Wagile - Michael Palin from Monty Python Life of BrianWhile working on a project recently, I heard the term wagile. It describes where many organisations have landed in their digital transformations. Technology teams have moved from projects to products, and from waterfall to agile. But we’ve embedded all these improvements inside the same, slow corporate processes.

Interestingly, the more you look for wagile, or water-scrum-fall as others call it, the more you see it. An old colleague was recounting how it takes him 3 weeks just to get a meeting with a key stakeholder. Contrast that with a start-up team I work with who all sit around the same table, exchanging ideas in real-time. It’s no surprise that things take too long to happen in large organisations.

Unfortunately, the very design of large organisations slows things down. Thirty years ago this design made great sense. Scale was everything, mistakes were costly, and the rewards of innovation lasted a long time. Today mistakes are cheap, innovation is copied, but first mover advantage and customer adoption are critical. We’ve fallen into the trap that thinking that digital transformation is just a “technology thing”, rather than an end-to-end “customer thing”.

One of the best customer innovations I was involved in took just 7 months from idea to full implementation. But to do this required dedicated teams, ambition, and a large dose of rule bending. But the rewards were worth it. This idea changed customers’ perceptions more than any other comparable innovation. But its lifespan was only a little over 4 years. In that time the market context had changed so much, it was no longer relevant. With such a short lifespan for great ideas, you can’t afford to take 2 years to get there.

What needs to change? To survive, large corporations need to embrace speed as the most critical dimension of change. Why not start with co-locating teams, really devolving decision-making and having an instinct for “good enough” rather that “best” across all activities?

Image copyright: Moviestore collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo


Rob works with technology start ups and leading retailers on the impact and opportunities of digital technologies