Here is an excerpt from an interview of Tom Weck (right) by Jeffrey Lewis and Steve Van Kuiken for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
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Upgrading the technology experience for 140,000 users
Jeffrey Lewis: Tom, across many companies, we’re seeing digital and analytics transformations at the top of the agenda. IT organizations are retooling to help shift companies from use cases to a delivery model and cutting-edge technology foundation that’s suitable for scaling. Can you tell us about your journey and what led you to shift your team’s operating model?
Tom Weck: My journey to managing corporate technology for Johnson & Johnson can be summarized in one sentence: Be careful what you complain about, because somebody might ask you to fix it. I had been dissatisfied with the way we had been delivering technology in service to our 140,000 employees around the world.
The way your IT organization is viewed internally is usually based on the capabilities you’re delivering to serve employees. Because of COVID-19, it became even clearer that the technology experience is now pretty much the user experience. But Johnson & Johnson’s decentralized structure resulted in a panoply of loosely coupled IT solutions where nobody was really paying enough attention to the user experience.
It became imperative for us to take action and make some changes. I was really excited about the opportunity, because it gave us a huge opportunity to look at serving those 140,000 employees and changing their experience for the better.
Lewis: Steve, as you look across companies, what are you seeing as the core drivers for rethinking the way technology is operating?
Steve Van Kuiken: Tom is describing a trend that’s happening across industries in IT organizations around the world. The first big push is to focus relentlessly on designing and developing systems to improve the consumer experience.
To do that, you’ve got to move decisions to the front line and cross-functional teams, because empowering local decision making is the only way you’re going to improve consumer experience.
The other big shift is to focus on adopting effective technology and always improving the value that the technology delivers, which is a different orientation than focusing only on delivering a project on time. It’s a focus on constantly trying to improve the technology and making sure that consumers are getting the most out of it.
And then, finally, there’s a shift from purely functional excellence to end-to-end collaboration. It’s not just about frontline decision making, but about how everyone in the organization lines up behind the front line to make their decisions and their actions most effective.
The value of an adaptable model focused on employees
Lewis: Tom, would you mind sharing a little bit about the fundamental shifts you made to focus more on the employee experience?
Weck: One of the key shifts was focusing on the kind of value we were trying to drive. Changing the model to focus on the employee experience, as opposed to focusing on whether projects were delivered on time and on budget, was a fundamental change.
The second thing was really making the primary operating model revolve around the squad, and making sure squads get whatever they need to set them up for success. That frees them to be self-directed, so that they can take charge of their direction and their decisions.
When you create that squad, you need a business product-owner role, you need a technical product-owner role, and you need scrum masters. It’s the typical squad model from a technology standpoint. But making that shift from a project-oriented model, where some people are on board for only 20 percent of their time, is a fundamental and necessary shift.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just putting it all together in a model that makes sense for the work that needs to get done and remaining really focused and dedicated to that work, which is why you need a persistent team that exists beyond the initial delivery of the product you’re trying to create.
Empowering employees to deal with any eventualities
Lewis: Tom, can you talk a bit about how this model helps or hurts as you’re managing the realities of today?
Weck: Leaders across all organizations and all different functions are realizing that the traditional command-and-control structures really don’t work. That’s particularly important in technology, because it’s anathema to the next generation of technology leaders to exist in a command-and-control environment. Just as the military learned when they were fighting ISIS, it’s much more effective to deploy small, self-directed teams with an appreciation for the context in which they’re operating, which enables them to drive these kinds of transformational value propositions.
We certainly benefited from that model, and I didn’t have people calling me at all hours of the day and night asking, “What should I do about this project? How should I make this decision?” They were empowered to make those decisions for their products on their own, while reporting back to make sure we were aware of what was going on. That’s really important, because you can operate in a virtual environment almost better than you can in an in-person environment, so we didn’t miss a beat.
Van Kuiken: It’s probably worth pointing out that the kind of model that Tom has implemented is well suited to the decentralized decision making that Johnson & Johnson is famous for. This model works for more empowered organizations, is more adaptive, and, in the end, is more innovative.
Weck: And if I can elaborate on that, I find it very interesting that other product-oriented companies like Johnson & Johnson haven’t seen the parallels between a technology product and a physical product.
One way we try to evangelize this movement toward product-oriented technology is pointing out that you wouldn’t launch a medical device or pharmaceutical product in the marketplace and then just walk away from it. You want to continually invest and support the development of that product in the marketplace. Why don’t we do the same thing for technology? I think using that analogy sometimes helps people to understand and unlock some of that value.
Van Kuiken: Maybe one more point here is that it’s really a platform for innovation, because you can move at speed, but [you can] also try smaller experiments and then scale the best ideas.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.