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Digital transformation: 5 ways to collaborate across silos

With all the ways digital innovation has enabled companies to remain productive during the pandemic, one of the most positive outcomes is improved collaboration across traditional business silos. In my new book, Getting to Nimble: How to Transform Your Company into a Digital Leader, I discuss how enterprises have made these silos more permeable, creating greater partnerships along the way.

Consider the following five examples and how they could apply to your digital transformation efforts.

1. T-shaped career paths

Talented technologists are in high demand at most organizations, tasked with helping teams in other divisions figure out the digital implications of their ideas and strategize accordingly. In many cases, these ideas come from the technologists themselves. Companies that provide such “T-shaped” career paths offer an enormous advantage, developing leaders with great breadth and depth of experience. When they ascend to “chief” roles, they do so with a much clearer understanding about how value is created within the enterprise.

2. Agile

Agile methodology has been a boon for collaboration across the enterprise.

The traditional “waterfall” method of development involves someone from the business side (outside of IT) placing an order with the IT department. The IT team then develops this order, with little input from the business side until the project is completed months later.

[ Want Agile and DevOps best practices? Watch the on-demand webinar: Lessons from The Phoenix project you can use today. ]

In contrast, agile development includes the intended audience or user of the project in development from ideation through completion. With each iteration, the user validates value, and features are amplified or turned off accordingly. In some cases, the entire project may even be scrapped as a result of what the team learns.

3. DevOps

DevOps blends two traditionally siloed parts of the technology and digital domain: development and operations. In a traditional project development model, developers take a project from ideation through completion, and the operations team then moves it forward. There is often a moment in the lifecycle when the project is “thrown over the wall” from development to operations (even this phrase highlights the distance and disconnects between the activities of the two groups).

DevOps instead makes delivery teams responsible for production issues and fixes, whether legacy or new, drawing them into the lifecycle earlier. Greater levels of involvement and accountability make for better work products.

4. Product mindset

The migration from a project to a product orientation is another area that benefits from greater collaboration. Internal “products” are also good examples of this – think order-to-cash, onboarding new hires, or creating a mobile customer experience.

These products potentially involve great value, and the product teams are typically cross-divisional or cross-discipline: They might include tech and digital, marketing, sales, operations, and any other division to which the product is relevant. A product leader should lead the cross-functional team, and that team should be prepared to remain intact for a longer period of time than the typical project.

An early example of this type of project orientation comes from Atticus Tysen, Chief Information and Security Officer at Intuit. When Tysen became CIO, he brought with him a product orientation, defining products for IT to drive. By developing in long-term teams, each team member was able to develop a higher level of expertise in the product area than they would have in a more traditional project structure.

5. Data strategy

Data strategy has also driven more cross-functional thinking. Done well, all strategy should invite greater collaboration across traditional silos since value is truly driven at the intersection of the disciplines. Data strategy should apply everywhere data is gathered, secured, synthesized, and analyzed – across the entire company.

Many companies have found it useful to have a leader who drives data strategy on the company’s behalf. To do this effectively, that leader (whether the CIO, the chief data officer, or another IT role) should engage leaders in other parts of the company to ensure that the data strategy is as comprehensive and useful as possible.

These are just a few areas where stronger collaboration is happening across industries and geographies. Companies that fail to take advantage of these trends risk falling behind more nimble players in their industry.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

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