8 principles to consider in the Digital World

Throughout my career in the information technology industry, I have observed different aspects which turned to be a set of personal principles and beliefs that I consider at any digital solution implementation that I would like to share with the community, I am sure they will resonate with you.

1- There are no IT projects

If you are working in the IT department in your organization, you will always hear common words, such as, the Business team wants, and business team needs, we need to align with business strategy, the Business team wants to work remotely, the Business team is considering our department as an isolated island that is not aligned with what we need. With time, you will see the shadow IT, and the business team will start to use their skills, and get any ready-made tools to finish their tasks to not face a bottleneck from the IT department.

This is mainly because IT staff is still thinking of these projects as IT projects, and the business team is seeing IT as a cost center that only consumes lots of money and resources without a return as per the business expectations.

I have heard the same keywords not only in non-IT industry organizations but within the IT industry organizations as well. It is very hard to get the alignment but it is possible.

It is always about the business, any digital solution is adding value to the business. If the business is not caring about it, the implementation will fail. As an example, if you are upgrading your network, you are upgrading it to serve the company with a better connection experience, if you are implementing a security solution, it is to protect and safeguard the solutions and assets that serve the company to do their business. Even if you are working in the IT industry, Digital products and services are your business.

If there is no business case, it means that there is no actual pain, there is no need, and then there is no investment.

Digital business is a fact, and any business that is not digital will not survive. Digital technologies are involved now in all aspects of living, the way we eat, train, interact, work, and sleep. Digital is no longer a support function, it is a pillar that can transform the business and provide new opportunities that did not exist before.

One of the projects that I was implementing in one of the government entities. It was about introducing new call center services for companies. They used to have an operator employee who receives the call and directs it internally to the dedicated department. The entity at that time had a very limited budget and wanted to launch the call center with current capabilities with minimum investment. So, they built an in-house call center at one of the rooms, using their current telephony system, bought a dedicated short number, and with some reallocation of staff to receive and answer the calls.

This project was not a digital transformation project, It was a simple improvement that was led by this entity’s IT team to serve the business decision-makers, it started simple and delivered its goals. The organization worked as one entity with an alignment of goals and expectations.

The project had a good impact as it created other emergent and opportunity-based changes as incremental improvements after that.

2- Any project is a change project

According to Prosci change management framework, there are 10 aspects of change that affect individual levels of any project, such as, processes you are involved in, tools that you are using to help you perform your tasks, the mindset and behavior of how individuals are behaving with the introduction of this change, and their responsibilities, skills, and competencies. Any project is changing at least one aspect of these 10 aspects shown in the image below.

Try to identify and assess how your projects are affecting the people accordingly. And, do not take it for granted that they will cope with the situation easily by time and that the technology will play its part in changing them and all you need is to train them about the technology.

10 Aspects of Change Impact

Building the same call center project that was built in-house, it was a one-month implementation project, while it introduced lots of changes, for example, the call center agents need to have a process of receiving and answering the calls, what if they do not have the answers for the inquires, what will happen in case of escalation. The reallocated employees start to have new responsibilities and new managers, they need to have the right skills to deal with customers on the calls, and the services catalog needs to be created and with the information about each service.

Introducing this change internally is important and giving the impacted individuals awareness about why that is happening, preparing them, and equipping them with the knowledge and adequate training is a must. Moreover, what is in it for them to adopt and use and change their current job.

All of these activities need to be done before, during, and after the implementation to make sure all stakeholders are aligned in this transition.

3- The change is infinite, the project is

Project is by definition has a start and end duration to achieve specific goals and objectives but it is not the end. The project is the kick-off of a longer journey, it is a step, not the destination. While the potential changes that happened and will happen from the project are infinite. So, it is okay to change the end product of this project and improve it or even add extra components and needs that did not exist before.

It does not mean that you did not design or define the needs well as the beginning, it means that what you have designed was enough according to the inputs and context in that state of time. So, encourage people to share their new needs and concerns because it is the only way for improvement. If there are no improvements, the whole idea of the project will be dead.

