Preethi Madhu ADT podcast cover
Episode: 71

Preethi Madhu - Making your digital vision a reality

Posted on: 20 Oct 2022
Preethi Madhu ADT podcast cover

Preethi Madhu is the CEO of the digital transformation consultancy Greyamp Consulting, with 20+ years of experience in helping leadership and CxO roles achieve their digital vision.

In this episode, we talk about how companies should go about making their digital vision a reality and what the most important factors impacting these efforts are. We discuss digital readiness, the digital workforce, the importance of strategizing, the role of leadership, and agility. Preethi brings the discussion home with a couple of client examples that highlight and substantiate these key factors.


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“What we see very prevalent in the market is the strategy – execution gap, right? So the strategy is very well defined, very well thought of. A lot of time and effort has gone into it, a lot of money has been spent on it. But by the time it gets into execution, the strategy is completely diluted. Like, nobody has the connect between what I'm executing and what was the strategy.”

Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined today by Preethi Madhu, CEO of the digital transformation consultancy Greyamp Consulting. In today's episode, we'll be talking about making your company's digital vision a reality, and we'll be taking a look at the most important factors impacting this, with Preethi sharing her first hand insights from her extensive experience of working with renowned firms such as McKinsey, ThoughtWorks, etc. So, Preethi, welcome to the show. It's really great having you with us today. Do you want to add anything to my intro? 

Preethi Madhu: No. Thanks a lot, Tim. Thank you for having me on the show. Nothing to add. I think you've covered it adequately. 

Tim Butara: Awesome. So let's start with our discussion. I think it's definitely a great one that will be valuable for a lot of our listeners because it's going to touch on a lot of important business aspects of today. So the first thing that I wanted to talk about with you today, Preethi, is digital readiness. So how do you determine if your business has reached an adequate level of digital readiness to compete, and– probably it's best to say to thrive in the fast paced, innovation driven economy that we're living in today? 

Preethi Madhu: That's a very interesting question. I mean, when you talk about adequate, adequate is a very subjective term and situation-driven, right? But it depends on the business, it depends on the markets, it depends on what the focus of the industry is. But having said this, when we talk about digital readiness, to be able to compete in the market, we are basically talking about the ability of the organization to address three key things that we focus on. 

One is, what is the last product or service that you delivered to the customers or the market which is qualified as digital on a digital channel? And what was the relevance of it? Like, did your customers accept it? Was there enough uptake? Was there enough buy-in to your product? Right? The second aspect that we look at was, was it on time to the market? Was it fast enough? Did it address the need when it occurred? And the third one that we look at, was that service or product reliable? Did the customers find the kind of quality that they were looking at when that product was delivered? Right? 

So when we look at these three questions, this is the litmus test of any organization being digitally ready when they are playing in a digital ecosystem, because the three things that we look at is, are we able to drive products that are relevant to the market? Are we able to get there on time, are we able to build it in a reliable manner? 

Everything else that comes in, every framework that looks at the shoe readiness, looks at multiple facets, but these are the three key ones. But to get to these three key ones, the organization needs to look at various aspects of what they're doing, not just from the business side and the market side, but more importantly, from the operational side, the people side, and the process and technology aspects. So these are the things that we look at when we talk about digital readiness. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, it's definitely not kind of a one faceted thing. It definitely, as you just pointed out, it needs to take into account the people, the processes, the technologies, and all of it has to kind of work together, has to get on the same page. And this is actually a perfect lead into my next question, which is about the digital workforce and how all of this digitalization, how all of this streamlining of a company's digital capabilities is impacting companies’ workforces. What would you say? 

Preethi Madhu: Yes, digital capabilities. Again, when we talk about digital capabilities, it's a broad umbrella. It covers a wide array of aspects, right? And we like to categorize them into two clear buckets. One is your hard skills, which are related to technology, related to the aspects that you're going to be working on. But more importantly, there is a softer aspect that comes into play, and I'll touch upon that very briefly in a bit. 

