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Effective Digital Transformation Depends on a Shared Language

Effective Digital Transformation Depends on a Shared Language

hbr.org

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The Language Inconsistency

Over time, departments develop their own languages. While sales, marketing, and finance all talk about “customers,” they likely don’t mean the same thing.

For companies embarking on a digital transformation, these language barriers that grow up between departments are a problem — one tigh...

technical debt is the result of shortcuts — choosing quick fixes over a long-term investment — it causes plenty of problems in the here and now. It adds enormous friction any time people need to coordinate work together across silos.

Technical debt grows as departments adopt increas...

The seeds of technical debt are sown as businesses grow, change, and innovate, naturally leading teams and departments to develop and adopt new, increasingly specialized business language to help them do their work efficiently.

This may not have presented much of an issue when the company...

To automate their work, departments use databases, computer systems, and applications, which employ data models and databases to capture and lock in the business language of their users.

While automation can help each department boost efficiency, it can also mean that th...

People do a lot of work to accommodate the disparate systems: Business departments develop work-arounds and IT crafts custom interfaces to connect these systems. These measures add complexity; though without them, systems simply would not work.

The totality of this technical debt — ...

The only proven way to fix this problem is to intervene at step one, via common language. This may seem like a daunting task — after all companies have thousands of terms in their vocabularies.

The good news is that focusing first on a small subset of terms that align with the key...

The secret to resolving the conflict lies in recognizing and clarifying the underlying concepts:

  • First, treat “prospects,” “signers” and “responsible payers” not as tangible things, but as roles played by one or more persons or groups of persons (e.g., organizations).
  • Abstract ...

Common language and data models provide an architecture that guides further technological development.

Developing these underlying concepts, gaining agreement on them, and using them going forward is hard work. It requires committed leadership and a powerful coalition of people with divers...

A senior leader must assemble and manage a diverse team to get the work done, including:

  • Conceptual thinkers who can uncover the key concepts cited above.
  • Skilled, business-savvy writers who can put those concepts into easily-understood, precise language.
  • Negotiators wh...

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