Accelerating Product Transformation Success at Scale

🚀 ACCELERATE 2023: Virtual Summit for Product Leaders by Dragonboat
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John Roy: This has been an incredible set of sessions so far and I’m very happy to be here. A little bit of quick background on me. I’ve got over 25 years experience in financial services and tech, about six years running the agile transformation practice at KPMG. And I’m currently running product strategy and planning for Fidelity’s digital asset retail division. And I’m also a board member for an agile assessment SaaS software company. 

Excited to talk to you today about product transformations, and I think this is an area that the vast majority of us here have either participated in or are about to participate in. Transformations have become the nature of business now, and, of course, there’s many different kinds of transformations as it relates to product. You could have a digital transformation, a strategic product shift, marketing realignment, different customer segments, and one of my personal favorites, the agile product transformations.

So regardless of the specifics of your transformation, there are really three things that I think matter. And as we think about these three things, first and foremost, it’s ensuring that your transformation is aligned to a business strategy. The transformation has to be a catalyst for something. If it isn’t, then you’re just turning your organization upside down for the sake of change. And I know certainly some companies have done that, still do it to this day because they feel like they need change. And my advice as a former consultant and as a current participant in various transformations is, make sure you understand what you want at the end of the day, understand where you’re trying to get to, and, of course, how you get there is important. But really having that vision for how it’s going to change your business is most important.

The journey itself is the second piece and transformations are hard. So much of it is cultural. And for incumbent companies, particularly very large Fortune 500 firms that have been around for a long time, that culture’s even harder. If you think about Silicon Valley companies, startups, digital natives, change is built into their DNA. For very large companies, enterprises that want to shift, it’s harder. It’s moving an iceberg sometimes. So, again, you have to have an idea of where you’re going. And then finally the outcomes and understanding what those key pieces are that you want to achieve what you’re driving towards. So those are the three areas that we’re going to talk about. Next slide, please. Great.

So accelerating change. I think once a company has decided that it’s going to embark on a transformation, there’s usually a lot of hoopla, there’s kickoff events, there are large communications that go out to the entire enterprise, but actually getting it moving and accelerating that transformation requires some special aspects. And my personal feeling is that OKRs is first and foremost of those. For those who haven’t heard the term before, OKRs are objectives and key results. We used to use smart goals back in the day and OKRs are that in a lot of ways. Your objective is the specific outcome that you’re trying to reach and the key results are the quantitative, usually numeric targets that you’re trying to hit. And that should be at various levels of your portfolio. So for your team, for your product, for your portfolio, all the way up to the enterprise.

In addition, it’s important to have roadmaps. Roadmaps are a tool that I’ve used throughout my entire career and, for whatever reason, we as humans are just drawn to visuals. And for me, being able to lay out a product roadmap and understand all of the milestones along the way, the features, the new customer engagement pieces, how they tie together, the dependencies, and ultimately how we are laying out the vision for the product. It really makes a difference and I think particularly in large complex organizations, being able to share that vision across teams, across divisions, across business units, that gives you a leg up. It gives you an advantage.

Consistency in language and reporting, this one should be a no-brainer, but somehow we miss this a lot of times. We can set all of the goals in the world and have great OKRs, but if we don’t know how we’re progressing against them or if we’re using different ways to measure them, it doesn’t matter. So having that consistency, having a solid understanding of what each metric means, why it’s important, and a single source of truth, that’s really where we get economies of scale and that’s where we’re able to understand across the entire organization what’s really important and how we’re doing against it. So those are the pieces of acceleration that I would always recommend. Transformation is one of the most important pieces, and there are a ton of different decision-making frameworks out there.

You could use PlanningPoker, which is very popular in the agile world, Wiz-Jif, which, if anybody uses the safe methodology, is one of the prescribed prioritization methods there. MoSCoW, RICE, Kano Analysis, there’s a ton of them out there, but having a standard prioritization method is what’s most important to me. And so long as everybody understands it and everybody can leverage that prioritization method, that’s what’s most helpful. In addition to prioritization, having a standard set of routines. In Agile, we have a set of events, but you could use project management, you could use portfolio management mechanisms, any of those methodologies in order to get a standard set of interactions that everybody can agree on, live by, and make part of their routines. Super important in a transformation.

And then, finally, effective decision-making based on both of those things, based on the prioritization and the outcomes that you’re trying to achieve, and also based on those regular interaction models. That gets you to, in my mind, transparency and transparency is that thing that allows everybody to agree on where we’re at and how far we have left to go. Transformations are not just about improving your processes and systems. They’re about changing the way that you interact with other teams, with other divisions, with other business units. And I do think it’s important to ensure that everybody has a common understanding there. As I mentioned earlier, culture is so, so hard, especially at large, well-established companies, so getting a change management program in place, understanding how that’s going to impact all levels of employees, and really focusing on that frozen middle that I know a lot of us have experienced over the course of our career.

So in order to do that, I like to ensure there’s a solid training program in place so that everybody learns the prescribed processes and tools. We often employ new tools throughout a transformation and making sure everybody has all the information they need in order to use those tools.

