This is the second article on why digital transformations in general, and in organizations developing embedded systems specifically, fails. The first article talked about not wanting to let go of existing processes. This article will talk about a lack of management support.

We can look at this issue through the lens of the Adoption Model. The Adoption model explains in general the adoption of something through a population. There are first the innovators that pull ahead and help develop the new innovation. Then comes the early adopters. These are the people that want to jump on new things even though they are not the drivers and developers themselves. After this we have the early majority which are the people who accept change when early adopters present it to them. Then we have the late majority, which do not adopt the change until most other people are already on it. And lastly, we have the laggards which are set in their ways and who only will accept the change when there is no other option.

[image of the adoption model: Innovators, Early adopters, Early majority, Late majority, laggards]

Most transformations inside companies starts with one or a few intrapreneurs burning for the specific issues. These are the innovators in the adoption model. For them it is easy to rally the early adopters, as there is so much hype around digitalization and agile on the Internet.

However, then the adoption starts to slow down. One reasons for this is a lack of support from the leadership in the organization for spreading the transformation and for nurturing it where it already has taken root. It is easy, when a leader that does not believe in the transformation speaks about her misgivings about it, that those who are already hesitant tries to hinder the transformation too. And when the transformation is failing because of a lack of support, it becomes easy to call it a failure and bury it. The misgivings become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What one has to recognize is that leaders usually have become leaders by having the qualities historically needed to run things. They probably have set up, mastered and understood the processes used today. Therefore there is easy to understand that leaders are not naturally early adopters.

Yet, since leaders impact the rest of the organization so much, any transformation must begin with them. When it is rolled out to the rest of the organization, there must be no doubt to all that all leaders are behind the transformation. This is in it self somewhat of a paradox since a digital transformation is partly about transferring power from leadership to the teams. Nonetheless, leaders must lead the transformation aiming to make the organization able to lead itself.

Therefore, the first step of the transformation is to get all of the leaders on board. When we say leaders, we don’t mean just line managers and project managers. Other leaders, such as system architects, are just as important. There also needs to be support from outside the software development unit itself. The hardware development may not be able to be as agile as software development but to be able to coordinate development they need to be on board too. So do the leaders in the business units including key account managers making promises to the customers.

In addition, it is not only that these leaders need to support the transformation; the transformation must begin with them. They need to lead by example. They need to work with continuous improvements. They need to lead by setting goals instead of micromanaging subordinates.

When the support is there from most of the leadership, first then it is time to roll out the transformation to the organization. And for the leaders that are not on board, they must be made to understand that the decision can be criticized in the right forum, but not openly in the organization. There needs to be a unified leadership on what the goals are. Even if they do not believe in it, they must be able to stand in front of their teams and show trust in the decision.

Even though we now have complete leadership support, when the transformation then starts, it does not need to begin everywhere at once. It could start with a single department with one or a few teams. And just as we mentioned in last article about Not letting go, we need to start where we are and work towards a goal. Trying to jump from an existing set of processes into a fully transformed organization in one step is not agile, it is just stupid.

So to conclude,
1. Get all leaders to buy into the goal of the transformation
2. Get all leaders to actually start to transform themselves
3. Roll out transformation one part of the organization at a time
4. Don’t change too much at a time. Let the transformation evolve but always in the direction of the stated goals.

Stay tuned for the third article in the series about the fallacy of the software factory.

– Tomas Gidén

Software & research engineer in embedded systems and digitalization & agile coach by trade. Physicist specialized in complex adaptive systems, machine learning and optimization by education.  Photographer and outdoorsman by love.