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  • Jon Smart

How to survive and thrive in the Age of Digital?

For those who choose to leverage the latest technological revolution and adopt ways of working that suit the nature of more of today’s work, the benefits are clear. The State of DevOps Report 2019 shows that elite performers compared to low performers deliver business value through technology 208 times more frequently, are 2,604 times faster to recover from incidents, and have a seven times lower change failure rate. There is quicker learning, feedback, value, and ability to pivot to maximize desired outcomes. There is greater resilience and stability, which leads to increased satisfaction by both customers and colleagues. These factors, along with psychological safety, are positively correlated to overall organizational performance.

In my own experience, several years into being a servant leader on better ways of working across Barclays, in the context of unique product development, we saw the lead time, the time from starting work to getting it into the hands of the customer, the time to learning, to pivot, to reduce risk, reduce by two-thirds on average. The time to value and feedback was three times faster than it used to be. We saw a corresponding average 300% increase in throughput of items of value across thousands of teams for product development. The number of incidents fell by a factor of twenty, and the independently surveyed colleague engagement scores were the highest they had ever been. The teams that made the most progress reduced time to value by a factor of twenty, with throughput rising by a similar amount. Learning was twenty times faster, as was de-risking, the ability to pivot, to respond to feedback, to learn, to change direction, and to stop. Like the high performers in The State of DevOps Report 2019, teams were delivering Better Value Sooner Safer Happier.

This was after our fair share of learning the hard way and observing many Kübler-Ross curves, with peaks of excitement, troughs of disillusionment, and then, usually, climbing up to a higher point of mastery. As we looked at in A Sense of Urgency and will explore throughout Sooner Safer Happier, lasting behavior change cannot be forced. It is not a short-term activity; it is continuous.

With the new means of production, the pace of change is getting ever faster. Change is no longer staccato, as it was in the past. Product development in particular, with a pivot from project to product, is no longer a case of big-bang builds, leaving it to go into obsolescence, letting the weeds grow, until another big-bang slash, burn, rewrite is required. Organizations are moving to “continuous everything.”

Both software systems and human systems lose information over time. Left alone they become less efficient and less maintainable. Software becomes obsolete and people, with a charitable intent, introduce bureaucracy, often with unintended consequences. The weeds grow back. Instead, we need to be tending to the garden continuously, keeping it “evergreen,” nurturing culture, upgrading the plane while flying, and avoiding behavioral, process, and technical debt, which accumulates with compound interest. Change and continuous improvement should be a sustainable habit, a constant process of experimentation, feedback, learning, and pivoting to optimize for outcomes. After all, customers are not just buying a point-in-time product, they are buying ongoing innovation and an experience. And people want to work somewhere where the way of working is sustainable, engaging, and humane.

Some organizations are still using ways of working from two technological revolutions ago, misapplying them to the type of work. Others have adopted ways of working suited to the increasingly emergent nature of work in the Age of Digital. We’ve gone from Taylorism in the Age of Electricity & Engineering to Fordism and then Lean Production in the Age of Oil & Mass Production and now to Business Agility in the Age of Digital. Repeatedly, efficiently, sustainably, and continuously delivering Better Value Sooner Safer Happier. There is a new normal.

by Jon Smart, 11/10/22


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