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Going Long – A Tale of Two Passions: Business Transformation and Triathlon Training

Posted by Jerry Holcombe on Jul 28, 2014 3:14:36 AM

To the casual observer, when I'm training for triathlons, it may look like I’m just hard at play. However, that is when I do a lot of my deepest thinking and churning of thoughts. (What else are you gonna do with an hour staring at the bottom of a pool?!) One of my streams of thoughts was around some of the training activities I needed to do to prepare for my big triathlon this summer, and that many of the training concepts could also be applied to preparing for and implementing business transformation: What are my goals for this year? What is my current fitness level? Which skill area do I need to improve? Do I have the right equipment? Should I hire a coach this year? How am I going to stay injury-free? How am I going to stay focused on training among family, work, and everyday life?

Thinking back several years to when I first got into triathlons, a few of the very first questions I asked myself were:

  • Why am I doing this?
    • Health issues?
    • All the cool kids are doing it?
    • New challenge / just want to get better?
    • Am I just plain crazy?
  • How big is the goal?
    • Is it reality that I can go from couch to Ironman in three months? Or maybe just start with a Sprint distance?
    • Do I want to just finish or do I have specific performance goals – maybe I just want to finish before my buddy?

Likewise, these are very similar questions one would ask when firing up a business transformation project:

  • Why do we need to innovate?
    • Are there significant operational inefficiencies or dysfunctions that could be addressed with an ROI-effective project?
    • Do we need to demonstrate to our shareholders that we are keeping up with our competition?
    • Did Joe go to a conference and come back full of great ideas for innovation and we need to initiate a project right now?!
  • How much innovation is required, and how quickly can our organization implement the innovation?
    • Can we go for the Full Monty right away? Or just introduce a small change for now to start building momentum?
    • Is it enough to just successfully implement the innovation? Or are we looking to gain an “x factor” over our competition?

So now, where do you start?

Assess current fitness

Having a solid understanding of your current “fitness” levels is critical to planning out how much transformation your organization can successfully implement and absorb over a particular period of time. To assess your organizational fitness, you should have some in-depth understanding in answering questions like:

  • How secure is your critical data? How confident is your awareness of, and mitigation response for, your organization’s potential breach points? How solid are your data loss prevention and disaster recovery strategies and practices? Are you compliant with legislated and regulatory data security protocols?
  • How sound is your enterprise architecture? How much “technical debt” does your organization have? How diverse is your organization’s system, application, and infrastructure landscape? How are architectural decisions made and communicated? Does it align with your organization’s business strategy?
  • What is the maturity level of your core and supporting business processes and management practices? To what degree are your processes documented and commonly practiced? Do you measure business processes? Do you follow recognized best practices for your industry? Do you have awareness of where your greatest opportunity is for process improvement, or which processes might be ripe for cloud technologies?
  • What is the change tolerance and capacity of your staff and organizational structure? Are your staff constantly bombarded with change? Does your organization proactively manage change or just deal with the fallout once it’s occurred? Are your staff motivated or incented to accept and promote change? Do you have the “right people on the bus?”
  • What is your level of “enterprise agility” – the speed at which your organization can systematically transform ideas into action?

Appropriate skill levels across disciplines

It is challenging enough to have exceptional organizational competency in a single discipline – say, Project Management – that is critical to the success of implementing innovation. It is downright demanding to have exceptional organizational competence in the multiple disciplines necessary for successful transformation – Project Management, Business Process Management, Enterprise Architecture, Organizational Change Management, and IT Service Management. Now add in an intricate layer for all of these disciplines to work together efficiently and effectively in a synchronized manner…

For transformation implementation scenarios, you can still find some level of success without the explicit and purposeful practice of all of these competencies. However, as the complexity of modern organizations’ business and technology architectures mushrooms, it is increasingly critical to practice each of these disciplines with at least some degree of determination and maturity just to define your strategy – let alone for any transformation implementation of substance to be successful.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses in different disciplines is valuable information for determining if you need to seek help from outside of your organization.

Do I need to hire a coach?

Is this your organization’s first “big race?” Maybe it isn’t, but you “bonked out” last time and struggled to the finish? Depending on your organization’s level of maturity and the scale, criticality, or urgency of the innovation, strategic planning or implementation, you may want to consider hiring or contracting a professional to help. While some organizations can find success with the “self-coached” approach, you may not want to take on a mission-critical project without the advice and guidance of an expert who’s been there / done that.

Do you have the equipment?

There is quite a bit of truth in the adage “it’s not about the bike.” Let’s face it, a high-end carbon frame bicycle is going to do very little good for someone that doesn’t have at least a basic level of fitness or know how to make use of its features. However, it’s hard to argue that a healthy organization with even a little skill couldn’t benefit from having the right equipment.

For example, cloud technologies can help enhance your organization’s agility and scalability if you have sufficient management practices and process maturity. Maybe a temporary testing or training environment is required to implement your innovation project, but your organization doesn’t want to make a long-term investment for the infrastructure.

Staying injury-free

A cycling buddy of mine calls one of his brutal climbing routes “The Ice Bath Cometh.” Staying injury-free when you’re constantly stressing your muscles and joints isn’t easy. One key is to accept that it’s gonna hurt and plan accordingly. Same as with business transformation projects.

Accept and plan for the organizational pains and complex decision points that you will encounter along the way, and set expectations with your stakeholders accordingly. Solid proactive change management and communication strategies are required to mitigate resistance and better the probability of success.

Every darn day

I have to admit that there are days I’d just rather skip whatever training is scheduled for that day, especially when it means answering a 05:30 wake-up call so I can squeeze in a workout before work. Add in the busy schedule of a young family and work, and there are lots of distracting factors to challenge the disciplined training regime.

In the business world, we are constantly inundated with a deluge of information and ideas. An extreme level of disciplined thought and disciplined action is required to maintain focus on your organization’s strategic roadmap for innovation and stay on task – especially when the idea is pitched to be the answer to all the challenges you face. Not to discount the value of revisiting things and seeking alternatives, because these are indeed valuable exercises, but to be successful in sustainable business transformation, your organization needs to understand how your “projects” fit into the big picture – a strategic roadmap – and have the structure, processes and tools in place to regularly and systematically assess the roadmap and innovation solutions to get you further down that road.


Topics: Business Transformation

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