Traditionally, IT worked on specific projects, engaged with stakeholders in the business periodically—and often in rather formulaic ways—and followed rigidly-defined processes and methodologies, and in many companies there was a bottleneck of a strict weekly or monthly approved release.
But today, the demands of digitisation mean that IT needs to work in more flexible ways. We need to collaborate across organisational boundaries, adapt as priorities change and learn new processes and tools as required. How can this circle be squared?
In essence, IT reams need to start operating as ‘fusion teams’—a new concept that’s emerging as critical to success in digital transformation, as Gartner predicts. And given the world will spend, according to analyst firm IDC $6.8 trillion on such projects in the next two years, it’s worth trying to take advantage of this highly promising new concept.
Of course, cross-functional team working is not new—it’s been delivering results for years. But there’s a big difference between cross-functional teams and fusion teams; the former tend to focus on creating new ideas for products or services by bringing together people from the sales, marketing and product department, and they don’t typically take responsibility for actually deploying a software project.
In contrast, the core concept of the fusion team is that the team can independently develop something with a direct interface to the customer, creating a new, valuable customer experience. In some ways, the concept of fusion teams mirrors the concept of macro and micro services; every service has its own team, so if you want to change search engine behavior on your website by adding suggested search terms or pictures, a fusion team consisting of a developer, a data person and the product manager would then develop and deploy the project. This way, a fusion team can develop an enhanced website search function and get it live quickly, so that customers using the website benefit in a matter of days or weeks, rather than months or years.
The best way of finding out which option is best is simply to try them out
Note that to build high-functioning fusion teams, the IT organisation must allow teams to work independently on the tech stack. Ideally, the tech stack should allow fusion teams to deploy features directly onto the website, in the mobile app, the search engine, or the email engine—speeding up IT solution delivery markedly.
I don’t think many of us will object to that. It is quite possible that fusion will lead to the death of the traditional, more centralised approach, which contains multiple middle
management layers and all too often leads to a situation where change is very difficult. As is well known, if gathering requirements takes 12 months, by the time code starts to be actually cut the information will be out of date, and technology and customer requirements will have moved on.
In addition, where everything used to be planned over a period of a year or two, management tends to view mitigating risk as their main challenge. Managers expect to be offered different options, e.g. option A, option B, and option C, graded by risk (i.e. option A, the most aggressive approach, would lead to bigger potential payback, but with lots of risks).
This approach was possible when data for each option was so consistent and stable that managers were able to plan over a long period of time. But in a digital economy as we now live in, it is not possible to build such an option set—business requirements are changing all the time. Instead of presenting management with three options, now there may be six or more to consider. The best way of finding out which option is best is simply to try them out.
After all, businesses just don’t know which feature will be most appealing to customers. The optimum approach is to create different features, products and services and test them in the marketplace, and the ones that resonate well and bring business value are the ones to focus on. Even better, the fusion teams approach has a much-enhanced ability to test and learn, in order to drive up productivity and business results.
Everything changes—especially IT
Entering the fusion team era means everything changes, from how you purchase IT to how you manage it. The focus must therefore be on creating an infrastructure where a team can deploy features, in the search engine, or the product management system, for example, without going through the bottleneck of the central IT process. Plus, older programming languages have no place (surprising as it may sound, Java is not well equipped for this environment, for instance). Technology to support fusion teams must also be able to connect with multiple interfaces that often come with their own programming language or programming concept. In addition, software architects who understand the interdependencies between different services and the back end also play a vital role.
But the biggest, and most welcome change is that IT can no longer be viewed simply as a cost centre. IT has to deliver business value creation. That’s because it’s the organisations with the truest business-IT collaboration that will be in the best position to respond faster to unexpected challenges and be the winners in digital transformation.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we live in an unpredictable world, and that we need to respond in a rapid and dynamic a way in order to stay relevant. Fusion will help you be ready for the next new challenge; it’s well worth finding out about it.