Digital Transformation: People First

Author: Mike Pszenicki | Editorial: Steven Crotch

“We are embarking on a new digital transformation.” Watch half of your stakeholders run for the hills.

Daunted by notoriously costly behemoth initiatives that translate into little perceived business value, such behemoth transformations are commonly met with strong resistance before they have even begun.

On hearing terms such as Robotic Automation / Kaizen / Lean Six Sigma, trepidation sets in and your audience may be blind to the differences between these methods, and to their value.

The initial motivators to improve customer experience whilst ideally increasing efficiency compete with fears of upheaval and unknowns.

The business may be driven by improving profit margins in a shifting market, and to address ever-present regulatory demands.

Still, only by putting people at the centre of your considerations can you support successful transformations.

What are some of these considerations? And how do we demystify the language?

Client Voice

With customer journeys and “UX” (that’s user experience to you and I) gurus ten a penny, we could assume that everyone is plugged into the fundamental principle that understanding the needs of the consumer tops any transformation agenda.

However, repeated assessments1 reveal that flawed assumptions are made on behalf of an apparently voiceless customer. Subject matter experts assume the requirements, and we derail from the start.

Customer view and client-centric outcomes are often eclipsed by cost reduction on the radars of senior management. Whilst we needn’t go as far as Steve Jobs’s assertion that ‘we should be so close to the consumer that we know what they want before they do’, aligning requirements and design decisions to customer priorities is pivotal.

By investing in “voice of the customer” exercises, we can more accurately define the metrics to measure success, avoiding wasteful, inefficient solutions that customers cannot utilise.

People Are Your Process

There is no use in automating an inefficient or broken process – you get the same results, slightly faster.

The key to transformations of real consequence originates in understanding the fundamentals – that people generally run processes – and that the details of their work need to be considered: cycle times, work in progress, task value and quality of output etc. We need to study the intersection between people and processes (whether internal or end-customer based).

It is your people who know the work, and they also know the problems. Empowered staff who actively embrace constant change as an opportunity for growth and innovation, equipped with the right techniques and tools, are best qualified to provide sustainable solutions.

[1] According to Gartner, “more than two-thirds of marketers say their companies compete mostly on the basis of CX”. As MIT say it provides a “common language for going forward in product development”.

Even a simple activity like Process Mapping brings together the teams, allows brainstorming, and organising thoughts away from “business as usual” processing.

If you can simplify processes and eliminate redundancy, you should ideally do that before automation.

Operational Excellence (and techniques such as Lean SixSigma) as a discipline has spread from its manufacturing roots into many industries, and concentrates on what most projects overlook – the linchpin significance of people:

How are the people moving value through their processes?

How effective are the people doing that work?

Is it of the right quality at the right time?

Even technology tooling is (mostly) used … by people.

The core goals are broadly the same in this author’s opinion: use of pragmatism and common sense to help people improve:

  • Incrementally and systemically
  • At less cost
  • By focusing on people first, with technology as an enabler

Filter and Focus Data

In a more remotely managed world, the reliance of process optimisation and change professionals on technology increases. Furthermore, Industry is now focusing heavily on operational risk and resilience at a time where you cannot physically see your workforce.

Data supports our digital processes and is abundant, but we need to identify those sets most relevant in supporting the key flows and make them transparent.

Since process improvement is not new, in the Post-Covid-World, this is less about troubleshooting human error and isolating those elements that are most pertinent to improve outcomes.

Data analytics and business intelligence is the tip of the iceberg.

Better business decisions are made when data strategies, architecture and data science are

leveraged to understand the mass of information.

Business Process Transformation is an enabler for other innovations such as intelligent automation, continuous improvement, and workforce strategy enhancement.

Before we get overexcited about the potential for machine learning and other cool AI disciplines, let us ensure the data that people are manipulating are appropriate, complete and of good quality.

Bigger is Not Always Better

Before you panic, dear reader, this will not be an Agile rant.

Yearly promotions and budget cycles mean we can get lost in endless project phases; instead, most firms are looking for more flexible, faster returns of value to business.

Call it Agile or Iterative, DSDM or other bingo words, ditch the Big Bang solutions and deliver incrementally.

Similarly, it pays to be mindful of the need to positively transition workforce management and people in this way to sustain change.

Above all, measuring the benefits of digital transformations and forcing their realisation results in success – rather than large scale technology investments.

If one embraces a more iterative approach towards ‘continuous improvement’, tangible benefits can be reaped early on and direction changed as required.

Technology can support here: inputting data from the front to the back of the process, mining the variations in flow and proposing improvements on where and why that variance occurs. This is Intelligent Automation that could start to put continuous improvement experts out of business in some respects.

But ultimately, people need to pick up the areas highlighted through those technologies as exceptions or need improvement and make human decisions on them.

Culture of Collaborative Improvement

Thrusting change upon people can feel very uncomfortable. The moment you empower teams to become champions of their continuous improvement by buying them into the desired goals, success becomes collaborative, and change is legitimised in the eyes of your workforce.

Every buy-in starts by asking the question ‘why?’, no matter your initiative’s size or purpose.

The broader the audience playing a part in that why conversation, the more people will go on the journey with you rather than competing or resisting.

Establishing a culture where employees are trusted to be enterprising on a personal and team level without fear, will progress change implementation faster and with more meaningful results.

Transformation teams are more likely to be motivated by effectively interacting with colleagues than by any ‘greater purpose’ at large.

If people leaders of a transformation can nurture those behaviours, they will be a powerful force for change.

Nobody denies that Transformation is a big deal. It is commonly a lengthy multi-year endeavour that requires skill and effort to deliver successfully.

With a focus on key principles, the chances of success improve:

  • Confirm your understanding of need from the clients (voice of customer)
  • Engage colleagues who do the day-to-day in what to improve, and how (operational excellence)
  • Concentrate on the data flow between people (data architecture and mining, analytics)
  • Incremental improvements lead to better outcomes overall and more flexibility (iterative deployment methods, intelligent automation)
  • Behavioural change should not be underestimated in transformation (continuous improvement, people focus)

Another important question is also prompted:

Given longer-term strategic goals and business drivers exist, and future realisation of benefits is necessary, how do we manage shorter-term yearly budgets and promotion cycles? And how do we force the behavioural/cultural change into the more extended agenda?

If we can also answer these, then sceptics of the concepts we mention may come down from the hills that they ran into.

JDX knows about Business Process Transformation and Operational Excellence, Data Architecture, Intelligent Automation approaches, and Digital Transformation execution. But paramount is that JDX knows about people and puts them first. Contact us to learn more.


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