Rob Eguchi

Solution Architect, Prime TSR

I recently spent weeks cleaning out my basement – dusting, mopping and scrubbing my way to cleanliness and organization.  Although I basked in the order and “newness” of the area as well as the satisfaction of getting the job done, I knew that it was going to get dirty and cluttered again – probably sooner than I realized.   Like cleaning out the basement, when taking a leap toward business modernization, the term “Done” can seem like a dubious notion.

Whether migrating to the cloud, integrating new applications to streamline operations or embedding data analytics into existing systems, the light at the end of the modernization tunnel can seem elusive. However, the right approach and mindset can help to drive you toward the end game or at least to a new beginning. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Know your mission – and stick to it!

As the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Sure, you may go into a project with focus, alignment and a clear plan, but the fact is that things come up throughout the life of a project that can cause you to unintentionally stray from your initial mission.  Scope creep is a good example.  “I know we agreed to features A, B, and C in the Cloud migration, but we also need features X, Y, and Z.” Projects can also veer off course when there is loss of focus on key objectives, a lack of project governance and processes, communication breakdowns, and incompatible skillsets.

To ensure that you stay on track, it’s important to ensure that you have a clearly stated mission at the onset of your project and that the mission is continually substantiated throughout the course of the endeavor.  And don’t keep the mission a secret.  Prepare all of your stakeholders – employees, management, etc. Get them accustomed to the idea of the change and why it is good.  Everyone in an organization should understand WHY the project is happening, what it means for the company and how it will impact their department or role. Educate employees about the benefits of the changes and impress upon them the opportunities that come with bringing the company into the future.

Maintain a culture of “We”

“This is the way we’ve always done it.” When it comes to enterprise-wide changes, this cringe-worthy phrase is often heard on a daily basis.  The appetite for change can be particularly pessimistic in low-tech industries or within companies that have deeply-rooted brand traditions. Whether its fear of job loss, anxiety to learning something new, or skepticism on the perceived benefits, changes that impact the majority of a company’s employees are often met with resistance: “I’ve been a COBOL programmer my entire career and know nothing about Angular or Node.js!  And what’s a microservice?!”  or “I’ve been emailing our clients their reports for years and now the new system will do this automatically!”

Regardless of an individual’s specific circumstance, people tend to be less than enthusiastic if they feel automation is putting their job at risk, their skillset is out-dated or they simply believe they will no longer have a place in the post-transformational environment.

Adapt, Update and Evolve

In the ‘90s, Blockbuster revolutionized and essentially “owned” the video rental market.  When competition from Netflix, Redbox and digital video on demand threatened their business model, they needed to evolve their technology platform in order to stay alive.  Of course, we all know how that turned out.

Ironically, in its early years, Blockbuster Entertainment’s success was largely a result of its foresight and assertiveness in adapting and innovating the business based on the changing landscape.  The company was an early adopter of using data analytics to determine when and where to open new stores and custom-tailor inventory based on local demographics.  They also paved the way for expansion into new areas such as video game rental.

Regardless of where you are in your business evolution, it will always be necessary to continue to modernize your systems, processes and infrastructure in order to stay competitive. This may entail large-scale technology overhauls such as adopting and executing a cloud strategy or undertaking a large data warehouse initiative.  But continuous modernization can also be as simple as establishing processes, practices and governance to manage technical assets before they become liabilities. By evaluating your technical inventory on an ongoing basis you can evolve rapidly, minimize technical debt and continue to innovate your business.

Define “DONE”

I know I said that in the world of tech transformation “done” is a relative term.  And while a company that plans to stay in the game is never truly done, that does not mean that milestones will not be reached and positive outcomes will not be achieved.

It’s important to recognize that setting arbitrary timelines for project completion is almost always a recipe for disaster.  I witnessed this first hand during a multi-year project that entailed retiring a company’s mainframe, building modern, web-based applications and automating internal processes.  While the scope and available resources changed significantly during the course of the project, the end date remained immutable.  The quality and features, not to mention the project team, suffered greatly as a result. And while I don’t condone “open-ended” timeframes, it is important to set realistic timelines and build in room for adjustments or extensions based on the multitude of challenges that can (and will) arise.

The path to “done” in a tech modernization can also be reached more quickly and efficiently with ongoing analysis of the challenge.  When expectations change; when unknowns become knowns; when you’ve over-reached on the initial evaluation, make the necessary adjustments and push forward with the mission.

In the end, the best way to ensure a path to done is to recognize that tech modernization is a continuous process. In a large transformation, keep your eye on the mission, celebrate the milestones, get people on board with you, and be ready to continue to evolve from there. In other words, don’t let the dust pile up.