The Thermocline of Transformation

By AgileBusiness, Strategy No Comments

A thermocline is such a great metaphor for so many things. In the world’s oceans (and indeed lakes) a thermocline is the transition layer between the warmer water near the ocean surface and the much colder water that exists deeper in the seas. Rather than there being a gradual lowering of water temperature as you go deeper the thermocline creates a distinct layer between the upper-most water which interacts with the wind and waves and the much calmer, much colder, depths. The temperature decreases rapidly at this point.

Bruce Webster uses this as a metaphor for what can happen with many medium or large-size IT projects in organisations. The ‘thermocline of truth’ as he calls it represents:

‘…a line drawn across the organizational chart that represents a barrier to accurate information regarding the project’s progress. Those below this level tend to know how well the project is actually going; those above it tend to have a more optimistic (if unrealistic) view.’

There are a few mutually reinforcing factors, he says, that typically contribute to this. Notably the failure to put in place repeatable and objective metrics to measure progress and accurately predict the project timeline, the over-optimistic view on said timeline (or planning fallacy), the desire of the project leads to avoid delivering bad news, and the behaviours of senior stakeholders that reward only good news rather than the truth.

These are the kind of factors that can not only derail large IT projects, but can often hinder the success of major transformation programmes as well. As well as a ‘thermocline of truth’ we might consider that digital transformation programmes within large organisations have their own ‘thermocline of impact’ as well – relating to the degree and depth of change and transformation that is considered necessary. At the warmer surface layer, an organisation might dabble with change. Looking to minimise risk it will make a few technology investments, or set up an innovation lab or two, or kick off a few new development projects. Yet it hasn’t actually changed much about the fundamentals of how the organisation works, or done this with breadth and scale.

This is the difference between digitisation (taking existing analogue propositions and processes and making them digital) and digitalisation (where change to business models, ways of working, processes, operations, behaviour, culture are far more fundamental). An outdated, clunky process that is digitised is still an outdated, clunky process. We might also think of this as the difference between optimisation – improving existing ways of doing things through the application of technology, and transformation – working back from first principles to be willing to reinvent the fabric of how the business works.

Both optimisation and transformation are likely to be necessary but the former is far easier and less disruptive so it alone is what often passes for ‘digital transformation’. The latter is much harder, involves much more elemental change, and so is more difficult to enact but is nonetheless often essential to generate the kind of change needed to ensure that the organisation is really fit for purpose for a truly digital world. This is the ‘thermocline of impact’ in transformation programmes. Not simply playing around in the warmer waters of optimisation, but diving deeper into the cooler depths of how the company operates – structures, culture and ways of working.

What’s also interesting about a thermocline in the oceans is that the difference in density between the surface layer and the deep ocean means that the layers do not easily mix, which can prevent dissolved oxygen from getting down to the lower depths of the ocean, and essential nutrients from rising to the surface layer. This is significant since the ocean’s deeper waters tend to be highly nutrient rich because there are no plants to remove nutrients from the water. It’s also significant since the ocean surface is constantly exchanging gases with the atmosphere and much of the CO2 that is put into the atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean through the surface layer. The phytoplankton that flourish in the warmer surface waters sequester huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (an estimated 2 billion tons every year) turning the oceans into a giant sink of CO2 which holds an estimated 90% of all sequestered carbon. When the phyotplankton die they sink to the deeper levels enriching the depths with vital nutrients. Despite the fact that they don’t easily mix, one layer is essential to the existence of the other, and their interaction is key. Believe it or not Whales, and Whale poop, play a key role in enabling this whole ecosystem. The Whales feed in the nutrient rich depths and then come to the surface to poop. The iron rich faeces creates valuable food for the phytoplankton, circulating the nutrients more evenly through the layers.

Without wanting to stretch the metaphor too far, a good transformation programme considers the role for optimisation through technology, as well as the place for genuine transformation of processes, strategies, models, culture and behaviour. We don’t need one, we need both. But it also has the focus to ensure effective interaction between the layers and that optimisation and deeper change act together to create a lasting difference. Every transformation programme needs to be aware of its own ‘thermocline of impact’ (and maybe a bit of Whale poop now and then would help too).

