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Why Digital Transformation Is About People

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and play the bongos
Sep 09, 2016

Everyone knows the real secret to becoming a digital dominator has little to do with technology. Sure, you need rock solid tools that will enable you to move quickly, respond quickly, and stay super secure. But those tools might just sit on the shelf collecting dust unless you've got people power-driving the change.

This focus on people can be tough to swallow for lifelong technologists. Computers are binary.  Code compiles or it doesn't. People have their own agendas. But computers only do what they are told. People bring creative ideas and enthusiasm, the one-two punch of successful projects.

With this in mind, let's look at three ways to induce meaningful change in your organization.

Help cure decision burnout

Executives are on the line to produce results (usually based on just a few simple metrics). If you can move one of these metrics or reduce their risk, you will get their attention. Show them how your idea solves a real, existing pain point. Demonstrate that you have thought about costs, effort, and impact to the organization. Convince them that the risk of not doing this is much greater than executing your project. After all, in today’s business environment, having a well-managed, well-designed API is like have an “open for business” sign.

Even the most capable executive is a human being, and is almost certainly suffering from decision burnout. Make their choice easy: be prepared, enthusiastic, and take some risk out of their lives.

Convince the people who need to execute that their lives will be better

You won't be able to realize your plans alone. Several teams will probably be involved, but one or two teams will do most of the work implementing the project and owning and operating it day to day afterward. Find these people and convince them that their lives will be better after the project is complete (but here's a hint: make sure this is true).

Perhaps the team is burdened with some manual tasks that will be automated. Maybe testing, monitoring, analytics, or reporting will now be easier. We've all participated in projects where every task was a chore—people just wanted to complete the spreadsheet and move on with their lives. These projects aren't fun and they don't produce spectacular results. Nobody gets promoted after one of these ordeals.

Maybe you've been lucky enough to participate in another type of project: one where the team believed in what they were building. The people couldn't wait to see the results in production. These projects fly upon golden wings. They become cherished memories that warm us during cold spells working on average projects, dreaming of the day we can spread our wings in the warm sun once again, building something meaningful with others who share the same vision.

Make sure your project is this kind of project.

Play the bongos every day

As a young man working in a large company, I used to believe that everyone else knew how hard I was working and understood my commitment and motivation.

Over time, I came to realize that they all had lives of their own. Their plates were full and they were being asked to execute on a different list of tasks. They weren't telepathic. And even if they were, they wouldn't have had time to read my mind.

My mentor taught me to bang my own drum. Not aggressively, not arrogantly, but incessantly. Keep up a steady drumbeat of why this project matters. Remind people of the little successes. Get the organization dancing to the rhythm of your project's beat. Don't assume people can read your mind. You know how important digital transformation is for your company. Don’t rest until everyone else understands this too.

Counter-intuitively, this is the secret to successful change in a large organization-- even technology-fueled change. Much like Soylent Green (but, of course, for a much different reason), it's people.

Learn about the importance of building the right API team, with the right leadership, in the new eBook "How to Build an API Program That Doesn't Suck: The Survival Guide for Digital Business."

Image: Flickr Creative Commons/Garry Knight

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