So when we talk about digital capabilities, what we are looking at is an organization's ability to be able to readily adapt and experiment with what is coming in the market, right? Whether those are new technologies, whether those are new ideas, whether those are new products that they want to launch, but the ability to adapt and to experiment, right? 

And this will help them ride the wave, even if they don't want to look at being cutting edge, even if they are looking at riding the wave of change, this has become an essential for organizations today, right? So a combination of these technologies and the abilities that we are talking about is what drives the operational effectiveness and market disruption for the organization. 

Now, when we talk about the workforce as an industry, we have been used to hiring people for what they know and what they have a proven track record for. But what we need today is a different DNA. Right? When we talk about digital talent, the workforce that we're talking about today, very similar to what Adam Grant talks about in his book Think Again, right? The DNA is that of a scientist mindset, which is ready to experiment, ready to adapt, ready to learn and ready to change.

Now, this is the key when we talk about the impact on the workforce, when we are building digital capabilities. So it is not about what you already know, it is the ability to be able to pick up something new as and when it comes up. So this ability to be open to failure, to be able to adapt and to learn quickly and to pivot on your ideas is what is the biggest impact. And with this, the impact would also be on the way you design, the way you acquire, the way you measure and enable your talent force going forward. 

So this is required for the workforce to be able to own and write the outcomes, to do more with less is what everybody talks about. For that, you need this capability to come into play. So streamlining capability is not just about training people on the new skills or hiring people with the required skills. It is about ensuring that we are building that right mindset and nurturing that right mindset, which is what we call the scientist mindset. Right? 

And to do this, we need to be able to reimagine the way we identify the talent, the way we onboard them, the way we engage, align them to the work that they're doing, the way they're upskilled, and the way they will be able to contribute to the success of the organization. 

So the impact, if we talk about it in terms of– the question, I think, was the impact of the streamlining on the digital workforce itself. The streamlining would need to, again, look at multiple aspects that we spoke about. It needs to not only look at the hard skills part, which is what do they know, how are they going to apply it, but also the soft skill aspect, which is the mindset and how they actually enable the work that they are doing with the right approach. Right? So that is what we look at. And unfortunately, I'm not sure if all enterprises are ready to adapt to this change and take it in their stride. 

Tim Butara: I think that you really hit the nail on its head here. I agree. I think that one of the most important things in today's digital economy, in kind of priming the workforce up for success is greater focus on these soft skills, on a positive mindset, adaptability, kind of embracing change, stuff like that. Because– you talked about upskilling and if you wanted to still focus on hard skills, there are so many new technologies, so many new processes, so many new tools, so many new hard skills to learn that you just couldn't expect to get experts in all of that. 

Whereas on the other hand, it's much, much harder to teach people these soft skills than it is to teach them these hard skills. If they have a learning mindset, then it won't be that difficult to teach them, I don't know, how to work with a new technology or something like that. But if they don't have a learning mindset, then even all the new technologies will not do them as much good as they would otherwise be able to. 

Preethi Madhu: Absolutely. In fact, just one point on that, Tim, is that when you look at people with the learnability and the aptitude for learning, teaching them then doesn't require to be done as an activity. That would be a self-learning process because they are curious and they are always looking for ways to improve things and do things better and learn new things. 

When we talk to our clients and when we work with them, we do run academies for our customers in terms of building their digital talent. But one of the things that we focus on as a part of the academy is focusing on the learnability aspect. How do you teach people to learn? 

Because that is something that gets missed out in a lot of the trainings and lot of the academies that are run. We miss out on teaching people how to learn and pick up new things and we focus on teaching them what to do. Right. But what we need to show them, if at all, we are going to be streamlining, is the word that you used, or guiding the workforce into what is expected from them. What we need to look at is how we enable an environment where they can learn by themselves and we teach them how that learning process should look like. 

