Don Mishory: Ok, I’m going to switch directions a little bit. And talk a little bit about stakeholder alignment. So digital transformation in any organization is a complex journey. One of the things that I know you talk a lot about and have effectively done, is being able to align different types of stakeholders whether it is Executive Leadership, R&D, Marketing, IT, etc. What are some top-of-mind tips and tricks on building that type of alignment in an organization that’s transforming?
Jim MacLennan:Sure. I think the number one thing I think of when you ask that question is, really the primary vector for success here is to realize that all those different groups have significant skills to contribute to real digital transformation. They’re all different and there are things that they may not have really shared before but all of them are required. No one group has all the pieces of the puzzle.
Your R&D folks for example, they’re your explorers, they’re your wanderers. They know how to go and look at things differently and try to apply things that they already know in a different way. But the really good ones also know ‘hey we’re on a process to generate a relative, a fixed number of new products every single year.’ So they also have the process to know when to stop. Know when to stop and make decisions and not really dither, the good ones do. So that’s a great set of skills to bring to the table.
Obviously, to me, Marketing and Sales, they should be the best at communication of complex ideas. Classic Marketing is ‘hey this is all about education, I want you to understand there’s a new way of thinking about a given problem and we can actually help you solve that problem really well.’ Well, it’s the same thing here. All these internal users could really use the skills of Marketing and the skills of Sales to understand how to get over objections and to understand something that’s only complex because they’ve never seen it before. Once they get it, they see all the moving pieces. But if you’ve never been explained something then it’s like ‘oh my gosh this is complicated.’
Then IT of course, well you bring the data manipulation, you bring the security, you bring experience with enablers like things in the cloud. But more important, and I think most people don’t realize this is, in most companies, IT are your best project managers. That’s where you find most of your really rigorous project managers. Or the ones that are flipping from waterfall over to agile, it’s still the same core ideas in that kind of project management as well. You know, plan the work, work the plan, communicate status, manage expectations. IT is typically best at that.
And then there’s also Finance. You didn’t mention Finance in your question right? Finance is great because ‘this is really new and we have to figure out how to make this work in the constructs of the business.’ Well, the finance folks, they’re the ones that actually know how to quantify success and how to understand here’s the cost, here’s what can be capitalized, here’s the payback that this company needs, this is the kind of way that we speak in numbers in this company. And so they can be very, very critically key to the success of any transformation.
And finally, of course, Executive Leadership. They have, obviously, tons of ability to change the prioritization, change the focus. It’s not like the world is going to take everything else off of everybody’s to do list when its time to get working on these initiatives, but that’s what Executive Leadership can do. They can get this at the right priority, manage everybody’s expectation but make it part of the culture and the core values of the company. And that’s really an incredibly important piece of any change management.
Don: So, going back to a little bit of that Executive Leadership. So where I’ve seen a lot of transformation is in companies that have been building products for many, many years. I won’t name the company but we’re working with a company that makes razor blades. They’re digitally transforming the razorblade world. What do you see the executive sponsorship role is in that type of change management; and by that I mean changing the market, changing the culture to look at it from an analog product to a jointly digital and analog product? I know in your past life there were a lot of products that went through that transformation.
Jim: Well again I’ll just repeat part of my last answer. To me it gets to clearly identifying how this fits in with the strategy. Now a strategy for any company can be done really, really simply. This is what we do, where we play and how we win. But what’s changing and what you’re describing is what we do and how we win: “I used to be really good at manufacturing quality and just in time delivery and stuff like that but now I have be also good at after sales service because it’s a new service offer.” There’s new groups inside of the company that are going to have different levels of, for lack of a better word, power or influence in these conversations and they’re not used to these roles. In fact, people that are letting go of some things have to be able to let go of some things.
So, the culture and the tie to what’s strategically important to the company, communicating that effectively and really providing that vision leadership, that’s what the executive team actually has to do. They can’t sort of sit aside and be cynical and say, ‘let’s see how long this goes until it fails like the last three did.” They really have to get into it. It can be a tremendous change, it could just be a step change, but if it involves any level of change from what everybody is used to, the exec’s got to stand in and show their backing and then really help people internalize it and see the change from how they think now to how they think in the future.
Don: I see a lot of pilots and prototypes and ideas that do fail because of that lack of executive sponsorship and lack of alignment to the strategic vision of the company.
Jim: I’d probably say that those people that start those projects, they probably do the classic thing of saying ‘if I build it they will come’ or ‘this is such a great idea everybody will just jump on the bandwagon.’ And what they really should be doing is investing a ton of time, at least half their time - you can’t just start at the top - but invest at least half of your time at the top making sure that what you’re saying is in line with the exec’s vision. What they see over the next three to five years. They’re not telling you what they see over the next three to five years so you have to sort of sanity check. You may not know it, you may be going against their big plans. But you have to make sure you get that buy in and ask their opinion and ask their help in making this change happen. And then you don’t need them behind you physically on stage, but it sure helps when they stand up and say, ‘this is great.’ So that’s a really important part of the overall change management. But that’s the difference between project management and product management.