Christina Lau (Host): That was really incredible. We’ve got a slew of questions coming in. I wanted to make time for those so I’m going to kick it off with a rapid fire. The first question is, shifting from feature centric to outcome focused is a big transformation so how do you advise getting approval to do this and, in addition, getting your teams aligned and onboard?

John Roy: Yeah. So I would say, if you don’t already have some level of buy-in from senior leadership, you’re probably not going to get it. I know that sounds incredibly pessimistic, but you have to ensure that senior leadership is on board and, more than just engaged, they have to model the behaviors themselves. Thinking about those outcomes, back in the old days, we used to just do posters and we would plaster the halls with them. In latter days’ transformations that I’ve done in the last decade or so, we actually introduce dashboards. It might be the first thing that comes up on your screen when you log in, in the morning, but understanding those outcomes, everybody has to see them. They have to be so visible that everybody knows every day, here’s where we are against the outcomes. It’s different than feature-driven. That outcome driven and OKR mentality, it’s got to be pervasive throughout the entire organization.

Christina Lau (Host): Thank you, John. So the next question is, earlier you mentioned the goals at different levels. So how do you decide and align on them?

John Roy: At most companies, especially large companies, like the ones I’ve been part of, it’s cascading. Today and in other companies that I’ve been part of, we leverage a strategy group to help senior leadership enumerate and fully define what those top level outcomes can be, should be, will be. And then we work with each tier on the way down to help translate them and make sure they, I don’t want to say ladder up because that sounds too hierarchical, but that they at least align and that folks are contributing to one of the higher level objectives.

Christina Lau (Host):  All right. And next question, who was the most important stakeholder that you had to convince and how did you unlock that piece of the transformation journey?

John Roy: So believe it or not, throughout my career, CIOs, not Chief Investment Officers, Chief Information Officers, have been the hardest to convince. For whatever reason, CIOs often think, “Everything’s great and we don’t need a transformation. We’re delivering value every day.” But sometimes it’s not just about the technology, it’s about how the technology contributes to the business. And particularly in digital transformations, everybody thinks it’s all about the tech. It’s not. It’s about the business deciding that we need different processes and it needs to be data-driven. We need to have better customer data, better ways to interact with our customers. It’s got to be a business decision and the CIO then needs to be on board.

Christina Lau (Host): You’re a wealth of knowledge, John. So the next question here, what are some of the biggest challenges in larger scale transformation? I guess specifically what non-tech native companies go through.

John Roy: Yeah. One of my absolute favorite stories, and this is no industry secret, it’s been widely publicized. John Deere did an incredible digital transformation about 10 years ago. People always say, “Well, John Deere, they’re a tractor company. What do they know about digital transformations?” They changed the way they do business and the way they thought about their customers to become a digital agriculture company. So they began to invest in sensors and Internet of Things and integrating weather information and soil and rain patterns and all of this data to help their customers better understand when they should plant their crops, when they should harvest their crops, where the best places to plant and harvest are. It was an incredible transformation and it absolutely made that company what they are today, which is very, very much more than just a tractor company.

Christina Lau (Host): All right, and the next question, how do you measure the success along the way, every step of the way, and just in general?

John Roy: I like to think that it’s not just about setting OKRs for the business what you want to achieve, what you want your business to be in one year, five year, 10 years down the road. It’s also about setting OKRs for the transformation itself. So things like considering the culture shifts and, what’s our goal for NPS baseline versus in a year from now? What do we want the NPS to look like of our own employees? What do we want the agile experience favorability rating to be? What do we want our leadership confidence ratings to look like? On the strategy and execution side, what do we want our average story time, epic cycle time, what do we want our portfolio transparency metrics to look like? It’s thinking about all those things and then watching them shift as we move through the transformation. So I can’t recommend highly enough, not just OKRs for the business and for where we want the business to be, but the transformation itself. It’s nice to have a Transformation Management Office or a PMO that focuses just on transformation to monitor those things.

Christina Lau (Host): Thank you, John. And next up, what is your favorite decision-making framework?

John Roy: Personally, I like RICE. And so RICE, it’s not frequently used. Wiz-Jif is nice because you understand that weighted shortest job first, what will give you the biggest bang for the buck right now? But, for me, RICE is a nice framework because it’s reach, impact, confidence divided by effort. And so as you think about the potential impact of this change, who it’s going to, how far that reach might be, its scope, divided by the effort so what I’m actually putting into it. I think it’s just a great way to prioritize your backlog of products and features and then ultimately to make decisions. It’s my personal favorite.

Christina Lau (Host):  And we have time for one last question here. So really to conclude and put everything together, John, what are your last parting words on how to accelerate transformation outcomes?

John Roy: Culture, culture, culture. It’s the hardest part and I think every company that embarks on a major transformation underestimates how hard the culture piece is. So I would say overinvest in that

Power your team with Dragonboat

At ACCELERATE 2023, John Roy (VP Digital Assets, Strategy & Planning, Fidelity) shared a powerful perspective on transformation. He stated that “effective transformation will achieve both alignment and autonomy.” Transformation, he emphasized, goes beyond theory and presentation decks. With the right culture, processes, and tools, companies can achieve both alignment and autonomy, thereby driving true transformation.

Watch this session on-demand now to hear John’s insights, strategy, and advice to accelerate product transformation at scale.

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