Part 2

Digital and data transformation: It’s like following a recipe

So why are new entrants eating big business’ breakfast – still?

In part 1 of this series, I explored who the real heroes in data are and how they have made data-driven culture and agile working part of their muscle memory, meaning they can now fully obsess over serving customers most effectively.

What’s the key ingredient in the data first culture?

But how did these companies get to be in the zen-like position of being so far up the maturity curve that they don’t even talk about ‘agile’ or ‘data’? There’s so many factors that made them good and keep them good, but the first step is that of leadership. They were lead there. Every tech start-up in Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Mumbai and Shanghai right now, has a founding team that knows it must be ‘data-driven’ from the outset to succeed in discovering the market opportunities they are hunting. It’s easier if you’re just starting out, to receive that wisdom and set your team culture up for success. It’s much harder to transform an organisation that has a different way of thinking and needs to embrace some of the value-exploitation of their data before one of these start-up, challenger market entrants uses a different kind of data to undermine your proprietary advantages.

A sprinkle of skills and a spoonful of good vibes

It takes an excellent leader to transform an organisation, whether that is the wholesale digital transformation required, or a market shift which responds to other technical or market shifts.

There is good news though: A transformation to the full exploitation of an organisation’s own data (or other sources) takes a small amount of highly skilled labour and a larger amount (but nevertheless, comparatively small compared to the size of many organisations) of ‘good vibes’. Oh come on! I hear you cry, good vibes? Yes, the best kind of cultural collaboration; that feeling you get when the group assembled is making a significant change because they were all present and bought into the idea that they needed a new way to work. If you’ve never felt that, it’s hard to believe me, but if you have, then I assure you, most data success is born out of the leadership creating a small, capable group culture of rapid ‘hacking’ to find the value in the organisation’s data. A hands-on group with enough business domain knowledge, maths skill and practical wherewithal to test the mathematical predictions.

“Trust the process”, as they say (and the coach)

All those assembled in such a team can sense that even the early failures are leading somewhere and creating value in setting the operational precedent for the team. The more times they go through the discovery process, the faster they become at finding the value. The team has it’s best chance if there’s a facilitator or coach present to convene the cross-functional team; make sure it’s as easy to participate and offer very diverse perspectives into the modelling stages, so that all knowledge is harnessed. When the team eventually finds its success (and IT WILL), then the leadership have to light the touchpaper of internal flag-waving of the successful project. A successful value discovery needs live testing to realise the full potential of the maths and it’s destined impact on the organisation. The leader will make sure the team does it all over again and shows (not tells) others what they did and how they did it. Once passed the tipping point and it becomes infectious. That is the moment the leader is looking to achieve.

Why Learning & Development plays a critical role

To give yourself a fighting chance and setting your organisation up for success; ask L&D to set up workshops to try to ‘win hearts and minds’, if only to open those minds just a little fraction before the first cross-functional team project. Also, make sure that the same lessons are disseminated across the organisation ahead of broadcasting success.

The L&D folk can really support the establishment of the data-driven culture by initiating a series of ‘show not tell’ workshops designed to explain the narrative above and give some practical exercises to learn how the process works and to see the results, above all to feel the ‘good vibes’ I mentioned, this is an ideal opportunity to support the leadership teams in helping your co-workers along their ‘learning-journey.’

Habits, not the skills, as the key to success

As all L&D managers know, one-off workshops, no matter how engaging, do not necessarily embed the knowledge or the skills into the organisation once-only. Borrowing from the agile software houses that specialise in fast delivery, minimum viable products (MVP) to make progress, we encourage L&D to embed coaches in the early team deployments, that way, the desirable habits, the little processes that are critical to the success of these pioneering teams within your organisation have got experience embedded into them for their daily or weekly stand-up meetings to prioritise and progress the mathematical concepts, the feedback from domain knowledge, the iteration and eventual testing. In a short number of weeks, a team will learn and embed the habits of successful data discovery and will be able to transfer its own skills to other teams.