If you had a magic wand and you could radically modify the way corporate IT engages itself in organizations, what would you change?
That's the question we asked Milan Guenther, founding partner at Enterprise Design Associates, author of the Enterprise Design Framework found in his book Intersection.
Not only does Milan provide a great answer to the question by positioning the leadership role that corporate IT has to play, but he shares great insights on many important topics affecting organizations:
Hello, This is R.M. Bastien and welcome to the first episode of the podcast series on radical change in corporate IT. So today we have Milan Guenther. He is a founding partner at Enterprise Design Associates. It's a global network of strategic designers working with enterprise ecosystems. He is the author of Intersection, a book introducing the enterprise design framework for doing holistic design at scale. He's worked with SAP, Boeing, Toyota, the EOCD and the United Nations, as well as smaller organizations and scaling startups. They also worked with Google, for starters, helping successful companies to tackle key issues at scale using enterprise design sprints. Milan is also one of the organizers of the Intersection Conference series. He has a mixed background in design, tech and business, and he is teaching enterprise design at Paris Institute of Political Studies commonly called Sciences Po. For the listeners that don't know about Sciences Po, this is kind of the equivalent of an Ivy League university in United States, but not an ordinary one. Seventeen recent French presidents have studied there, as well as 13 French prime ministers and a dozen foreign heads of state. Which brings me to my first question, Milan, about your involvement at Sciences Po. I mean, in my knowledge, Sciences Po was for people that are going to work in governments. So teaching enterprise design in such a school is that because there was a change in direction? Could just explain the rationale behind this.
Yeah. Hi, Mark! Thanks for having me. Yes. So I started teaching there last year. You're right. The school is traditionally looking at the public sector, but they created a new school called EMI or Management and Innovation School. And there there's a master in digital transformation and innovation, and that's what I'm teaching. It's a joint master together with two other schools in Paris, one engineering school, telecom Paris-Tec, and one design school, Strate. And so we have a mixed class of people from all three schools and with different backgrounds, which is kind of the ideal ground for doing enterprise design, that I mean, my book and the conference I called Intersection for that reason, you know, kind of need to mix different viewpoints and they are looking at, I would say, new ways of doing management, regardless, whether you have public or private sector enterprises, beyond like looking at alternatives to traditional, écoles de commerce or business schools approaches to managing organizations.
That's great! Thanks for the clarification. And that makes sense. So it's really exciting that you're working in an environment with many different views. Today's question is, for that is to gather different views on the same the same question. And the question is the following:
Milan if you had a magic wand and you could transform the way IT, -you know the normal or the usual classical IT function within large, medium to large organizations- transform the way they engage with the rest of the organization and get to the end state or the future as you see it, or the way you'd like it to be, what would you change in terms of roles, in terms of responsibility, in terms of sourcing, in terms of accountability, of measurements, of anything, anything but technology? Because the questions aren't about technology. What would you have changed so that there's more value provided by the IT people, meaning all the people that have a IT background and IT knowledge, and that have to do IT jobs at some point for organizations to do whatever they're doing. What would that be?
Um, where the answer obviously is cloud, right? (now I'm just joking...) Yeah, it's a good question. I used to work in IT actually a long, long time ago when I was studying, and I think the same.... that what was true back then is still true. Which is IT is seen as not necessarily an area in an enterprise that opens-up possibilities, but rather that manages the mess that's already there. And I think that's what when you ask about change, that's, I think, what needs to change and talking about the magic wand and the or taking the magic wand and applying it to these IT department, I would say instead of seeing yourself as a internal service provider who does whatever the business wants. The role should be to inspire people, entrepreneurs, intra- preneurs project people, product people throughout the enterprise on what's actually possible. What can you do with this information technology or digital. I find it quite telling that in many enterprises many client organizations that we work with, there's actually a digital department that is separate from IT which is quite strange because it is all about digital technology in a way on how to use it, how to make the enterprise better and more interesting and more relevant with this. And so, yeah, so I think the role in the future should be: Okay, we know things about how to make things happen using digital, using information, using technology, using new channels, using new business models, new distribution ways; we can also even, maybe design an app. What do we want do we want to do with this together and the business people or the people from I mean, - I always find it funny that business seems to mean everyone except "us" for IT. So your colleagues, not your customers, your colleagues in the enterprise who may be in product when, or HR, or in marketing, how can you engage in a conversation with them about the possibilities rather than the limitations of these technologies that are existing currently and that may exist in the future in and around the enterprise in its ecosystem?
