps is essentially a way to commoditise IT delivery with a relentless focus on automation, continuous improvement, reduction of technical debt and alignment to business goals.

This presents a new and challenging mind-set for the IT professional of the 1990s or even early 2000s. Concepts like flow and feedback help them focus on speed, while trust and continuous improvement help them focus on robustness over time (as opposed to trying to build it all in at the start).

The overall concepts are nothing new, but modern cloud-based infrastructure, flexible networks and loosely coupled integration create an environment where the concepts can readily become a reality.

Most organisations are grappling with the terminology instead of focusing on the value DevOps practices deliver.

In particular, the reduction of technical debt and removing bureaucratic roadblocks are absolutely key for larger organisations that grew up in the era of bricks and mortar.

Utilising Lean Change thinking

Lean Change is the cultural revolution circuit-breaker in any modern digital organisation.

It focuses on three elements that work in a continuous motion: gaining insights, determining options and undertaking experiments.

Founded by Jason Little, Lean Change encompasses a series of techniques that help an organisation deal with cultural change in an environment that is rapidly changing itself — which sounds like the situation all modern organisations find themselves in.

What’s great about Lean Change is that the techniques themselves are straightforward. With some coaching, organisations can achieve benefits extremely quickly, regardless of whether the organisation is agile or not.

Maintain balance for your digital direction

It’s extremely easy for organisational leaders to focus on one of three elements and gain momentum. Unfortunately, this can lead to a false sense of security that they’ve effectively tackled the problem (e.g., “We’re adopting DevOps so we’ve got this whole digital thing covered.”). The reality is that the three elements work together to create the delivery revolution; without all three, the revolution doesn’t happen.

In summary, organisations need to tend to all three of these elements. Keep them strong and resilient, and repair them when they get damaged.

It’s no wonder that Joseph Schumpeter is known as the prophet of innovation. He didn’t know that the next revolution would be a digital one, but his thinking predicted that it is the delivery revolution that will enable organisations to thrive.

DXC Technology has developed specific capability around creating the delivery revolution, and we’d love to work with you to achieve success.

Michael BillimoriaMichael Billimoria is DXC Technology’s chief technology officer for Consulting. An industry thought leader, Michael has a proven track record of successfully delivering programmes that have realised tangible business benefits in complex environments. His strong people and business process focus has allowed him to influence and then lead change in highly political environments across large numbers of cross-functional teams. Michael’s relentless focus on next-generation technology services and how they will affect organisations, people and the world at large allows him to successfully advise clients on how to remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing world.


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  1. Douglas de Mello says:

    Great point of view, thanks for share!


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