Updated: May 15, 2019
A client leader recently admitted to his team being deadlocked in an 'analysis paralysis' on their digital transformation. The organization had identified several changes required in order to meet their long term strategic goals. The plans to undertake new technology pilots, including the use cases and immediate priorities, were long awaited. The leadership team also needed certain amount of information to ensure a return on investment on the transformation. The team felt that the initiative was not making sufficient headway and there was a looming sense of fatigue.
This is a common problem when an organization is beginning its evolution from a traditional waterfall entity into an agile organism. The teams are habitually caught attempting development of a comprehensive plan with milestones, capabilities required and financial details - a remnant of the way they conventionally planned for work and reported progress. Ironically, without the pilots and proof of concepts, the teams typically do not have enough information to drive the use cases towards success. They become stuck in a vicious cycle, finding themselves developing the technical knowledge and education on the industry best practices, without a clear perspective on what works in the context of their specific organization. They often end up with a difficult-to-execute plan, with a number of hidden assumptions and constraints. Such complex plans frequently accompany a high cost of failure. As Mark Venables says:
“digital transformation is not a project where you make a roadmap and have a defined finish line, which, once crossed, constitutes a company being digitized. Digitization is achieved by implementing hundreds of use cases in a scalable manner.”
I believe that one of the prerequisites for success is to identify and question untested assumptions or constraints. This works especially well during a bout of analysis paralysis. After the vision on a transformation has been openly shared across the organization, enable the teams to develop an awareness of assumptions and constraints surrounding their day-to-day work. Then, supplement it with the forums and ability to transparently discuss them. It provides the teams an opportunity to assess the high-level impact and risk of their assumptions against the vision. With the support of their leaders, they can identify these key areas of focus before the initiatives become too complex, too big to fail and too difficult to initiate.
Instead of spending lengthy amounts of time analysing and developing a high-stakes plan, the teams can achieve agility by developing smaller hypotheses to test their assumptions, compounding the learnings from what works and what doesn't in their environment, and iteratively defining a path to success. Proving or disproving these theories will enable teams to make decisions frequently and pivot when needed. Frustrations from analysis paralysis can be alleviated by ensuring the sense of accomplishment after each induction is recognized, recorded, shared and celebrated. This will help create a culture that embraces learning from the failed as well as successful hypotheses.
There is nothing wrong with taking time to analyse alternatives. However, it becomes paralysis with a period of indecision. Experimenting with the hypotheses iteratively helps teams innovate and course correct towards success. This also regulates fear of failure among the teams in the long run. I'm a firm believer in making small strategic moves with my teams on transformations, continuing to build on what has worked, with clear sight of what hasn't worked in the context of my client's organization.
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