Digital Transformation is like cooking a dinner

Sander van der Sloot

Does your organisation also adopt the ideas of Agility and the need for Digital Transformation? Have you seen a Scaled Agile Framework poster hanging around?

Well, exercising a Digital Transformation seems harsh and complex. The main reason according to a (Dutch) survey turns out to be the amount of departments involved. That in itself is the proof of the need to transform as you will see. Digital Transformation is about a mindshift through the entire organisation. Would it then be possible within your organisation to transform itself into another one, one that could indeed adopt to change more easily? How should you overcome this paradox?

There is a great - thorough - easy-to-read book about the subject:

Agile IT Organisation Design * - For Digital Transformation and Continuous Delivery - by *Sriram Narayan

In this blog I will try to solve this paradox on the basis of this book.

One famous quote of mr. Albert Einstein which you should keep in mind reading this blog or the book:

No problem can be solved by the same KIND OF THINKING that created it.

Cooking a dinner##

Imagine yourself as a cook. How would you cook a fantastic dinner? It would be very impractical to make the whole menu at once. It is at least for those who'd eat it. Instead, you'd make the entree first, followed by the second course and so forth. The cook transforms incoherent ingredients into a splendid dish, by grinding, heating, dissolving or cutting ingredients using all kinds of tools, and all proceedings described in a recipe. If Digital Transformation is like cooking, what then will the menu look like and what will be the recipe?

The Menu##

Our menu consists of three courses:

  1. Govern for value over predictability
  2. Organise for responsiveness
  3. Design for intrinsic motivation.

This dinner we will have only one dish, one business outcome. Every course we add new specific ingredients to mature the dish.

The Recipe##

As a good cookbook we take a look at the ingredients first and then follow the instructions. So, here they are.


  1. Agile Credo. We need the four principles from the credo as a guide for the mind shift. The credo is like salt in a dish: Whatever we cook, it'll need at least a pinch of salt.
  2. Superstructure. An organisational structure that's outcome oriented (as opposed to the classic activity-oriented organisations). Good business outcomes are testable, valuable, independently achievable and negotiable (TVIN).
  3. Team. A cross-functional team with different primary skills working toward a common goal. The team is self-sufficient and business goal-directed.
  4. Accountability. Every business outcome needs a full-time dedicated outcome owner having authority and accountability for achieving the outcome.
  5. Alignment. Ensure business strategy is articulated, shared and accepted.
  6. Tooling. A tool that blurs boundaries between specialists to create a fertile ground for cross-functional non-scripted collaboration.
  7. Metrics. Outcome-oriented aggragated metrics to measure adaptability (over predictability). Measurement can be valuable without targets.
  8. Culture. Culture change needs a well-thought-out set of norms providing a healthy framework for greater autonomy. Influence the communication culture and encourage written deliberations for important decisions. Open-plan layout for the office encourages collaboration de-emphasize hierarchy.


Now, let's start with the entree to excite the appetite: Govern for Value over Predictability. Choose a simple fairly autonomous - maybe new - value stream in your organisation as the dish for this dinner. One that's decoupled from internal processes and therefore untied from the departments. One that can operate without interference from the current powers. This is an important property of the dish to mitigate the paradox mentioned in the introduction.

Then use metrics to focus on outcome realisation. Keep measuring adaptability. If you're distracted and inflexible at the same time, things might get burned and you'll have to start all over. Do not let accounting considerations influence team design. Instead, add team capacity-based budgeting, add this together with a pinch of an outcome owner accountable for the taste of the dish. After all, you need the best ingredients for the best outcome.

This was the entree. Radiate the appreciation of your guests and use their feedback for the next course. The next course is Organise for Responsiveness. Now we need to add ingredients like Permissive Culture, by pealing off approval based access to tools until you have access by default. The dish now needs to rise. So, add some more accountable decision owner as the yeast to the outcome.

Our third and last course is Design for intrinsic Motivation. This dessert is quite rich of taste if you look at the ingredients. First add a spoon of shared understanding of outcome. Stir well to commingle planning and execution. Let the dish simmer for quite a while to create the nice taste of stable capability team.


One of the main pitfalls in the transformation is to approach it as a project or program of projects. That would be a regular approach, which will not succeed in this case, because of the involvement of many departments. Furthermore, being organised in departments inherently implies not having the right mindset. This is the relation to Einstein’s quote. Another pitfall is treat software development as a production process of a strictly designed product. On the contrary! Software development must be seen as a design process not a production process. You could look at cooking the same way. The cook adds an amount of an ingredient and test the dish by tasting until the right balance of flavour is achieved. The consequence might be the dish needs more of the same ingredient or it needs another.

To mitigate the paradox find a small or new value stream that could have an outcome in a short period. Form the right organisation with a skilled team and radiate successes. Also, create a supporting IT architecture on the side that's loosely coupled - preferably decoupled - to the current landscape. Doing this, focus on the three key themes: Value, Responsiveness and Intrinsic Motivation. Repeat this recipe per business outcome until the legacy departments are disposable.