In the call center project, and after establishing the call receiving function, the call center agents started logging the calls on papers that were not sufficient at all. In a few days, a new online form tool was developed to log the calls, which made it easier for the agents to have some information about the caller and his inquiries. After a week with hundreds of logged calls. The call center had a knowledge base, they started using Excel sheets to build some operational reports, for example, how many calls, what are the most asked inquiries, what was the average call duration, …etc. Having the operational reports helped them to add additional improvements in the process of getting feedback from the customers, they started to enhance even the delivered services, for example, some of the services require some documents to be presented before starting the service. The call center team started to discuss with the business team how they can change the steps and ask for a digital copy of these documents, and deliver the service immediately. The agents did not have access to the internal systems, they started to gain access to initial services and validate the submitted digital documents.

Change Behavior
(Orlikowski & Hofman, 1997)

I believe, with every project even if it is simple, it will introduce infinite changes as a normal life cycle of any new change. Orlikowski & Hofman described in their defined change model how a simple anticipated change can lead to more emergent and opportunity-based changes. The changes will continue evolving across time for business survival.

Read this article if you would like to know more about change management theories.

4- Digital is a solution but what is the problem?

I meet lots of customers who are directly defining the digital solution and start to ask specific things without clearly identifying what is the problem. Digital technologies are mandatory at any business now, but It is not a solution to all the problems. Not all solutions are digital solutions. Yes, you did not read it wrongly. Even in the digital business world, it doesn’t mean that if the business is having a challenge or a problem, the digital solution or technology will do the magic alone.

I worked with one of the companies, it was receiving many paper applications that were delivered through the outsourced delivery company. The delivery company was collecting these applications from sales offices and sales distributed teams in the field. These paper applications were dispatched internally to data entry teams to start creating digital profiles for the clients, then to the quality team to review the entered data, then it gets reviewed by the risk management team to decide if this client is eligible to receive the company services and products or not. The client had to wait an average of 10 days until receiving his application. The process was long, applications were getting lost in delivery and internally during the dispatching and handover from team to team.

For sure, digital registration with an enterprise content management solution will solve the problem entirely and make it more efficient. While some changes in the process itself can add and improve a lot, for example, moving the initial data entry to become a responsibility of sales agents, and continuing the same process to make the data entry team validating the quality of the data.

Also, indexing and logging the received files and mapping it with the outsourced delivery company can detect immediately any lost documents in the delivery. With applications indexing and giving them unique tags, will help the company identify which document was lost and belongs to which client, and where exactly it was lost.

Some companies and organizations cannot afford to acquire a new digital system at a time, or cannot afford the waiting time until finalizing the implementation. So, it is good to start thinking about what is the problem, where are the wastes in the process, how can we eliminate the wastes. This will help you easier define the proper solution.

5- Everything is possible, but prioritization is a key to success

So, imagine the image below: you have 196 tasks to be done, this task can be a feature, use case, user story, fixing a bug, doing documentation, …etc. These tasks are bounded with time and cost when you increase the tasks, there is no space, you have to replace the new one with the existing one and trade between them, or to simply increase the time or cost

This can be considered as known tasks, you can never do all of them at one time, you cannot at the same time start doing them from first to last in the sequential base.

Tasks that I know
Tasks that I know

In our daily life tasks, we prioritize, similarly at any solution implementation everything is possible to be done, but what really matters.

Prioritizing can be based on many criteria, for example, business value, ROI, how urgent, complexity, cost, dependency, and others according to each business, but when you prioritize, you will have something like that

Task Prioritization
Task Prioritization

Then you can start working on the highest priority tasks and continue the same flow

Task Pipeline
Task Pipeline

Usually, you do not build a solution for the features it will have but the value it will bring. The organization should adopt a prioritization methodology, and continuously revise the prioritization according to the current situation and context, everything is possible, but what really matters are the most important, in a recent article, I have shared that 20% of the solution features are the one actually matters, focus on those first, if you have doubt, just put them in the parking lot until you have a clear idea and need.

6- Quality is not a trade-off

Time pressure is happening all the time, and it will not stop. It is very annoying when you have an unplanned task, request, or need and it should be finished today, or tomorrow. People usually when they ask for something they neglect the quality aspect. When they start seeing the outcome which is not good as expected, they start to complain and ask for rework and forget about the time pressure they actually obligated.

