Why your digital transformation may well start with brown paper and sticky notes

Call it digital transformation, smart factory, IioT or industry 4.0, your high-tech company transformation program may well require mundane brown paper and sticky notes at the very beginning.

A random collection of Proofs of Concept does not make a transformation program

It is a lesson learned over and over, a transformation program is not a collection of scattered initiatives. We know that at least since so many Lean transformation programs attempts failed, despite the significant investment in kaizen events and workshops. A performance boost here and a problem solving there does not lead to a company-wide transformation.

A system-wide transformation has to take into account the very nature of the system and the dynamic interactions between its parts. A systemic, high level view point is required in addition to a coordinated and cohesive plan.

The same rules apply with digital and high-tech ambition. Fact is that a random collection of Proofs of Concept does not make a digital transformation program.

Pull the needs, don’t push favorite solutions

For a system-wide transformation program to succeed, it must be based upon the needs to an end. Therefore starting to state clearly the Goal is mandatory, in order to “pull” all required steps to achieve it.

Many change promoters keep pushing their favorite solutions or try to find a problem to fit the solution. I recently heard a common variant when a prospect said “I need to understand what smart (Industry 4.0) solutions can do for me”.

How to pull the needs? My favorite tool to map the prerequisites to achieve a Goal is the Goal Tree. It is built from the Goal down to the very basic required conditions to achieve the Goal, following a thorough logical analysis.

I wrote dozens of article on this blog about Goal Trees and these logic trees have their own dedicated category, check it here https://hohmannchris.wordpress.com/category/logical-thinking-process/goal-tree/

The completed Goal Tree serves as well as a benchmark, a roadmap and a much appreciated visual communication tool.

Why brown paper and sticky notes in the digital age?

I strongly recommend to build the Goal Tree in a small group of 3 to 5 with brown paper on a wall and sticky notes. Why brown paper and sticky notes in the digital age, you may ask?

Experience has repeatedly taught that standing in front of a big piece of brown paper allows the group to move and see the the structure of the tree from different perspectives and distance. Compared to working on a computer or digital whiteboard, brown paper and sticky notes allow everyone to see the full picture or details at will and most of all, remain active.

Working on a computer turns out with one active on the keyboard and others mere watchers, easily bored or distracted while watching. The limited size of the screen or board requires frequent zooming and panning, which in some cases can lead the audience to get sick!

Finally, for communication and display to a greater audience, the large brown paper panel proved over and over to be far more convenient!

As for the sticky notes, as you may guess, they are rephrased and rewritten, moved around quite frequently until they find their right place in the tree.

If you cannot build your (digital) strategic roadmap on paper, reconsider starting deployment

Another warning worth taking into account is that if you (as a leadership team) cannot build your strategic roadmap on paper, reconsider starting implementation. As long as your Goal, Vision or Strategic Intent cannot be clearly and simply stated, as long as it is difficult to list the prerequisites to its achievement, it’s better to postpone the deployment.

Conversely, once your Goal is made clear for all stakeholders to align their contributions and initiatives on it, let them go. I usually advise leadership team to also define what are called the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and use them to frame the cascade of subordinate Intermediate Objectives, called Necessary Conditions (NCs) in a Goal Tree. The reasons for this are explained in my article Goal Tree: Why must top management define the Critical Success Factors?

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

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