Boiling The Ocean

There is one phrase that we quote regularly in the Digital Transformation Centre when speaking to clients and that is “Don’t Boil The Ocean“. Usually it is in the context of promoting the use of Agile as a delivery methodology, so we can demonstrate the value of breaking down large scale transformations into smaller problem statements, which can easily be tackled – hence addressing lots of small puddles rather than oceans.

Are You Ready?

The phrase “Don’t Boil The Ocean” has been popping into my head more and more recently around change in general and keeps drawing me back to thinking about the importance of change factors such as scale, maturity and readiness for any change, not just software or digital transformation.

I’ve recently been involved in a corporate wide initiative that impacts all levels of the company. To make this a success we need to avoid using one strategy or approach to manage the change for everyone at the same time. We should look at the different variables in the various levels and ecosystems we are changing e.g global, region, country, campus and immediate team. We also need to consider where each group are on their transformation journey.

At the same time as the corporate wide changes, a number of teams are about to move into my organisation and I’m excited about helping them on their transformation journey and support them using the benefit of mine and my teams experience, methods and frameworks that have proven successful.

Not forgetting my current teams who I can’t leave to stand still and not keep continuously improving and remaining relevant.

In any one day I need to consider all of the different groups above thinking about where they are on their maturity of digital change and taylor the plans and actions to meet each unique area so they get the right support and enablement to be successful.

Every Ocean Is Different

Don’t Boil The Oceans

Going back to our boiling the ocean analogy, not every ocean starts with the same climate, maturity, readiness or ecosystem.

If we think very literalyl… Let’s boil some of the oceans of the world taking the same approach of using a big fire to heat each ocean to 100 degrees…

Arctic Ocean … Starts at -zero degrees. Take much longer to warm up, can’t get to the right place to start the fire due to the build up of ice, then melts the ice caps and causes global warming.  Result…  Total disaster! The environment isn’t ready, causes huge impact to current state and impact runs wider than local environment.  Oops!

Indian Ocean … Starts at 35 degrees. Already pretty hot, doesn’t take long to heat up and wastes time waiting for the fire to be hot enough to start making a difference. Result …  Sees increase in temperature as a waste of time, as it’s already warm and doesn’t need to go through a large part of the heating up, but could do with a the fire starting at a hotter temperature to make any difference.  Why bother ! Disengaged and disinterested ocean.

Atlantic Ocean … wide range of temperatures from 13 to 35 as it is so large and covers many different environments Varying degrees of success, as some of it is already hot, some of it is freezing and creates an unfair unequal environment.  Can’t please everyone and could cause resentment with different parts of the ocean.

Approaching Transformational change is exactly the same. If we apply the same technique across the board, we will have different results due to readiness for change, maturity of existing change programme all specific to the different environments or ecosystems (or change programmes).

Ocean TypeMaturity and ReadinessDon’tDo
(Indian Ocean Groups) High Maturity Transformation OrganisationsReady for Change. Already undergoing change. Want to improve not keep moving backIgnore what they have already done. Drown them with retrospective impacts where they see them as a waste of timeLearn lessons from their experience – both successes and failures. Keep them engaged, so they motivate others by being good role models.
(Arctic Ocean Groups) Resistant and Feeling Vulnerable OrganisationsNot ready for Change. Need incremental change at a steady pace. Need to build trust that change is good and things are getting better. Tell them what to do without listening to their point of view. Rush change and have multiple change programmes running at once. Get their perspective of what a successful change looks like to them. Get and give regular feedback. Show progress and give evidence that you are taking notice of their view point.
(Atlantic Ocean Groups) Multiple levels of resistance and maturity to change Mixed levels of readiness and maturity. Hold back those who are already highly change mature. Ignore those who are feeling vulnerable due to the changes. Assume that everyone is the same. Show what good looks like for everyone. Demonstrate that change is a journey and people are at different stops of the journey. Utilise good support and mentoring as well as role modelling from those more mature in the transformation journey.

It’s About People

Whether you are changing technology, process, direction, infact anything the biggest consideration is the People.

Even in the digital transformation space, everything still impacts people whether it’s learning new skills with the dev ops tooling, programming languages, agile delivery methods, application or platform solutions or even changing roles due to automating repetitive tasks so people end up changing their job.

There are many theories around change management out there that give us advice on how to manage and handle change. The table above does show some of the do’s and don’ts based on my experience, but there are some other things that we can do…

  • Good communications are critical and this must be 2 way between those making or introducing the change and those who are impacted by the change
  • Identify your change agents. These are the people who can help support their colleagues on the journey. Usually very positive, encouraging and supportive colleagues. These are needed at all levels of the business.
  • Make change relevant and relatable. Don’t forget the questions “What’s in it for me?” and “So what?”.
  • Realise that change will never stop and now things change at a much faster pace than at any time in our history. We are now in the Fourth Phase of the Industrial Revolution and each phase since the days of steam power and rail to where we are today with artificial intelligence, robotics and fast internet is getting shorter and faster.
We are now in the Fourth Phase of the Industrial Revolution

Changing Your Ways

Change is never easy. Digital organisations need to be incredibly mindful on how we make change happen for ourselves and our people. Sometimes it feels like we, as digital leaders are between a rock and a hard place where we can find change difficult ourselves and at the same time need to enable and support our people through the journey. We need to remember that today’s change, will be tomorrow’s lesson learned and something else will be queuing up waiting to be changed.


Stephenson’s Rocket

Stephenson’s Rocket at Discovery Museum Newcastle 2018

Since I mentioned the industrial revolution, I just wanted to finish on a picture I took of Stephenson’s Rocket – the very first steam locomotive. The Rocket was on display in the Discovery Museum here in Newcastle upon Tyne as part of the Great Exhibition of the North last year.

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