Change is hard, but failure is worse.
“That sounds great, but there’s no way we can do that here. It’ll be too expensive. Our people won’t change. We’ve got too many legacy applications that we can’t change.”
This is what I hear almost every time I sit with in a conference room with a large company.
And yet, the way this meeting happened was because the company desperately, desperately needs to change how it does the “digital transformation” dance to save their lives.
This gaping sore is being felt in numerous industries — the nail-festooned club of Uber/AirBnB/Google/Amazon/Wealthfront and the rest of the “unicorns” are creating a hoard of software-wielding barbarians that are threatening all businesses. Worse, these barbarians are proving out the tactics and strategies that work at other, more civilized organizations can be easily picked up and used to be competitive.
I loath the “change or die” imperative, but we really are in a “survival is not mandatory” phase of business.
So, when I sit in meeting rooms with management who tells me they can’t change—that it’s too hard—as their businesses are being threatened by competitors who can change and can deliver software in a new way, all I can think is, “it’s simple: just stop hitting yourself.”
You know the game siblings in the back-seat play with each other. They grab their brother or sister’s hand and jam their all-too-close seat-mate’s fist into their own face over and over. “Stop hitting yourself!” they yell, prompting a parent in the front-seat to launch into a “I don’t care who started it, I’m gonna end it!” tirade with that dramatic flourish of pulling off the road and throwing off their seat belt — ZZZRRRP-PLOCK! Except when it comes to digital transformation, there is no sibling grabbing your fist, you — the organization — are doing it yourself.
If you think your organization wants, needs to change, but you feel like you just can’t… if your enterprise architects and VP’s of Infrastructure keep giving you 200 reasons why you can’t change how IT operates… and you find yourself internalizing and bullet-pointing back to these excuses, buddy, you gotta stop hitting yourself.
Your competition, new and old, will gladly start hitting you if they’re not already, but they’ll be more than happy to let you do the work yourself.
Change is possible: I see it happening in large, regular, multi-bullion dollar, global and government organizations everyday. You just have to show-up, understand why and how to turn things around, and keep trying every day.
While we have an idea of what the end-state looks like — all the Agile, DevOps, cloud native unicorn gewgaws and “culture” — there’s no easy playbook to follow. Each organization has its own needs and internal cultures that have to be steadily transformed.
But first, you need to stop hitting yourself. That’s just, well, stupid.
For one story of change in progress, check out this talk me and Holger have with Brian Gregory of Express Scripts. There’s also more in my ongoing “how the hell did they people do it?” podcast, Lords of Computing.
(Also, thanks to John Willis for finally motivating me to write this up.)