Julie Ng

Julie Ng

Why Corporate IT-Transformation is Slow

It’s been for over a year since we started our Agile Training Centers. At first, it was exciting working like a startup on real and complex enterprise level problems. But often it is frustrating. Why are we still so slow as an organization? After my collapse at MunichJS, I started to understand why and what role I play.

Processes create Structure

One of my biggest inner fears about working at a corporation is that I subconsciously adapt to the corporate culture and lose that outside perspective I bring to the table. Hosting MunichJS showed me I didn’t understand that it’s not the perspective that matters so much as the why and how of that mentality.

Organizing an event is not easy because it is inherently multitasking and you are at the mercy of other people, services and processes. I was supposed to lead organizing all the logistics related to hosting MunichJS. But I ended up doing pretty much everything myself, which was partially my fault. I didn’t ask enough for help. I am also pedantic and did not admit to myself that there was no time to achieve my usual level of perfection.

Most people just do everything by the book, obsessing with checklists and powerpoint diagrams, only to wonder why the results aren't there.

Discussing what happened with various colleagues, some said “you need an intern”. Others said we needed to define checklists and processes, all of which sounded so corporate. Virtually everyone offered to help - for which I am thankful. But it didn’t feel quite right. And I couldn’t explain why.

Partners in Crime

Finally, when I met with that colleague from HR, she said “you need a partner in crime.” YES! That feels right. That’s how we run Refresh Munich and how we managed to organize two UX Munich conferences. To a certain extent there are assigned tasks and processes. But it’s that partner-in-crime mentality that makes all the difference. With MunichJS I had asked for help with some tasks. But usually one email generated 5 more emails with at least 2 other persons. Funny how emails can multiply like a virus. And that’s why IT-Transformation takes forever in corporations. Most people just do everything by the book, obsessing with checklists and powerpoint diagrams, only to wonder why the results aren’t there.

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash
Structure especially hierarchies can result in too many bottlenecks. I am one such bottleneck.

With a partner-in-crime mentality, someone will just run with it and solve whatever problems might get in the way. If they make mistakes, they learn from them. They take risks, making their own judgment calls, minimizing the multiplication of emails and unnecessary “work”.

Why are processes and checklists not enough for IT transformation? Because structure especially hierarchies can result in too many bottlenecks. I am one such bottleneck. If you have to ask me, whatever you need, you probably won’t get your task completed on time.

Someone else got it! She understood it better than me in that moment. If you’re committing a crime, you think on your feet. What would your partner do? You’re in this boat together. So make a judgement call. And then take a leap of faith. I know what you’re thinking: easier said than done! Of course, it won’t always be smooth sailing.

Do first. Apologize later.

For example, I wanted to make MunichJS demo code public on GitHub.com, which we had used before moving to an on premise GitHub Enterprise this year. I wanted to clean up the access rights to the organization. Instead of going through pages of usernames and filtering employees, I decided to require two factor authentication (2FA) - which would probably remove everyone with one click. Not a nice thing to do. But I clicked the button anyway instead of warning people. I also kicked out my boss - oops. Other people were irritated too. I apologized and now people just laughs about it.

Steal someone else’s job

In a previous project, my old team needed to produce a branded PDF. The initial minimum solution leveraged the browser print dialog. Later part of the team wanted to offload the PDF generation to an existing “service” from headquarters, despite additional overhead of LaText and long release cycles. Instead I created a branded PDF using the free open-source JavaScript pdfmake library - bypassing an entire department.

If there is an existing structure in place where someone else is “responsible”, there’s little reason to be resourceful and creative. Harvard Business Review reports that innovation is driven by scarcity. But that’s management’s problem.

On the ground, doing something yourself also feels like you’re stealing someone else’s job. You probably are. Many developers are glad to offload the responsibility. But this guilt also prevents others from being innovative. Unfortunately there’s no easy answer here.

Transformation Feels Like a Crime

I have 3 siblings so I learned growing up that if you follow the rules you don’t get the most candy. In fact, as the oldest I was expected to divide up my share, if my brother or sister dropped their sweet. Unfortunately for them I’m selfish, so I bent the rules. As a former entrepreneuer and climber I not only take risks, I embrace them.

But for someone who has been working at a successful and traditional German corporation, risk feels like a crime. Germans follow rules, they don’t break tradition - which is actually what we’re trying to do with IT-Transformation. I’m silly and crazy enough to do that. That’s the outside perspective I bring. So how do I transfer that thinking to others? Maybe I should take developers to the climbing gym, strap them into a harness and push them off a ledge.

Or I could be their partner in crime.

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

To be continued…