A year later: What we learned about driving transformation

Digital Transformation students Olivier Wolf and Daniel Boos share what they learned during our popular online course and how they are applying what they learned to the jobs at a publicly owned company in the transportation industry.

You might have listened with curiosity to your management suddenly talking the need for an agile transformation. You hear slogans like ‘do it together’, ‘keep it simple’ or ’embrace change’. You are very enthusiastic about it first. At the same time you afraid with what is coming. You don’t know what will happen next and what the opportunities are. One way to cope is to try to find colleagues to talk about it. Another approach is to find things that you can try out to help you create a vision and understand the limitations. You might try a new meeting format, read a book, or just wait and see.

We (Olivier and Daniel) work at SBB, a publicly owned Swiss railway company, in the midst of a change. The mobility needs of our customers are changing and new technological opportunities arise continually – but so do challenges, such as new competitors.

We are part of the IT department, which has started an agile transformation. Daniel is the Team Lead of the user experience (UX) team and Olivier was in charge of a team of software developers. Both teams were quite big with a dozen internal employees and some external employees. Beside the daily management, both had some additional responsibilities. Daniel’s mission was to improve the UX of applications and increase the maturity of UX in the company with his team. Oliviers mission was to unify a spread out team of software engineers and prepare them to lead digitalisation.

While starting is easy, it is harder to progress towards your mission and you quickly encounter hurdles. As the months go by, you begin to feel alone, stuck in a loop with your colleagues, or that it is moving to slowly. You feel like your mission is not clear enough, you lack a thorough discussion on how to cope with all this stuff.

Sound familiar?

That was the situation before we started to look for support. We wanted an exchange with new peers and an outside view on what we are doing. We wanted a solution to drive the change and take it to the next level.

Several colleagues recommended Hyper Island to us but we were unsure how an online course could help us to get moving again. It was a new form of learning experience for us. The experience was surprisingly intense and we overcame our initial doubts that it could be difficult to only participate online.

We recently discussed about our main learnings a year later. They are still relevant to us and help us driving change in complex environments. Our key learnings are:

  • We are not alone with our challenges and exchange is important. While we come from different companies and cultures, we all have similar struggles. During the course we learnt a lot from our peers. We got an outside view and many tips from other participants that helped us go forward. We still meet sometimes with our peers from Switzerland and discuss our ongoing change initiatives.
  • We always need to work on our change vision. Getting clear about your change vision is very important. The course helped us to sharpen it. We had to prepare it based on a canvas and tell it to our colleagues and the facilitators.Getting critical feedback is key. Still today Daniel looks at this vision and it helps him to focus on the main issues. He even showed it to some internal colleagues for feedback.
  • We have to be aware about our environment, especially our stakeholders. You have to get to know your stakeholders. You need to learn what they love, fear and what their goals are. Who could be your champions and sponsors? (Taking care of his main sponsor, was one of Olivier’s biggest learning. Daniel advises his team colleagues more often to get clear about the stakeholders.)
  • We need to find the right speed and juggle between short and long term goals. We start often quite enthusiastic and want to implement the change as fast as possible. However change needs time and we need to proceed with small steps. We also need to do it continuously and need to block out specific time. Otherwise the operative activities will always fill up the whole workday.
  • And for all this to succeed: You must know yourself better, your leadership style, what is important for you and what you want to achieve. This helps you to persist through resistance, stick to your values and when needed reinvent yourself.
  • Finally you also just need to ‘dare to do’.

Since we finished the course, some changes on division and company level occurred. The agile transformation went to a second phase with more emphasis on governance issues. The software engineers are now part of a bigger common pool.

Olivier has given up his team lead role to focus more on solving concrete business issues and joined a team developing a new mobility solution for travel planning. He is focussed more on enabling exchanges, organising a large engineering event and fostering mutual help between software developers.

Daniel and his team keep evolving the UX topic within SBB. The team was able to push forward a joint information platform and topics on how to increase the UX maturity in the company. They collaborate with the customer orientation community and a newly started internal human factors network. In addition they explore how elements from self-organisation approaches help to increase the UX maturity, improve collaboration and better address the needs of their stakeholders from many different departments.