Tim Butara: I love that. So basically, if you want to learn effectively, if you want to be able to learn effectively, you first need to be able to learn how to learn. 

Preethi Madhu: Exactly. 

Tim Butara: Awesome. So let's move on from the more people aspect to the strategy aspect of kind of realizing your digital vision. So what kind of role should strategy play in all this? And what are the key elements of strategizing for a digital transformation project? 

Preethi Madhu: So strategy has the sound of longevity, which is very scary in the world that we're living in, because strategies are long drawn, they’re long term and we expect to have all our answers in strategy, that is a very scary part of strategy for me personally. In a constantly changing environment, anything that is long drawn and detailed will not last. Right. Because things are changing and you really don't know what you're going to get into a few days down the line, a few months down the line, and the relevance of what you had thought of or what you imagined and what you put on paper might not hold good today, but everybody is then trying to work towards that what was to put on paper. Right. 

So to us, when we talk about strategy, strategy is a path to an end. It's not sacrosanct in itself that it has to be followed completely. What we look at is, what is the objective of the goal, the organization is trying to achieve? Why are they looking at being digital in the first place? Like, what do they aspire to achieve? What would the world look like for them once they become digital, right? The North Star, if you may use the word. 

And then we start looking at breaking that down into very small milestones and starting to constantly build this muscle of adapting and realigning, right? So anything that becomes too hard drawn or a line drawn in stone is very hard to work with. So what we look at is breaking out that overall objective into smaller milestones, smaller goals that can be achieved. 

It achieves two things for us. One, it gives people the motivation because you have seen some results and you're able to move through the quick ones. And secondly, you have enough opportunities through the process to be able to realign yourself, readjust and pivot on what is not working, right? So the whole planning, execution becomes an iterative process. 

Otherwise what we see is very prevalent in the market is the strategy execution gap, right? So the strategy is very well defined, very well thought of. A lot of time and effort has gone into it, a lot of money has been spent on it. But by the time it gets into execution, the strategy is completely diluted, right? Nobody has the connect between what I'm executing and what was the strategy. So instead of that, being able to break it down becomes important and then aligning everybody to it. 

So coming back to your question on what are the key elements that this kind of a strategy would involve, it would be having a very clear common purpose and goal. And more important than goal is the word common purpose. It is something that brings different units, different functions of the organization together. 

The second one is to have a process where you are building continuous and early feedback mechanism throughout. So none of us know exactly how anything is going to pan out. We are going to do something, we are going to do the PDCA, the plan, do, check, act. We are going to plan it, we're going to do it, we're going to see what the feedback is and we're going to pivot on it, right? 

And the third one, which is important, is no shortcuts. So you have to bake in quality from the word go. A lot of times, given the market pressure, the time pressures, people just want to avoid doing certain things that will take time and take the shortcuts and do things easy way. But having quality baked in right from the word go is critical for this to succeed. 

And the fourth one, which is the most important, and it's also one of the principles of Agile, is simplicity, which is – maximize the work not done. Most of the time when we talk to our customers, they want to do ten different things and achieve ten different things. What we want to look at is, how do we continuously prioritize and remove the things from the list so that we focus only on things that are the highest priority? And these are the four elements that would actually help in today's world when we talk about strategy. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, I can really see how they're crucial both for effective strategizing and for effective execution, which you also mentioned previously. And I love the point about how by the time companies get to actually executing on their strategies, the strategies become so diluted that they're not as effective anymore. And I'm guessing that following or kind of incorporating these four elements will help companies avoid this dilution of strategy. 

Preethi Madhu: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

Tim Butara: And obviously, you know, leadership plays an important part in strategizing because they're usually the ones playing the major role in strategizing. So how should leadership act in all this? How should leadership adapt to the changes that we're witnessing into the digital economy in order to kind of realize this digital vision? 