For more like this, order your copy of Building the Agile Business Through Digital Transformation, or you can join our community to access exclusive content related to the book. Neil Perkin’s new book ‘Agile Transformation: Structures, Processes and Mindsets for the Digital Age’ is out October 3rd in the UK and October 28th in the US.

Thermocline image: Praveenron [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

What is agile marketing

By Agile Marketing, AgileBusiness No Comments

What is agile marketing?

Here’s a short simplistic video overview (part 1)

Here’s a simple video overview of what is agile marketing?

Having borrowed principles from agile software development agile marketing increases speed of learning about your customers by deploying tests against hypotheses and then applying those learnings back into marketing and sales activity.

Don’t think of it as marketing at speed, it’s not, rather it’s focused tactics that accelerate learning. It should only be applied to specific types of marketing activity where it is easy to change elements quickly and not have a big impact to other brand and marketing activity.

Building Business Agility – an interview with peter abraham and neil perkin

By AgileBusiness, Culture, Leadership, Organisational Structure, Strategy No Comments

How to scale Agile across your organisation

This is not purely about technology and agile methodologies, think of it in the wider context of how digital transformation helps you achieve business agility.

In our book ‘Building the agile business through digital transformation’ we explain how the components of Velocity, Focus, and Flexibility combine to form the basis of a formula that can help leaders achieve business agility.

Agility = (Velocity x Focus x Flexibility)

“Simple things like initiatives that deliver quick wins are powerful as they give stories, clarity and  an understanding of  what good really looks like.” 

In this podcast interview Rob Llewellyn asks questions based on the book itself and how the components of Velocity, Focus, and Flexibility combine to form the basis of a formula that can help leaders achieve business agility – and move quickly to a position of advantage. 

Thanks also to Tim Ellis from The Digital Transformation People

All audio versions here:

Full transcript here:

Leading Digital Transformation’ is a weekly podcast series produced in collaboration between The Digital Transformation People and Rob Llewellyn digital transformation advisor and founder of CXO Transform.

You can read more about  building business agility in our book.

excelunlimited - guide to building an agile culture

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A Guide to Building Agile Culture

By AgileBusiness, Culture, Leadership, Organisational Structure, Strategy No Comments

excelunlimited - people are motivated by the organisation’s culture

We’ve just published the results of our workplace culture research entitled
A guide on the importance of building an agile culture and you can download it free here.

An organisation is only as good as its people. But people are motivated by the organisation’s culture as that’s what drives the behaviours that make the organisation successful.

Organisational agility is not well understood, our research into the subject revealed four critical areas, which are key indicators of what we can term as potential misalignment within an organisation.

We looked at how SMEs manage change and transformation when they go through transition(s), such as a growth phase or through the process of a Merger & Acquisition.

Our focus was on identifying the way businesses managed the four key elements of organisational culture to more efficiently pursue agile transformations.

These four elements are:

1. Recognition: Recognising good or hard/smart work. One in five claim that there are never any personal development reviews inside their organisation…and strongly disagree that there is a system of recognition.

2. Communication: Organisational purpose, clarity of expectations and alignment of people. One in five companies claim that the organisation’s values are not visible…and a similar number claim that the relationship between their role and the purpose of the organisation is not clear.

3. Trust: Trust in other people/ Organisation.Trust is more likely to be associated with fellow colleagues rather than senior management.

4. Learning: Investment in training. In controlling cultures there’s less investment in skills.

An agile culture has to be built on an agile mindset. This allows things to move more quickly, less hierarchy in decision making and responsibility handed to small agile groups and teams to make things happen. Communication channels are then efficient and open, as in there is more transparency.

Building an agile mindset and culture offers a way to harness the power of the people in your organisation to find ways to be more adaptive, innovative and resilient in a fast-paced digital economy.

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