Comparing digital transformation to building a house may seem strange at first. In fact in the world of agile software delivery, comparing delivery to a house-build is a big no-no. After all, constructing software and a home are two very different jobs with very different requirements.
However, as someone currently involved in building a loft extension, my eyes have been opened to one or two similarities. I’ve discovered that there are some features worth exploring that provide valuable lessons to those working on or are interested in conducting digital transformation projects.
As I began my loft extension project, I quickly realised that meeting my family’s needs would come at a significant cost. Despite gathering multiple quotes and conducting thorough research, the outcome was always the same: if I needed space, I’d have to pay.
Similarly, digital transformation projects often carry a substantial price tag. It involves not only the required expertise and skills but also the investment in technology, time, and emotional energy. In summary, change demands significant effort and financial resources if it’s going to be done right.
Throughout the extension, various tradespeople have come in and used their specialist skills to help me complete the project. They are not a multidisciplinary team in the truest sense, with each having their own specialised tasks and collaborating only on specific aspects of the project. However, the quality of the end product is wholly dependent on their craftsmanship and tools. Each tradesperson has demonstrated exceptional skill and their expertise has allowed them to complete their phases independently, efficiently and effectively.
Likewise, successful digital transformation projects require a team of skilled professionals who have honed their craft over time. They need real experience in problem-solving across various scenarios and to have developed a repertoire of strategies to tackle complex challenges efficiently. Equally important is access to the right tools to support their work. Just as we don’t question a builder’s need for decent tools, cutting corners in digital transformation projects will often limit their long-term benefits. Prioritising quality over short-term cost savings is crucial.
Lastly, the construction of the extension has required a range of decisions to be made early on to ensure the right materials could be brought in. Thankfully, we’ve had good builders and architects who planned things out and asked us how we wanted the layout, how we wanted it to look and how we would use the space. Once these decisions were finalised, the team could get underway and secure all the necessary materials. However, throughout the construction process a constant stream of smaller decisions had to be made: handle placements, light switch preferences, the option to upgrade to underfloor heating, and so on.
During this period, I noticed two things. First, progress accelerated when I could quickly provide answers to these questions. By checking in with the team twice a day, we created lines of communication that prevented a backlog of questions and allowed the project to proceed smoothly. Second, I noticed that, more often than not, the builder already had a good sense of what was needed but wanted confirmation to make sure he didn’t take things in the wrong direction. Cases where we weren’t in agreement were minimal. More often than not, decision making was about empowering the team by confirming things they needed to know and giving proper considerations to the things that genuinely make us different.
Again, this line of thinking can and should be applied to digital transformation projects. A well-thought-out plan that considers desired outcomes and future objectives can save time and money in the long run. But once the project has started, there is no substitute for agile working, effective communication, and making frequent small decisions rather than saving them for a significant event. Trusting and empowering a skilled team that understands the organisation’s needs is critical. While each organisation may have its unique aspects, most challenges are likely shared, enabling the team to use their expertise while also asking for specific insights to accommodate unique requirements.
While my loft extension has nearly been completed, digital transformation within organisations is a continuous process. Unlike a fixed program of work, digital transformation involves creating a mindset that is ready for the future and relentlessly focused on outcomes.
From understanding the necessary investment to appreciating the significance of craftsmanship and decision making, these lessons can inform and guide our approach to successfully navigate the complex landscape of digital transformation. Remember, just like a house, your organisation is a unique structure, but the fundamental principles of transformation remain constant.