Preethi Madhu: Leadership plays a very crucial role in all of this at this point, right? I mean, today we are moving towards everything self governed and, including the Internet, where everything needs to be decentralized and self governed. But organizations, unfortunately, are still very centralized and governed, right? So when we are talking about organizations as they are today, and hopefully in the future, they do become decentralized like the technologies we are talking about. 

But as of today, the leadership plays a very crucial role in the change program. They're the front and center of it. They're the make and break of these programs. So what do they need to be looking at? What do they need to be thinking about for themselves? Most of leaders I have met, everybody knows what needs to get done. They have a vision. They have a very clear idea about what they need. Where it starts falling is when it comes to dealing with the volatility of the situation, the interrelatedness of it, the ambiguity of the whole aspect of change, right? 

Because you want to hold on to something that is tangible. You want to hold on to something that you know and you can recognize and which you feel familiar with. But the whole idea of going into this space is that you're dealing with something that you're not familiar with. Right? 

So to be able to do this, apart from having that open mind to change and embracing change wholeheartedly, which is all of these aspects that I spoke about, what they also need to be thinking about is the ability to create that compelling vision. Creating the compelling vision which you can rally the entire program around, is very crucial for the program itself. 

But most importantly, more than just coming up with the compelling vision, it is communicating that vision over and over and over again as many times as possible because it can never be reiterated enough. The more people hear it, the more real it becomes. The more you talk about it, the more real it becomes, right? 

Most of the time what we see is that there is this one big bang event that happens where the vision and the strategy is proclaimed and then after that it's silence, right? Then it's like business as usual. Day goes by, a project comes, you don't even know whether this is related to the strategy or not and you're working on it. So having that and being able to communicate, over communicate, bring people, rally people together is one of the things that is expected from the leaders. 

The second thing from business leaders, what I see a lot of is the defense mechanism that kicks in when we talk about technology, right? So you need to befriend technology, it is something that is going to support you and help you along the way, right? So understanding technology. Understanding how it helps you. Understanding how it helps your business. Understanding how it will work for you is important because you are going to be dealing with a lot of technologists and technocrats as a part of your digital transformation and you need to know how you can use it. 

Think now and later. Which is being the present and in the future, you have to do that through tracking. Right? A lot of times business leaders are good at this. It's not that this is something new to them. But when it comes to running digital programs which are hugely distributed, there are so many teams working on it, it is cross functional. You have so many people coming together. 

But the ability to stay on top of it is something that is very very crucial for leaders, to know what is happening, to know how it is all tying up and how it is coming together, what is happening today that's going to impact your idea or the vision for the future is very important. 

And the last one is, invest in the right talent, because it is not a one man or one woman show, it is a team that is going to make this happen. Investing in the right people is very, very important and sometimes the right people might not be the people that you are always used to having around because they probably know things old school that you know and you're comfortable with. You want people who can challenge you, people who can come with a different perspective and people who can actually take the change to the next level. 

So investing in the right people rather than going for familiarity I think will be very very important. Especially when you're finding that team of people to whom you are going to delegate the execution of the change program per se. 

Tim Butara: I think all of the topics that we're discussing really tie together so nicely, right? You have to invest in the right people and we covered that in the question about the workforce and the skills that you need and how this is changing. And then obviously investing in the right people takes this more the long term approach which you just highlighted that leaders should prioritize more than the short term, familiar, comfortable approach. So I'm loving this discussion, Preethi. 

Preethi Madhu: Thank you so much, Tim. I'm enjoying this too. 

Tim Butara: So one thing that we haven't yet talked about, but I think is also very important both for leaders as well as for strategizing is agility, agile practices. So how do these factor in? When does it make sense to introduce them into a digital information? And has this changed because of Covid, with Covid? What's the situation here? 

Preethi Madhu: Got it. So, agile, like you probably heard me speak already, I've used this term in some of our earlier questions as well. For us it starts from the word go. It's a way of working. It has gone beyond just being an approach to developing software. It has become a way of just doing things right. So, we tell our customers, agile is not a methodology, it's a philosophy. Scrum as a methodology or extreme programming is a methodology. But Agile by itself is a philosophy. It's just the way you do things and what you are prioritizing, what are you looking at, what is important to you? Right? 