That's interesting. So would you say -I'm trying to rephrase a little bit here- would you say that corporate IT (or enterprise IT) has to move from an order-taker kind of role to more of an involvement into helping the business use technology rather?
Yes, I think that's spot on. I have been in touch a little bit, for example, with people from Gardner in the last few years. And there was a quite interesting evolution because at some point, design thinking was really embraced by Gartner analysts, so saying "Okay, we should, you should, everyone should use, IT especially should use design thinking to come up with creative ways to know, use digital in enterprises and reap the benefits of it". And they had a quite elaborate framework on that and then, at some point, just scrapped it because I guess the market wasn't really ready or something. And instead, said "Okay, no, you know what? actually IT needs to do? well the requirement are dropping from the ceiling, like the business is dropping the requirements. And then you transition into implementation of this strategy and these requirements, that your role", and that's kind of the opposite of what I see IT or digital or whatever you call this unit should do. Which is: inspire people about the possibilities, rather than take things that dropped from the ceiling without asking questions or even with asking questions.
Yeah, it's interesting, so it's almost a 180 degree shift from a Gartner point of view?
Yes, and it's, um yeah, it's an interesting development that happened there.
Milan, you talked about in one of the first sentences, about managing the mess and then later you said I t should go away from telling the business what cannot be done or the limitations. And I see these two things kind of go together and that's important, I agree with you of course that there's a lot lot of mess there. And with your magic wand, how do you think that this mess, because it's there, Okay. I mean, there's, I mean, talk about limitations, that they're probably not really inventing it. That probably really there is just that they're focusing. (I'm kind of rephrasing, your sentences, your ideas, there.) They're kind of focusing on this and not really focusing on innovation when they're busy talking about the limitations. So that's a reality. But with your magic wand, how would you see that being fixed or gradually improved?
Well... I mean, you're right. The mess is there. It's a little bit the disadvantage that large, established enterprises have, compared to startups. Startups don't have the mess yet. They are just making it (he!), and the enterprises are (the big ones) already have it and need to deal with it. And, um, I think the tendency is that IT is often seen as a showstopper is because a big part of the job is managing this. Like keep the lights on, keep the operations running. Make sure the enterprise doesn't have issues with the mess that would be threatening to the business ongoing, like to the transactions, or to a customer contact or to to any of those things, and looking at security and so on. So this job is really, really important, tremendously important and needs to be done. However, if in a dialogue with people who want to make things happen, the usual response is: "Oh his is difficult. Oh, this is impossible. No, we can't do that. Or actually, we can't do anything unless you give us your requirement". It doesn't really help. And I think more than actually the mess that exist is this attitude that has put IT in a position of being seen as the the showstoppers rather than the enablers. And that's a pity, because technology enables, you know? So, um, I think this needs to be counterbalanced with some message that says: "Yeah okay. Look, we have all of this, and I think in the architecture and management frameworks, maybe abstraction could be a way to do that, you know? Okay, so here's what, like we talked a lot about this Mark in the Architectural Thinking Foundation: capabilities here. This is what we're able to do. This is what we are not able to do right now. What needs to change in order to make us able to do that rather than going into the technical details where you lose people and rather looking at the delta to enable something, rather than the showstoppers of today.
That's interesting. So what you 're kind of saying (and I'm trying to rephrase you) is that maybe the IT people in the IT function today are, because they have to manage all the this "mess" or the heritage and the legacy, they're probably down into too much details in order to really help the business doing doing what they want to do, which is always different than what's going on today. Because, of course they wouldn't, they wouldn't even be interacting with IT (except for maybe production problems) if they didn't want to change something or to do something that they don't do today.
