Sink or Sync Goal Alignment for Modernization

Complex software projects like Digital Transformation or Modernization carry a lot of risk due to the expansive nature of change they require. Effective modernization efforts touch all levels of the company, from the top executives, across functional teams, and through to individual employees. Project leads and executives take on the hefty task of not just delivering a technical modernization solution, but also nudging an entire company of people to change their daily behaviors.

Top-level goal alignment

In any company, employees look to their leadership to validate where they should focus their time. Working from the top down, a modernization effort must align with a corporate goal that truly matters and can be measured. These top-level goals drive executive support for the effort and rally the whole company to accomplish a concrete objective. Without clear goals, a disruptive effort in the company has a much lower chance of success. All top-level goals should be SMART: Simple, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Boxed. A SMART goal could be something like:

  • Improve margins for X product line by 10% by the end of the fiscal year
  • Reduce the time-to-market for a certain category of projects by one quarter

SMART goals alone don’t drive the changes in behavior necessary to modernize a business process: Company leadership must show how elements of the modernization effort facilitate these goals. For example, incorporating actual product usage data into the project opportunity pipeline will help the engineering team better understand cost sensitivities and actual feature demands in the market. This modernization effort helps the company hit the above business-level goals because:

  • The product design team can now plan for a more accurate cost target and make the right trade-offs earlier in the process.
  • A product configuration with fewer features can be released to the market sooner and start to gain traction with customers.

Knowing what elements of the modernization effort matter the most and should be accomplished first helps teams to prioritize projects and understand the benefits. Beware of conflicting high-level goals, however. Reducing inventory and improving delivery speed can work against each other if interpreted literally. For example, keeping inventory counts universally low will hurt the ability of the company to respond to sudden changes in demand. In this case, steering the company to generate higher quality sales leads with data-driven decision making can reduce excess inventory while enabling them to anticipate customer demand, delivering better outcomes for the organization. As goals are met, celebrating and broadcasting these successes will reinforce the importance of the modernization effort. The role of company leadership is not to define software requirements or to detail how a process should change, but to set clear targets for the modernization effort that teams can achieve, and which benefit the whole organization.

Cross-departmental goal alignment

An effort as complex as modernization typically requires a change in the way different departments interact with each other in order to improve efficiency and increase transparency. Each department has its own goals and its own metrics for measuring their effectiveness. Aligning departmental goals is essential to ensuring that the teams don’t inadvertently work against each other. Consider a data modernization effort, which furthers the product team’s goal of better understanding customers’ needs and anticipating purchases, while short-circuiting the sales process. The sales team may balk at the changes because they won’t be credited with the sale, and they may undermine the process to be sure they don’t lose money. To overcome this, ensure that teams understand how their targets bridge to the overall goals of the company. Reshaping performance metrics to reflect the changing nature of the business can get departments working together. The sales team would benefit from having blended quotas comprised of both direct sales and intelligence-based sales, where their knowledge of the market and customers can lead to better product targeting. When changes in both systems and processes are called for, the personal details are just as important as the technical details. Showing empathy for how a department has worked and reported success in the past is important when building support for the changes that must happen for the future. This isn’t always easy for project managers with little cross-departmental purview. Sometimes an outside perspective is needed to pose the tough questions, get different teams talking, and strategize ways of making sure their objectives align to the modernization goals. Modernization efforts aim to improve effectiveness and collaboration. When departments understand how they can affect one another and impact the corporate goals, they can start on the path towards true interdependence, advancing organizational goals together rather than separately.

Individual goal alignment

As the software and process changes are deployed, it’s individuals who are responsible for using these new tools to generate value. Understanding the motivations of people who perform the daily work is key to designing and building effective software. In User Experience (UX) design, which is integral to any modernization process, this is called “building empathy.” Let’s say you’re looking to improve the reliability and quality assurance of a manufacturing process. You must first take into consideration the skill sets and motivations of the technicians. If you have a team full of experienced technicians, you should be able to simplify the early deliverables by using a spreadsheet template for a checklist, while building in more complex features to improve productivity. However, if the team is full of less experienced technicians, or they don’t have strong mentors, it might be necessary to design a more robust, guided process that gets users comfortable with new idioms, but which requires more software and more testing. If you apply the former solution to the novice team, you’ll end up spending more time on training and may still run into quality issues. Conversely, if you apply the heavy-handed solution to the expert team, you will demotivate them and discourage them from trying to improve the process. But when you line up the right solution with the right individuals, it makes them feel more productive and more satisfied with their work—which ladders up to your higher-level goals User Experience can either make or break your modernization effort. Well-designed software built with consideration for the end user can ease (and speed) the transition from old systems and processes. A great user experience can make people feel and be more productive, achieving more than they thought possible. When individuals see how their daily work bridges to both team goals and top-level goals, it empowers them to make better daily decisions and offer better suggestions on how to improve the process. Knowing why a change must be made is a more effective motivator than just being told a change must be made.

Checklist for unblocking your modernization effort

Step 1: Understand what top-level goals are impacted or affected by the changes being made.

  • Are our business goals and modernization project goals in sync?
  • Exactly how does software modernization help teams achieve those goals?
  • What software and processes do individuals need in place to contribute towards those goals more effectively?

Step 2: Identify and address potential conflicts between departmental goals

  • Have we enlisted an outside partner to look at how departments operate and interact, identify potential conflicts, and deliver unbiased resolutions?
  • How can departmental goals become more interdependent and do they link to top-level goals?
  • How do cross-departmental successes impact the modernization targets and our top-level goals?

Step 3: Include empathy-building exercises in requirements gathering and build User Experience design into your process

  • What are our teams’ motivations and success metrics?
  • What are individuals’ main motivations and challenges?
  • How can we create a User Experience that enables individuals to perform effectively and feel the impact of their efforts?

Step 4: Communicate the clear link between modernization targets and business goals company-wide

  • Codify the SMART goals for the modernization effort and their impact to the company bottom line.
  • Demonstrate how departments can work together to contribute to those.
  • Explain how individuals’ daily work impacts those goals.
  • Prepare an elevator speech to explain the “why” of the modernization effort.

Hopefully this gives you the tools to guide you through initial resistance and make the rest of the modernization process smooth sailing. Cultural alignment key to success—for more on prepping teams for big change, read: Change Management for a truly agile culture.

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