Ownership, Trust And Process: Three Critical Components Of Rapid Adaptability.
The year 2020 showed the laggards what the leading edge of digital transformation already knew: Rapid adaptability is critical in an unpredictable world. Without it, inability to change in sync with the environment can lead to catastrophic problems.
When organizations first set out to drive adaptability and agility initiatives, they typically default to addressing the technology, turning to the buzzword of the week — virtualization, automation, cloud, DevOps, etc. — without considering their people and processes. This often leads to results ranging from mild lackluster to hot-and-spicy catastrophe.
Many years ago, I deployed a client’s first virtualization solution. We’d virtualized 80 servers and consolidated them down onto 10 virtual hosts. (OK, so many, many years ago.) Those hosts were configured to automatically move virtual machines between one another based on resource utilization. For this environment, it meant that a virtual machine would be automatically moved five to 10 times a day from one physical server to another to distribute the workload.
Thirty days after I’d installed the solution, I flew back out to check in with my client. They gave me a tour of the data center while explaining how much they liked the solution. As we approached the rack of virtual hosts, I saw an admin with a label maker. He was labeling each physical server with the names of all the virtual servers that had been placed on it. They hadn’t factored in that five to 10 of those virtual servers were moving per day, invalidating the labels before the adhesive had set.
This anecdote illustrates the fact that people and process are as critical to adaptability as the technology components. The labeling is the funny part of this story. All of their processes had to be updated, and much of their staff had to be retrained for the new tools. To truly embrace the benefits of the technology, teams must be ready. There are three critical components to success: ownership, trust and process.
Ownership is critical. Don’t get stressed out over that word. I’m not talking about dictatorship; I’m talking about accountability. Every process, every component, everything that can be individually identified needs an owner. The required mantra is simple: “If nobody owns it, nobody owns it.” If there is no defined owner, you can’t expect it to automagically get taken care of by a person or team.
There are three parts to the “owner’s” job:
1. Stay current and report any potential issues regarding items they own.
2. Stay current and report on all product progress regarding items they own.
3. Be the tiebreaker for any decisions regarding items they own.
The order and separation of items one and two is intentional. They are equally important, but the top priority is rapid attention to potential issues. The faster you move, the more quickly problems can grow. Interrupting small issues before they expand will be critical. This also leads us straight into our next critical component: trust. You won’t have success on No. 1 above if owners don’t trust that they won’t be blamed for bringing up the issue. Don’t shoot messengers.
Trust is hard to create and harder to quantify, but it will be felt the faster your organization tries to move if it is not there. Picture a line of soldiers passing crates of explosives hand to hand down the line. With such sensitive cargo, each individual must trust the next individuals grip before releasing their own. The faster they intend to move the crates, the more trust they’ll need in one another’s technique and timing.
Your organization works in a similar fashion. If your team doesn’t trust one another, their top speed is throttled. If trust is lacking, the best way to build it is through empowerment. By empowering your team, they are enabled to trust themselves while overall trust builds. The most straightforward way to empower them is tied right back to ownership above. Empower each owner to the best extent possible. At some level of granularity, it’s always possible to provide autonomy to owners.
Finally, we come to process, which is, understandably, a least favorite topic for some. Process may not be the belle of the buzzword ball, but your speedy, new organization is nothing but accelerated risk without it. Process de-risks the speed with repeatable systems and clean demarcation lines, which make for smooth handoffs between individuals and groups.
The goal is to build process wherever there is repeatability. Simultaneously, you should be thoroughly questioning anything deemed “nonrepeatable” to ensure there’s not a better way. The smart money is then on codifying that process in a way in which it can document itself. The immediate effect is speed with a significant risk reduction from the automated processes. Building process is like file compression for operational time, removing the repeatable dead space and keeping the important parts.
Organizations should focus on ownership, trust and process before (or alongside) their next major technology initiative. It can exponentially increase the value returned from the technology tools while providing its own benefits in the form of speed and risk reduction. The interdependent nature of these three critical components of adaptability make for a straightforward starting point. Begin by addressing ownership, growing the trust that comes with it, before tackling the process.