Quality is not a trade-off, any work that you are doing to just meet the time, deliver, and keep the quality responsibility of others, will increase the time significantly, it will increase the risk of potential issues that occurred because of lack of quality, and it will dissatisfy the end customer who requested that. And if you are presenting a company, the company revenue will be affected and its reputation.

Quality-driven behaviors should be normal, don’t trade time or cost with quality. Continuous quality needs lots of learning especially from others who deliver in quality. Set your standards, If you continuously deliver poor quality work you will build a reputation and expectation that your future work will be of the same quality.

I worked with one of the companies that wanted to develop a sales leads management tool that should work on mobile devices. The company contracted a software company to develop a tailored custom-made application, the company team was very keen about how it looks from the user interface perspective to help the sales agents to quickly show the products’ portfolio and create the leads on the spot. The requirements were not clear which is the normal case, but the company put time pressure and because the scope was not clear, the outcome looked nice from the UI but nothing actually worked. The project was managed by the IT department by involving different stakeholders from marketing, sales, and UX. Each team had its own needs, the business owner was one of the marketing team but the value is actually delivered to the sales team.

The software company managed the requirements and expectations poorly without any consensus from all parties that this is actually what is needed, then they delivered the tool with lots of defects that are considered as not delivered as expected. The time increased to fix the issues, the software company started to slow down, they considered the project as out of budget. The software company said we did not size the scope of having all these features.

In the end, the sales team started to look for workaround solutions, and they started actually looking at ready-made solutions, they met different companies and selected one of them, and they came back to the IT department with a clear decision and direction to implement.

Giving poor scope, poor requirements management, poor project management quality, and poor expectations, the project had all the factors to fail.

In The Cost of Poor Software Quality in the US: A 2018 Report, Consortium of IT Software Quality CISQ illustrated the below iceberg model, as we can see that a minority of the costs of poor software quality are obvious. While the majority of the cost is hidden.

They also estimated that the cost of poor-quality software in the US only in 2018 is approximately $2.84 trillion.

Cost of Poor Software Quality in the US: A 2018 Report
Cost of Poor Software Quality in the US: A 2018 Report

7- Nothing is complete and Nothing is Perfect

As you have seen through the other principles that I covered, there is always a new thing to try and new things to do. I admire the below caught which ensure that fact

‘If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.’

Beyonce Knowles

Perfection is a concept and it is a state in time, with learning you will improve, what was perfect yesterday, is not perfect today. It is perfect and complete only from one person or group point of view and perfection is biased.

It does not contradict with a quality-first mindset, and to do your best to reach the perfect thing for your customers from your perspective. But remember, everything can be improved, you can always do better, and this will be endless. So, my advice not to fall into the perfectionists’ trap, trust your work. Use the uncertainty of the unknown and the overthinking as the opportunity to improve the future not to limit and drawback the present.

I admit that I fall into this trap many times. Try to say to yourself that is enough, and mark it as it is done. And let others do their work and give feedback. This is the same in the digital technology implementation, try to focus on what we have, and get things done, or the project will overrun.

8- It is not about the task to do, it is about the value to deliver

Because I believe that this is the most important principle, I wanted to conclude with it. If you do not see the value of what you are doing, you should start to rethink what you are doing, why you are doing it, and do you like to continue at the same pace, or do you like to change that.

Start thinking by knowing why you are doing this, ask why this is needed if you cannot identify the value, bring the value, and change the need, change the perspective, lead that change, and make meaning.

Always, keep yourself busy to make meaning, the change is not easy but the implications of staying the same are far beyond the implications of change. I met some colleagues that all of their day-to-day typical activities are to come and wait for tasks, and are waiting for someone to tell them what they should do. Do not wait for tasks to be assigned, use the time to learn new things, think about how to improve your normal day journey, try new things, propose help to others. When you finish that jump to the next.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”

Barack Obama

Also published on Medium.

8 Principles to consider in the Digital World
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8 Principles to consider in the Digital World
Keep yourself busy to make meaning, the change is not easy but the implications of staying the same are far beyond the implications of change.
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