So if you take out some of the very key concepts of what agility stands for, which is, what we look at is specifically around early feedback, around driving alignment, building visibility, driving adaptability through the entire process. These aspects become very, very applicable from the word go, from the moment you get up and say okay, we are going to do something different, and that becomes the default way of working for everybody, right from the leadership level to the people on the ground. 

And what we also say is that if the leadership is not able to demonstrate this in their way of working, if they don't lead by example and show that things can be done iteratively and they are willing to go through that change, that mindset shift themselves, then asking that from people on the ground is asking for too much, right? I mean, they're not going to believe you in that sense anyways. 

So that is what we think is the relevance of agility in the entire process. It's from the word go and it is across– in fact, we have also implemented agility on the HR side with the people's team and it works very, very well. 

Now, coming to Covid, Covid has accelerated a lot of things in dimensions that we did not even imagine three years back. It has accelerated digital, it has accelerated the way people work, it has accelerated the way people live for that matter. So definitely it has impacted the way people work in that sense very deeply, because for the entire period suddenly nobody could work together and nobody could even meet each other. And for months together, nobody saw another human being except the ones who lived with you. 

So agility became very important at that point because people really wanted to understand, how do we continue to build this visibility, how do we continue to collaborate, how do we continue to ensure we are all aligned and working towards the same goals and people are not just going off on a tangent and working on things that are not important? We've seen an uptake of Agility in the process, not just from the development side, but even from the business side. And COVID has definitely been a shot in the arm on that. 

So if you look at it today, we are talking about 93% of the business units that have fully adopted agile model in the pandemic or before, just before the pandemic, have actually done better than organizations that have not adopted it. And agile adoption in software teams have also increased from 37% in 2020 to about 86% in 2021. That's a huge jump if you look at it. 

So agility has now become almost like if you're not doing it, then you're not living in this era. It's pretty much that. Right. The question, however, that bothers me, and I'm sure a lot of people are asking the same question, is – we all say we are doing Agile, but are we really doing it in the right spirit or are we just adopting it from a very, very theoretical perspective and not applying all of it on ground? 

Because Agile, while it sounds very simple and the methodologies, while they sound very simple, actually have very deep rooted aspects in behaviors and in patterns that drive certain outcomes. Right. So yes, COVID has impacted adoption of Agile. Yes, it has gone up. Has it all gone up in the right way? That's yet to be seen. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. I think that we're now still in this transitional period where companies and businesses are still kind of finding the best approaches. Some of them are already succeeding, but some are still stumbling and it will take some time to kind of determine the best practices. 

And also, agility is not a uniform thing. It really depends on the company, on the use cases, on the industry. You can't expect everybody to adopt everything in the same way. That's why I think that what you pointed out just a little bit, just a few minutes ago about Agile being a philosophy, not specifically a methodology, I think that this is the key consideration here. 

Preethi Madhu: Absolutely. And this philosophy is something which needs to be embraced from the top levels across the organization. A lot of time, that is not. So, that is where the gap exists. 

Tim Butara: Yes. And here we come back again to the leadership and how they kind of need to be the drivers of this. 

Preethi Madhu: Absolutely. 

Tim Butara: Preethi, this has been a great conversation. Just before we finish, I want to make use of some of your first hand practical expertise. So can you share any interesting examples of how your clients have approached these challenges and maybe achieved their digital vision, throughout the pandemic maybe because that's the kind of the digitalization era. 

Preethi Madhu: Absolutely. So one of the customers that we worked with is in India and NBFC, which is Non-Banking Financial Company, right. And our engagement with them started off right at the middle of pandemic, when there was a lockdown and people couldn't be meeting each other. They had just started the adoption of Agile just before pandemic started. They had gone through the process of building out the digital platform. So they had started the build out. They were working in an Agile manner and then the panda may hit. 

