Digital transformation can’t happen in silos. You need to go big or go home. This blog post examines how Ford undertook a large-scale digital transformation, moving from a project- to product-centric approach that fuels enhanced business value and agility.
Ford was established in 1903, and today more than 166,000 people around the world are part of the organization. Across the business, we’re working to stay in front of solving big societal needs. We’re positioned at the intersection of all forms of electrification, which invites us to think about new transportation in cities and the value we can create.
Historically, we didn’t view ourselves as a software company, but as a manufacturing company. That has been changing. Technology and innovation enable us to work on smarter solutions. Ford has been a leader in leveraging new software technologies and agile development approaches. Today, our mission is to deliver smart vehicles for a smart world.
How does IT support the organization in this mission? How do we transform IT structure, culture, and demand management to achieve customer centricity, establish a vibrant workplace, and deliver value—at market speed?
To support the business, we have been pursuing digital transformation. We started pursuing agile approaches more than 10 years ago. Initially, we adopted agile at the team level, and experimented with adoption at the program level. During that time, we hired many experts to advise us. We went in many different directions, pursuing a number of objectives. We ultimately came to realize that agile transformation at the team level was insufficient. The only way to fully capitalize on these approaches was to make this transition as an organization.
As part of this transformation, we sought to move from being project- to product-focused. Looking back, we realized some of the projects we’d been working on didn’t deliver the value that was needed and were not strategically aligned.
In managing projects, there was always an end date, and it usually was much smaller in scope. Teams took ownership of the specific project and were responsible for meeting delivery milestones. With a product focus, the scope is much larger, and it entails an end-to-end perspective. We make decisions based on this visibility, with a much better understanding of such considerations as business impact, risk, and sustainability.
At a high level, we set out to focus on two aspects:
Doing the right things. Through IT demand management, we wanted to ensure we were making optimal decisions that yielded maximum business value.
Doing things right. By moving from a project- to product-driven organization, we could more frequently deliver the products and services customers wanted. In addition, we sought to establish a strong organizational culture, one that would help establish Ford as the workplace of choice for IT professionals.
In the following sections, I’ve outlined some of the important strategies we’ve employed to propel our transformation.
We worked very closely with business leaders to understand what their needs were. We then started by making a hypothesis around the product, one that was aligned with desired business outcomes. Then we formed products and teams and started work. Along the way, we learned and adjusted and we consistently paid attention to ensuring our product delivery stayed aligned with the established outcomes.
We set out to restructure our teams and organization, looking to make our business less bureaucratic and more nimble. We implemented new processes and organizational structures, seeking to enhance workflows based on what we were learning through our experiments and efforts. Ultimately, it was important to institute more structure. This was instrumental in establishing more expertise and accountability throughout every layer of the organization.
Within the IT organization, we traditionally had three core functions: development, application management, and maintenance and operations. As part of our organizational restructuring, it was important to break down these silos to form unified product teams.
We explored the product team model and the roles required. We started to create product teams, identify the roles and skills required, and learn how traditional roles within our original project teams needed to change. It was clear that we’d need advanced skills for this new product-driven paradigm.
We also created a council consisting of IT directors and the CIO. All council members were highly committed to our transformation journey, and on a weekly basis, they dedicated significant time and effort to learning what was required and leading this transition.
Culture is a fundamental component to any successful transformation. Consequently, we made it a priority to establish a vibrant workspace and deliver iteratively in order to engage employees and cultivate support for our efforts.
When doing a significant realignment of teams and organization structures, cultural challenges can be significant. Staff needed new roles and new skills. They had to change their behaviors and habits, and acquire different “muscles” than the ones they’d been using. This created a lot of anxiety for a lot of people.
To support the advancement of our organizational culture, it was vital to pay attention to people as individuals, and to help them enhance their skills and identify new product-focused roles and career paths. Ultimately, we focused on employee satisfaction, which was essential in helping keep our culture of transformation on track.
Currently, we are focusing on adopting IT demand management, so we can better deliver against key customer needs and business outcomes. To do so, it was critical to establish a customer-centric view of our operations and deliverables.
We want to ensure we’re building solutions that address customers’ needs, and that we’re creating products with end-to-end support. As part of this, we’re mapping business initiatives to delivery outcomes, so both business and product teams understand the approach and can track our progress throughout the entire process. There are many parts to IT demand management, including funding and investment. We’re trying to determine how to prioritize efforts, and how we most intelligently allocate budget and resources. This a process of constant discovery. It’s important to be open minded and keep adjusting.
We didn’t try to start everything at once. Instead, we started with the first slice of a product, gained learnings, and continued to iterate. Over time, we gradually introduced infrastructure and service staff onto our evolving product teams. Over time, we continued to work to move our product teams to our desired maturity level.
We implemented common tools that helped with measurement. As part of this, we applied a standard software development performance index. This standard approach helps leaders uncover information and establish common measurements for teams.
Through embarking on this digital transformation, we’ve been able to realize a number of tangible benefits:
Our approach empowers teams to continuously deliver software and increase speed, fostering innovation and agility for the business.
Because teams are working on the right things, we can more effectively ensure that the resources we’re applying are delivering maximum business value.
We’ve established a cultural environment in which we’re continuously learning, building trust, fostering collaboration, and enhancing problem solving.
At the BizOps Virtual Summit event, I gave an in-depth presentation on our project- to product-centric transformation. To learn more about the strategies we’ve employed at Ford, be sure to visit the BizOps Virtual Summit resource center page. At this page, you can access my complete presentation as well as those of a range of other industry experts and practitioners.