Scatter – Our Digital Transformation Nemesis

Digital Transformations fail for many reasons. One of the most challenging is our inability to wrap our arms and minds around the experimental cycle, often expressed as Build – Measure – Learn.

Myriad improvement cycles begin – but they become fragmented:

  • Group A builds,
  • Group B measures,
  • Group C records the learning

I call this Scatter, with a hat tip to the late Al Ward – friend, colleague & profound Design thinker. Al described this syndrome to me over lunch over a decade ago, and then again in his splendid book Lean Product & Process Design.

Improvement, whether in design, development or new product deployment requires complete Build-Measure-Learn cycles. A cross-functional team wraps their arms around the cycle, and thereby develops the profound, sympathetic knowledge central to breakthrough. Thereby, our entire brains start firing – Left, Right, prefrontal cortex etc.

The solutions and countermeasures we select thereby are usually simple and clear. There’s usually a sense of release. “Of course! Why didn’t we see it before?” As opposed to the ponderous, countermeasure-by-committee stuff that blights so many report outs.

So how to reduce Scatter?

Lean Digital fundamentals like visual management and daily stand-up meetings are a good start. Thereby we can experience the power of the visual management triangle: We see together; we know together; we act together.

A related enabler is the use of simple, modular, one-page plans. In design and development these are often call ‘canvases’. In manufacturing they’re called ‘A3’ papers, after the international paper size. But the idea is identical: clear, simple, direct communication of fundamental information so that we are all literally on the same page.

‘Oceans 11’ management is another great enabler. As in the popular movie, a small core group pulls together a cross-functional team to complete a specific task. The team forms fluidly and is comfortable working in this environment. There is mutual respect but no hierarchy. There is a shared purpose and ownership – the core group is responsible for seeing the task through. There are daily stand-up meetings wherein the teams sees overall project status, current blockers, countermeasures and next steps. When the task is complete, the team dissolves as fluidly as it came together.

Lean manufacturing companies like Toyota have developed the Chief Engineer role, whose job is to oversee & manage broad Build-Measure-Learn cycles across the entire process from design to manufacturing – and to record & share the learning.

There are all a good place to start in your never-ending battle with Scatter. Taken together such measures will begin to shift your culture towards our fluid, flexible, succinct and evidence-based ideal.

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