Yeah, I don't think it's just the level of detail. It's sometimes just simply the language being used. Or it's a lack of taking responsibility for the future is what I would call it. And you know, I have a design background, so in design, I went to designs school and art school and what you want to do as a designer is create. Create things that are better or interesting. And it's very different from management. It's very different from engineering in that sense, even though both of course are part of it, because you need to -even if you're an artist-if you have an ambitious art work to produce, you have to look at the technical side of it and at the, for example, the logistics and the cost. So, yeah, but I think there's a role that IT or digital (whatever) has to play that is currently not being played well, which is: "Okay, what what could we do?" What if our business would be like on a on a peer to peer model, for example? What other possibilities with what we have with the resources, capabilities, assets that we have? How could we reconfigure them to enable something like this? And what would that mean for our future? And I think if IT remains in this waiting position and does not take responsibilities to co-design this future of the enterprise, but just waits for instructions and requirements from the internal customers, then (that's what I said in the beginning that's already happening), then there will be other teams that are organized more around product and a digital who will fill this gap, but who don't necessarily know what we actually have today because that's not their role, they don't know the mess. So I think that something like the mess needs to be dealt with, and it needs to be part of the designing the future discussions and process, but you cannot, as IT, just wait and sit and let others figure out the future and then say "Ah, no, that doesn't work".
That's very interesting, because in this last sentence, you kind of referred to some strategies that have been used recently, such as creating a different organizational unit, usually called something like a lab. And, um, and what you're saying is "Oh, that may work up to a certain point, but when the rubber hits the road, then IT -again- is seen as the boat anchor for anything we wanted to do. Then you said something really important about -there's a couple of things here that I noted while you were talking- the language gap. That's interesting. So just a quick question in your mind should business people be more educated about IT or should IT people learn to "watch their their mouth" and, you know, and learn how to translate or to, you know, in French "vulgariser" (I don't know how to translate that)translating to layman's words all this technical stuff. How do you see that problem, which is constant, it's been there forever.
Yeah, I I'm not sure if I have a good answer to that one. Actually, I think both, um on
Both in the sense that you think that the business people should nevertheless be more educated. And...
I'm not sure if something like business people actually exist. Uh, you know, in enterprises, you have lots of disciplines and lots of viewpoints. You have HR people. You have product people. You have marketing people. You have purchasing people. They all have their own jargon. I don't think something like business people exist. Uh, maybe strategist, maybe, you know. Okay. And then, of course, the techies have particular jargon that is hard to access for the others. May be harder than... but for example, if you think of legal, they also have a very difficult access jargon. And I think it's the responsibility of every discipline or every area in the enterprise to make themselves understood and to not just lay the blame on the others who don't have this background and don't have this jargon. If and so, yeah, where if you don't understand us then, go read Wikipedia, right? But then, on the other hand, like for example, over the last few years, people started talking a lot about data, and that's just something that the public know gets a grip on. You know you, you now have mainstream public media, saying, talking about data and talking about things like bots. So they are concepts from the digital realm that entered the public discourse, and people now relate to the term data, which they didn't before. And I guess if you are leading a company in a way, in some way or another, so if you're any kind of management or position to decide or design the future or co-design it, yeah, of course, you have some kind of responsibility to not lose touch with development in the world that you're supposed to make your company or your enterprise successful in. So, if the world suddenly thinks, data is really important and it is a concept that comes in away from IT and digital, then maybe, yeah, you should actually to get familiar with this. So, that's why I'm thinking I don't know who really is the main culprit and the other has the main responsibility -is both sides.
I agree with you. My personal view on this would be that he who has the knowledge has a responsibility to translate that. I mean, it's just like, Okay, I have a knowledge that my four year old, you know, kid doesn't have, um, I have to translate it in something that I can understand because that's my responsibility. Of course, if that four year old gets teenage and still doesn't understand, maybe I can get a little bit angry... saying that there's an attitude problem. But yeah, and and I know lots of IT people have been playing kind of a game of keeping this jargon as a way to shield themselves from being challenged. I don't say that people are really doing it on purpose, but it's ah, it's an easy exit sometimes. Another question... At the beginning, you talked about startups, and I think you're working with startups a lot. And you said, "Well, you know, established companies, they have this legacy of systems. They have this this mess to deal with, which is not the case for startups, that they don't have to deal with that. So it's easier for them". I think I heard you in another meeting, probably with the Architectural Thinking Association, talk about the fact that you've been dealing with these startups for some years now and now they've grown up. And that, and and that this mess comes in as soon as the're not a startup of any more... Is that what you've been witnessing?
