Agile Digital Innovation and the End of the Multi-Year Roadmap

Agile Digital Innovation

I recently came upon an interview by Gaurav Bhatia, the Vice President of Digital Strategy at AARP, and I was struck by one of the points he raised about the current rate of digital modernization and how most companies typically plan for that impending change over many years. He talked about the fallacy of using the traditional three to five year digital modernization roadmap in a world where digital transformation is now occurring every few months. The most successful companies have been able to develop an agile innovation mindset where planning, execution and/or failure are all occurring every three to six months as opposed to every few years.

With customer experience being the primary driver of digital transformation, the long-term, multi-year strategic roadmap simply doesn’t account for the rapid changes in customer behavior that are certain to occur over the months and years ahead.

We often associate the term “agile” with the software development lifecycle methodology whereby a company or organization releases an imperfect, minimum viable product after only a few months, with the expectation that fixes and upgrades will occur every few weeks until a final and streamlined product finally exists. While many companies have begun to implement an agile software development methodology, many still utilize a very rigid and inflexible planning and road mapping methodology as it relates to how they actually plan for their own digital transformations. As companies and organizations look to not only grow but to survive, creating an environment of adaptation will be critical. Applying an agile methodology to innovation management is one way to jumpstart that process.

I recently came across a viral LinkedIn post with a photo of a whiteboard that contained several handwritten bullet points about recent examples of technological disruption. The final handwritten conclusion on that whiteboard stated, “Technology by itself is not the real disruptor. Being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.” We now live in a world where rapid and massive shifts in customer buying behavior and preferred user experiences can free up market share to more agile or adaptable companies and strip away market share from more established companies who haven’t developed a way to more quickly adapt to market changes. We see evidence of this in disruptive companies like Uber who freed passengers from fare controls and taxi availability controls or in Netflix who eliminated the ridiculous late fees being charged by rival video rental company Blockbuster. We also see evidence of this in established companies like Capital One, who long ago recognized their future wasn’t necessarily dependent on competing with other credit card companies, but in competing as a top technology company that innovated faster than its competitors in order to meet evolving customer preferences.

The lesson here is that digital transformation isn’t a set of projects, or an aspirational timeline or even the implementation of a new technology.

Successful digital transformation relies completely on a company’s ability to change and adapt as rapidly as necessary. That requires rethinking how we plan, rethinking how we execute and deliver, and rethinking the entire concept of the digital transformation roadmap. The multi-year roadmap is quickly becoming obsolete and in some cases, a major hindrance to necessary agile transformation. Changing this way of thinking must come from the top and must be something that’s embraced by all. The future is here, and it will be here again soon, probably in the next few months. Are you positioned for rapid adaptation?

Michael Hoke

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