By now every organisation has come face to face with the reality of digital transformation, and recognises that it’s imperative to change the way they do business if they’re going to be successful in the months and years to come.

But actually implementing changes, ensuring that they have the desired effect on the business, is not that easy – and slavishly following the textbook theories isn’t always the answer.

Kathy Gibson met up with Johann Botha, chief innovation officer of GetItRight, to learn about how organisations can make sure change is for the better and the long term

Organisations that don’t innovate are in trouble – and they need to get cracking if they hope to stay relevant in the months to come.

But innovating and changing the organisation means developing  new processes and ways f doing business. And this means breaking with traditional methodologieis as well.

Johann Botha, chief innovation officer of consultancy GetItRight has spent a career working with IT and business process methodologies like ITIL and CoBIt, and aligning these with philosophies including Agile, LEAN, Six Sigma and DevOps.

What he’s learnt over the last couple of years is that organisations have to chart a new course that includes these structured principles but also allows for the flexibility an agility demanded by the new business imperatives.

“When organisations embark on a digital transformation journey, a lot of what they have to deal with is complex problem-solving.

“However, most of our problem-solving techniques were developed for audit domains; and when you move into the chaos domains that we encounter in business now, they don’t work.”

More significantly, organisations could be blind to the fact that they are not working. “They need to understand that they don’t understand the new reality,” Botha says.

“We don’t know what we don’t know – and we will never know; we can only speculate.

“”But the world has changed so much that we cannot rely on solving problems by luck. We have to get good at it.”

The only way to do this, he believes, is by experimentation and iteration.

“We are getting really good at helping people go through this process of understanding what they don’t know, and coming up with solutions that improve the business,” Botha says.

“What we’ve realised is that most often the first bright idea will not work. But you have to have it; and you have to go through the process described by Tom Peters of failing forward fast.

“All the stuff that made us tick for all these years – LEAN, Agile, DevOps, digital transformation, design thinking – these concepts are all coming to bear now.”

In the new world, though, companies need to look at all of the business methodologies and tailor them to suit their own circumstances – and be agile enough to change when needs dictate.

“Companies realise that they have to do things differently,” Botha explains. “Customers are demanding value quicker, and so organisations have got to look at progressive practices to be able to deliver.”

But it’s not easy to do this stuff, Botha adds. “Companies have sent people on the courses and then tried to manage the change themselves – but this seldom works. A course can teach you techniques, but the real issue is that you need to change the culture in the organisations.

“What we prefer to do is to teach people the basics, then help them to physically make the required changes.

“For instance, if we are doing DevOps, we work with trainees in the classroom to actually design something – not just give them the theory. They learn by doing, and that way they really learn.

“Otherwise, they just tick the box but it means very little.”

This way of driving change has to start with a shift in the organisational culture, Both adds. “You can all learn the techniques, but there has to be a shift in everyone’s thinking.

“And this applies to the people involved in the change as well as to the people who manage the organisation.”

He points to companies that successfully implement management principles, like Toyota.

“But people make a mistake if they think the Toyota Way is about techniques. In fact, it is about a cultural movement and organisational change enablers.”

Botha doesn’t believe in sudden or revolutionary change. “It will never last, because it is not a part of the fabric of the organisation. Only evolutionary change will work.”

Another problem that companies face is that competent people tend to get promoted out of their area of competence.

“People get promoted because they are technically good. But companies need to realise they should let people do the stuff they are good at. The northern European countries are good at this: they pay people well for doing what they do well.”

Leaders have to be more than managers, he adds. “The concept of the servant leader means that the leader’s job is to remove impediments that prevent workers from excelling.

“We tell managers to go and see what people are dong, and ask why things work or don’t work. Find out what you can do to make sure other people can do their jobs?”

To make change real in any organisation, people need to practice on real issues – and everyone that is touched by that issue or project has to be involved.

“In Agile, we say the team of accountable for delivering, but many people believe this won’t work,” Botha says. “In fact, most people want to do meaningful work, and are motivated to help make things work.

“In all the projects we have been involved in, only twice has a manager had to intervene to take someone out of a team because they weren’t contributing.”

Regardless of what techniques a company uses, Botha believes it need to be visual. “If management, progress and reporting are visual then accountability is built into the process. No-one wants to be seen to be bad, or be put in a position where they are not doing something meaningful.”

Many managers are sceptical of this, believing that workers may let the team down, but Botha says it usually has the opposite effect.

“How do you trust people? You trust people,” he advises.

Botha has collaborated on writing two books on service management best practice, so he’s well qualified to talk about how organisations should pursue change.

“The idea is that we shouldn’t be doing IT service management, but rather enterprise service management. And the things we have learnt in the IT space are proving valuable in the broader enterprise space.”

In conclusion, he stresses that positive change can only be a result experimenting and iterating.

“It’s impossible to teach people how to think. “We have to show them how to think,” Botha says. “When it comes to design thinking, the name is flawed – it should be design doing. There are two words in best practice, and practice is the most important one.

“We are great believers in experiential learning. It can’t be about ticking boxes, but has to be about being able to do something, about making a difference.”

But it’s not a quick fix, Botha adds. “It takes three years to turn an organisation around. If you expect anything less, or someone promises you anything less, you don’t understand, or they’re lying.”

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