Yes. Uh, you could say in enterprise design, we have a few concepts for that. So a on an enterprise design is a coherent design of all the key aspects of the enterprise so that it fits together. In the framework we have (that you mentioned at the very beginning when you introduced me), we have catalog of these aspects. Now if you are a startup, usually you don't need this kind of stuff. Because you have a very strong founding team and they get drinks together and they talk about stuff. And they may be come from some kind of shared background and a lot of these decisions are being taken informally. There's not so much being externalized or rendered explicit. They won't have maybe a mission-vision statement and brand guidelines and a capability map and journey maps and persona libraries and all of these things. But it soon as something grows, which can be the business, the number of people, the revenue, the number of customers, number of users, the number of systems. A soon as you have some sort of scale and things get like, people get more specialized. Then you have this debt that grows. And now in IT often talk about technical debt, that's one of them. But then you have maybe also something like brand debt; maybe there are many new products, and they're actually not clear anymore. People don't understand why is this company delivering this weird product portfolio were nothing fits together. Or you have experience debt, which means, for example, I have a problem with one area and, they make me bounce and go back and forth with all of the internal services is because they that's how they're organized. But for me, that's just the schizophrenic behavior, like I have to talk to different personalities, and this then leads to what we call enterprise awkwardness. So if the enterprise is all put like if you imagine it to be a person and that person would be really awkward by, for example, constantly forgetting who you are and always asking for credentials again and again and again... " Who are you again? " So that's what happens if they show you login forms all the time. And so it's this dealing with this debt that startups experience as soon as they hit a certain amount of growth in any of these areas. And then they need some kind of frameworks or tools or deliverable for actually -in the end, it's just shared thinking and shared knowledge- to reduce that again into drive coherence again. And, this is what happens to... I think Google calls them "scale ups". So scaling startups.
You said a very interesting sentence about shared knowledge because in my interview it was Scott (W. Ambler), he talks about the learning organizations and he was referring to Google and the, you know, all these companies that scare other companies in the world. And he said they are learning organizations. So I see a link between that, what Scott said in what you just said, all these these tools are there to share the knowledge between the people and maybe learning also. Is that the way you see it too?
Yes, I think... so in an enterprise design, we have this spectrum in the framework that is: enterprises need to innovate, and they need to transform themselves. That's just what they need to do all the time. Innovate, just meaning, really creating and adopting something new. And transforming is changing what already exists. That might be, uh, like something on the so called "inside", so I don't know your applications or your products. But might also be something else. Maybe you need you need new relationships to people in your ecosystem or to other organizations. And then what design can help with is uncovering opportunities and developing solutions together. And this you could call learning, I guess. You know, if you if you take again the comparison to a person, that would be something like personal development, right? I see something. Like, I see opportunities. I react to them. I develop or adopt something new. And then I changed parts of my life. And that brings me to new to a new state, where I have, maybe new solutions, maybe, I don't know, adopt a hobby so this board? Yeah, enterprises do that as well. They have to. Otherwise, they risk becoming irrelevant because the environment changes and they don't. So, yeah, I think you could call it learning. So I don't usually use this this term, you know? Interesting.
Okay, so is there (back to the magic wand I gave you) is there anything else you can think of? Things that you think should happen, should be different. Anything?
