How Software Principles Can Be Used to Guide Business Transformation

Steve Press, President, Primero Systems
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Steve Press, President, Primero Systems

Profitability, employee retention, and workplace efficiency the core challenges faced by businesses across the board have not changed in centuries. Yet, business process optimization is something that organizations across the globe often struggle with.

It doesn’t have to be that way. With a twist rooted in software principals, traditional Change Management doctrines can continue to be the right course of action. The correlations between business transformation, Agile methodology and open architecture principles should be understood and incorporated into a company’s effort to transform and improve.

These are all familiar terms amongst the software development community, but many may not be aware that these principles can be applied to the operational side of business as well. When combined with a healthy amount of common sense and some good old-fashioned discipline, business process improvements such as smoother procedures, more efficient workflows and overall growth are yours for the taking.

Priority Setting–First Things First

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best”—W. Edwards Deming was definitely on to something here.

Strange as it may sound, jumping on every issue or improvement opportunity as quickly as possible is not always the best approach. Instead, creating a backlog based on the captured input from all employees and considering the company-centric factors involved—offers a much more holistic, process-agnostic and Agile approach. Examples of typical priority-drivers: available skill sets and bandwidth, cost, value, market regulations, ease of adoption, market differentiators, and competitive cost—must be considered. Furthermore, it is very important to understand the actual and hidden costs of changing as compared to not changing.

  The core values of a business should never be at odds with the decisions made during improvement initiatives 

Don’t cut corners here. Change is not about doing what is easy—it’s about doing what is right. Set your priorities accordingly.

Power to the People

Always consider your resources as you drive towards change. People—and the working relationships between them—are by far the most important factor in a business’ success. With that being said, it is crucial to hire the right ones, set clear expectations and lead by example.

Active executive support, a structured approach, dedicated resources, employee engagement, communication and integration with project management are among the critical success factors of organizational change. The common denominator throughout all of them? People. Understand the behavioral aspect of people in business and you are that much closer to achieving successful change.

A Culture of Change

Don’t underestimate the value of Change Management. Understand the true drivers of change. Tie change to desired outcomes, don’t just change arbitrarily. What is it that doesn’t work? What is it that must work better? What goals or expectations are not being met with the current approach? There must be a focus on what you want to achieve but also an understanding that some things are best left alone.

An understanding of the overall business environment is important as well. They say that everyone likes change but no one wants to change. The reality is more complex than that, but it does touch on an important topic for business transformation: At what level is the culture of the company conducive to organizational or process change? Ask yourself: What level of change can your organization absorb? A company’s status quo can be difficult to shift. Know going in that business process optimization will alter this and make sure that support is in place—starting at the top.

List the unique success factors of the specific organization and discuss how you realistically will make sure each is covered. For example, do you really have company-wide support, or do you need to set additional time aside to successfully manage potential resistance to change?

An Agile, Open Architecture—from a Processes POV

Approaching transformation through an Agile-reminiscent methodology means managing unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences and empirical feedback. Change is unpredictable in nature, making the Agile approach all the more appropriate here. You are not chasing a stationary target, so the quest for perfection should not present an obstacle to incremental improvements.

Don’t plan too far ahead. Always have a backlog of potential improvement work, and constantly prioritize this backlog by what will generate the highest value for the business as a whole. Utilize self-managing teams with resources closest to the work at hand, who are guided by the overall company vision. Let the complexity and scope dictate progress, not unrelated, out-of-touch demands driven by wishing and wanting.

Goals and priorities can change over time, and you need to be able to adapt. Just as an open architecture makes adding, upgrading and swapping components easy, so too should your transformation processes. This technical concept should drive the design of business improvements. Make sure that the company-wide matrix of processes stays flexible and interchangeable, yet autonomous.

Trying to fuse rigid processes between two entities (clients or departments) can prove to be futile. Instead, the mindset should be close to how middleware within an open architecture functions as a bridge. A process needs to be standardized, easily supported and replaceable.

Tangible results are what everyone craves; however, they can be hard to come by. In the quest to achieve them, it’s all too common to see behavior that contradicts the very core of a business’s principal. As an example, when it comes to the tactical decisions, we tend to do what’s right for the short-term at the expense of what is best for the long term—all in the name of tangible results. The core values of a business should never be at odds with the decisions made during improvement initiatives.

And, of course, nothing comes for free. You must budget for change—and it doesn’t come cheap. However, when you consider that there are hidden costs associated if you do nothing and continue on your (non-optimized) way, you simply can’t afford not to change.

With that in mind, remember to let software principles guide the process. Incorporate Agile methodology and the ideas behind open architecture—while setting priorities based on a complete backlog of company-wide input.

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