Your organization is now committed to embracing the cloud, whatever form that means. The cloud is a transformation, an epic modern-day odyssey that spans every part of your company. You need to transform your culture, align your organization with cloud, and embrace constant changes while keeping your core business running. So now what? I have witnessed this struggle across multiple companies and have gathered lessons learned for you throughout this approach.

Summary:

1. Create a cross-team matrix organization within your company

2. Sponsor and nurture the new organization initiatives like a startup

3. When you hit critical mass, start moving from the old organization to the new organization

4. Keep refreshing your new organization

5. Decommission what remains of your old organization

Create a cross-team matrix organization

When you want something done, put your best people on it. Make sure you maintain executive level backing, enthusiasm, and funding to prevent inertia. You will need a cross-team organization that has full representation from all parts of your company. Obvious departments include information technology and security, but cloud ideas extend to non-obvious departments like procurement/supply chain, finance, sales, and marketing. The idea is to prevent an “us versus them” culture by involving as many high-powered people as you can so that there is no way to isolate the new cloud culture.

Corporate culture is what you do at your company every day. Changing the culture means changing what you are doing and how you are doing it every day. You need high energy in the beginning to overcome inertia of doing things the old way, but stamina to keep up the new culture until it takes hold and can flourish. You need representation in each department to prevent inertia.

Nurture cloud initiatives like a startup

Your new startup organization needs to learn about cloud, test things out, and fail a few times before finding what works — all while supporting the old organization. That will take time and investment. Once you overcome the initial inertia of committing to cloud, you must demonstrate consistent and clear intention to follow through no matter the setbacks.

There are constant distractions to slow your journey, which leads to lack of focus on fundamentals. These include spending energy on the newest services, all the things that are possible with cloud, and the countless vendors that promise various miracles including an easy transition to cloud.

Instead, your startup will focus on basic cloud fundamentals that can in turn produce miracles if you get them right:

What is the most efficient way to produce the minimal business value needed for the next step?

Example (old way): I need to understand everything about cloud before I can move forward.

Example (new way): What things about cloud do I need to know before I can move forward? I will focus on those things and grow my capabilities from these foundations.

There are so many things to try out and experiment within cloud, you are very likely not going to get it right the first time.

Overcoming your fear of failure is required to try out new things. Make sure to try out small things at first, learning from fast and inexpensive failed experiments. Tolerate small failures and celebrate successes.

The idea is to take your lessons learned from failing and fail better the next time, which ultimately leads to success. In cloud it is inexpensive to do this and should be encouraged if each failure is building foundations toward success.

There are other cloud lessons like idempotency, which refers to applying the same operations multiple times without changing the result beyond the first try, or the “cattle, not pets” mentality, a metaphorical description to managing infrastructure in a cloud-native environment. Your teams will discover these along the way and incorporate into their successes; you must keep this momentum going in this phase.

Critical mass

Critical mass, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a size, number, or amount large enough to produce a particular result.

The results you are looking for from your teams include:

  • Asking intelligent and increasingly sophisticated questions about cloud
  • Pushing the limits of experiments that demonstrate cloud limitations, then finding workarounds
  • Mixing cloud ideas in new ways to solve problems
  • Collaborating with each other in new ways that leverage each person’s cloud experience and resulting in something that neither person would have achieved alone

People and teams reach critical mass at different times, but it is important to identify when it happens and use the opportunity to advance into the next phase. It is time to bring over anyone left in the old organization and ask these people and teams to identify, lead, and guide parts of the old organization into the new organization.

This phase has enough traction and momentum to change major cross-team processes across departments. It also produces the most business value you have seen so far and results in major transformations that align with cloud. These major changes highlight remaining inertia in the old organization, and you need to focus on fixing these rough spots to keep momentum.

As more of your teams cross into critical mass, the changes become self perpetuating and organic. Allow for new organizational structures to emerge, especially those focused on automation across your teams. Your new organization will remain in this phase forever because people and teams will be either crossing into critical mass or reaching new levels of critical mass.

Refresh with new ideas

All along your journey, and especially after critical mass, you will need to inject new ideas into your teams from the outside. Injecting ideas and cloud experience from outsiders helps to stoke the ideas your team has built from solid cloud foundations. Constant refresh of ideas comes from unexpected places, but generally can be categorized as:

Short term consultants and contractors

  • They add their experiences and lessons learned to your team’s growing library
  • They inject ideas that have worked in other places, reducing the time to success

Continuously interviewing and hiring cloud talent

  • There is a shortage of cloud talent in the market, so remaining alert and growing when you find the right person will keep momentum
  • Teams get introduced to new ideas from interviews and interactions from new hires, which turn into new successes

Total cloud immersion

  • Give key team members exposure to total immersion cloud experiences like conferences, developer events, etc.
  • Ask that the members come back with new ideas found and train others with discoveries

Product and service evaluations

  • Keep a backlog of cloud products and services that your teams constantly evaluate and incorporate their ideas into new successes

Decommission

At this point there should be an empty shell of what is left of the old organization. Some things about the old organization are stubborn and do not adapt to cloud. You need to determine how to decommission or transform these remnants.

It could take a temporary reorganization of your best talent to determine what to do with what remains here. It could take transforming your business into something else, or it might be that you need to live with it and make the best of it. In this phase you must understand your unique business value and competitive advantage. Cloud allows you to enhance these things, but they cannot be replaced. If your competitors were at your same cloud maturity level, what else would matter? You are using the same clouds, have access to the same services, and might even have similar ideas.

Always focus on your unique advantages and unique value. That focus could better determine what to decommission, what to transform, and how cloud can help you.

I look forward to meeting you on the other side, best wishes to you on your journey!

Noah Wood

Noah Wood has more than 20 years of experience designing, implementing, and operating global networks across government and commercial enterprises. His experience spans networks, security, voice, wireless, and cloud technologies. His current emphasis is on multi-cloud integration (AWS / Azure / Oracle Cloud) and automation across cloud and other technologies.

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