Well, I think that the few practices that we tried within enterprise context that we have seen working better than others. So, for example, everyone talks about silos, right? and about... we mentioned some of these people with their jargon and their background. So, for example, organization, design and development and with a link to what was traditionally called HR, now, sometimes it's called something else, like talent, and they have their jargon and their models. So you have things like the org chart and the roles and responsibilities and IT comes around the corner, sometimes with models that look into that like in agile or in SAFe or right now, everyone really likes the Spotify model, so-called Spotify model, with squads and tribes and so on. And, this is organization design, you know. And, on the other way, the other way around, if you want to, for example, influence the culture in the enterprise... so we had a client who wanted to turn the culture and basically the behaviors of people more collaborative and more creative and less controlling, less bureaucratic. How do you do that? Well maybe, you know, IT can help! We could set up a collaborative workspace environment. We could incentivize people through gamification or nudging or whatever to share more. But for that to happen, we actually need to be able to translate... -well first of all we need to come together already and think together and exchange, we need to understand each other- and we need to make models that translate from one viewpoint another. And I think that is something really crucial and that we have been working on for a long time, really not there yet, I would say, but getting there slowly. For example, you can actually take something some model that it's more looking at culture and behavior... How does that then translate to organization like how you structure your teams and how you assign responsibilities? How does it translate to digital assets and technology, and user experience and interaction design? How does it, in turn, then translate to the enterprise architecture to the systems to the how you make it happen? Who needs to do what to operate this? and so on ... And you know we experimented. The framework is basically a result of... the Enterprise Design Framework is the result of these experimentations, where we have things like design sprints and the shared modeling language and so on, to make this happen. So it gets back to the knowledge, topic and sharing topic. So people need to share. People need to work together, sometimes quickly that so that's why we have design sprints, and come up with solutions together. And for that they need to shared language and share models. So But that's really... if I had a magic want, like you say -now, I wish I had one- I would make everyone use these kind of things and not try to rely on these very formal, rigid approaches that we see in big corporates. At least not only, you know? I know there are mission-critical environments where things like quality assurance are just incredibly important and auditing and all of that; It's not to replace that. You know, we talked about innovation and we talked about digital teams, and it's true that you need to put them in a sandbox. But then, in order to actually have impact at scale, they need to get out of the sandbox and everyone, or somehow everyone get needs to get into into the sandbox. And how can we make that happen? That's, um, yeah, that's what I would wish from the genie or using my wand.
That's interesting because, you said, "getting out of the box or everyone into the box", that's it. That's interesting. That's first time I hear that. Usually people have this reflex to say, "Well, let's get out of there and let's leave the IT people deal with the current state or the current mess". And you said, well, maybe we should all get into it and that that might be an answer also.
Yes. To elaborate on that, I really think that, you know, it's easy to say "Oh! the IT people need to change and become more open and so on, and I think that's what I said. But for example, we have a lot of designers in our community, and it's a lot of times that there's an idea that if you only focus on the user on the customer and you just design for them, you research, you design, you validate, you iterated, then the result will be good and you will get somewhere and you will know what you need to build. And we found -and that's kind of the reason why Enterprise Designers exist- we found that it doesn't work. If you don't look at what already exists, what can we do today? What do we have? And incorporate that as part of this research, including also what is our current. What do the relationships looked like that we have with our customers, partners, employees and so on? Does this support the design that we have in mind like, for example, the new product or service we want to release and if not, what needs to change? So the idea is to incorporate that already as part of the design process and not treated as an afterthought. So in a way, the innovation and design people or custom experienced people, I would also see a need to change and accept that the current mess needs to be part of this process from the very beginning.
In your view, looking at the whole process of having this genius idea down to having it work for your customers or having something that's in production, where is the innovation happening? I mean, the true innovation, where is it? And I'll explain to you why I ask the question because I've got this belief -and I may be wrong, so if if I'm wrong, you'll tell me- that most of the time in projects that involve lots of IT stuff, which is almost all projects nowadays, that the innovation part is really very upstream. And when the mass of the IT people get involved, the innovation's already done. I mean, what they have to do is use basic and sometimes very simple engineering or technologies and so on on. And unfortunately, because sometimes they would like to think that Oh, I'm innovating, and let's continue the innovation, but they're not, and sometimes they probably shouldn't. Okay, that's my opinion. But I'd like to know your opinion about this.