So they were looking at us coming on board and working with them, helping establish the whole approach to the way of working, distributed teams, people not being able to meet. And how do we continue with this entire focus on agility through the pandemic and beyond? Right? 

So when we got into it, and I'll give you some examples of this and another example of a pre-pandemic era and draw patterns for you across both and to tell you why some of the things that we spoke about earlier are important. 

So one of the things that I personally saw in this particular engagement is the leadership commitment to driving this entire thing, right? So the CEO himself would meet– so there were about five, six teams and tribes and squads that were set up and the CEO would personally meet each one team every week. So he would go through a round robin of meeting each team every week. And then the team would get its opportunity after four weeks or five weeks to meet him again. 

And he goes through their progress. What are the kind of challenges they're facing? What have they launched in the market recently? What is the kind of customer feedback and his own feedback in terms of what he thinks can be done and what has he heard from the market? 

I think this interaction drove a lot of energy for the team itself, to know that they're actually building something that somebody cares about, right. And they're actually seeing how that outcome is manifesting itself in the market. So they are dealing with customers, they know what is happening, they know what feedback they're getting, and they're able to share that with their leadership and get the feedback. 

The COO and the Chief Business Officer, they would actually spend time with all the teams on a weekly basis, going through what kind of issues they had. And when I say teams over here, it's not just the people from the working teams, but also the mid level leadership teams. Right? 

So getting that cross functional team together, ensuring that any kind of hurdles between the teams are resolved, there are no challenges that are left out for too long. There are no red flags that are not addressed. So the team felt the leadership was behind them all the time. And there was a lot of appreciation going around all the time. Right? So this built a visibility. It got a lot of buy-in from the people. They felt that they were a part of a program that was actually important for the organization. They were driving value for the organization. And this went a long way in the success of the program. 

Now, if I were to draw parallels to another program that we worked with in Indonesia, with a large bank in Indonesia, and this was pre-pandemic, but the patterns are very similar, Tim, the CIO in this case was completely invested in the program. So we would meet three times a week just to discuss how the program is progressing, what are the kind of challenges, how are we dealing with some of the challenges that we discussed earlier. 

And this was a complete cross functional team. So it had people from, leadership from the HR, it had leadership from technology, leadership from the business, and of course, the CIO himself. Right? So this team actually came together to drive a lot of things that happen on ground. But more importantly, he also started things like coffee with the CIO. So he would have a day in a week, which is with an open air session where people could walk into his cabin and discuss with him things. 

And initially people were very hesitant because it's a big organization and he's a CIO, so obviously people were hesitant to go and talk to him. But we started then encouraging people to come in groups and that really worked out very well. And once people started seeing his commitment and this leadership commitment to driving this, their buy-in to the program became dramatically improved. Right? They were really committed to making it happen because they saw why what they're doing matters. 

So I think these two examples, both in the pre-pandemic and during the pandemic, have similarities and patterns that you can actually connect. And you see that irrespective of the age or time that we are in, whether we are in physical connect with people or we are remote working remote, we all look for that common purpose, for that rallying, for that, that it matters to somebody. That is what I have seen at least, work very, very well across these engagements. 

Tim Butara: These were perfect examples, Preethi, as you just said, and the perfect way to bring our discussion to a close. Just before we wrap up the call, if our listeners would like to reach out or learn more about you, learn more about Greyamp Consulting, where can they do that? 

Preethi Madhu: They can reach us on our website, Or they can reach me personally on my LinkedIn handle, which is Preethi Madhu, and would be happy to connect. 

Tim Butara: Awesome. Thanks again for joining us, Preethi. This has been a great discussion. I really enjoyed it. And I'm sure that our listeners will enjoy it as well. 

Preethi Madhu: Thank you so much, Tim. It was a pleasure talking to you. 

Tim Butara: Well, to our listeners. That's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe. 

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