Yeah, it's It's a difficult question, I would say, because I am like, I think you know innovation when you see it, but it's really tough to, make it happen, and predicted, and have a department for it, or an innovation manager or something like this or an idea management platform, or all of these things that might, um, might help making your team's more innovative, but it's not really sure. And when it happens, it kind of can come from anywhere. Which is, like, I often use this example of Amazon when they bought a lot of --to make it really simple, they bought a lot of computers-- because they needed them to run, run the business, especially at Christmas. So they got a lot of computers for Christmas. And then they figured "Oh, but most of the other time these computers are all idle, let's start a cloud business and sell the capacity we have on these computers ." And now the cloud business is bigger than the shop business or the e-commerce business. How did that happen well, you know, where did the innovation come from there, from the decision to buy the computers or from someone who saw this and changed the meaning? And that's really I think... it's one of the theories behind design. It's one of my favorite books about design is Design Driven Innovation by Politecnico de Milano professor called Verganti who says that the real role of design is to find new meanings for things in people's lives. And if you extrapolate that for the enterprise space, I think that's kind of like if you want to trigger it, this that kind of process you need to see, you need to make happen, is to inspire as many people as possible to see beyond what is there today or what is on everyone's mind today. Just look at something and think "Aah!, what if we did this with that?" And then this change of meaning will then drive ideas and plans and projects and all of that. So I'm very much with you that I don't think innovation comes from the boardroom downstream. I mean, of course, courtroom members will also have, get inspired and have vision and ideas and so on. But it's really about facilitating this open exchange of ideas and making inspiration happen, and then looking at new meanings for things and that can be new products can be also doing something else with something we already have. I think this is where it comes from, the true innovation.
Our listeners might say, "Well, that's the end state that, but where should I start"? I'm not a IT person, I need to steer things in a certain way, in my organization; I cannot get involved personally because I probably don't have the knowledge. Where should I start?
I would say start from opportunities that you see when thinking about the world and how it's changing and what is the future role of your enterprise in that world. And that comes... it's not just the what is now traditionally, or more and more quote the business design (actually not a traditional term, it's quite new). But it's not just the business model or the business design or how you make money or how you are commercially successful. It's really, I think: "well in the future, how will people work at our company?" How will they work with our company. What kind of product or services could we offer, or could we make with what we what we can do really well and all of that, I think, not necessarily driven by any technology trend or enabling tech, which is what,I think, technology analysts or like for example, 5T, "What do we do with 5T?" I don't think this is where the new meaning comes from. The new meaning comes from human, mundane, everyday reality. So think about experiences of people and scout for opportunities and then start with them and get people in a room, ignoring the silos and say "Here, there's an opportunity. I want to make a business case. I want to get feasibility expertise. Do you know what this kind of opportunity? But what what kind of tech do we have? What kind of stuff is available, that we could use their and get the people who are close to the user or customer of that opportunity, out of the room?" Okay, can we find out what people really, really need --not want-- but need when it comes to this opportunity and so on. And then start working on that. And from there I think that I know in the IT space there are people who say you should rather first invest in cleaning up the mess. But I think if the role of IT, as I said in the very beginning, wants to change from preventer to enabler, than these conversations need to happen. You can still clean up the mess.
What you're proposing as as a first step is to do it the right way, all the right people working together. So, in a way, you're kind of going away from command and control type of "we will do an off-site with all the CxO's to find the future, and then we'll tell the masses what it is". So I guess you're not recommending that!
Definitely. It's a shift that we see happening in almost every organization we work with. Also, since two years ago, the last Intersection conference in Prague two years ago, we had, without really planning to, we had a lot of content from the call for participation on how to collaborate and work together differently. How to get rid of this controlling kind of military style, way of planning the future and working together. And you know the opportunity, I really was literally meaning it, it can come from anywhere. So when we talk about IT or digital, for example, in Europe we have a new legislation since a while now, which is GDPR. So suddenly, a lot of practices that people used to do before are illegal. And a lot of companies struggled or are still struggling, actually to comply. Which is, of course, a problem. You know, you don't want to be illegal and you need to, and I would call that a lot of cleaning up the mess. In that case, the environment changed, the legal environment. But maybe there's an opportunity in there. Maybe you know, you can do something different from the competition in this new environment, go further than the law requires in terms of privacy, for example, and develop a competitive advantage out of that of the new awareness. Also of, maybe your customers on these issues, maybe they don't want to share so much anymore. And this kind of thinking, I think, needs to be promoted in the relationship between techies and non techies. Maybe the opportunity is actually a legal opportunity, but it's triggered, in a way, by the development of technology or not development but adoption of technology and the change in society dealing with it.
That's great. I love your answers, Milan.
Thank you. I liked your questions!
Thank you a lot, Milan Guenther, for this great interview. I'm really looking forward to having other subjects to cover with you and hopefully we will. Thanks.
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