I never believed that humans could set boundaries for themselves. By nature, we are creatures of curiosity, and, cumulatively, have reached an advanced level of civilization that was never meant to be without our interest in the unknowns. We never seem to be satisfying with what we have, whether it is something physical or none. We try every time to explore and set models to whatever we discover. We are good at seeing patterns, and because of that, we try to fit any new experience into whatever model we already know. And if we don’t see it fit into that model, we try to hypothesize new ones to match this new discovered one into it. And sometimes, we might be carried by our ambitions to hypothesize models for everything.
Out the things that I have seen this carried out to the extreme are the marketing ploys advertised by the big consultancy firms. And among these that we abused to the extremes are Digital Transformation. I am guessing that anyone who is reading this is obnoxious about what it means, and for the ones who might read this after years to come might laugh about how ridiculous that time. You can start seeing this already with Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020. Nevertheless, consultancy firms will continue to advertise for this one way or another for the foreseeable future.
Among the ones who recently met consultants from a three-letter consultancy firm who were proud to show us a digital framework that should carry their clients, or transform them, to the new digital era. I have to admit that what they presented was good from an aspirational perspective. Nevertheless, they kept calling it framework over and over again in a way to fit the digital characteristics of a system into a very well constraint model. Now my concerns with what they presented are two-fold: Labeling it a framework and putting the digital as the overarching theme for it.
Let me start with the latter; the word digital carry less meaning with technology since one of the original authors who coined the term placed little emphasis on the technology, and more on the way organization should bring their business model for enterprise to become a digital one. The five elements are nothing but characters, from a system theory perspective, of an enterprise that could vary depending on the business and the market the enterprise works at. So, having a framework, which has a model and its boundaries, will never cover all scenarios or situations the enterprise face for a successful change.
As for the second concern, I have toward what was presented by the consultant is defining their model as a Framework. What they showed wasn’t a framework by any means. It was a nicely presented diagram with many circles here and there but without capturing the essence of what falls under the definition of a framework. And this one, I often fall into that mistake and calling something I draw as a framework.
From my simple search, a framework is nothing more than a methodology to govern and achieve change. And thus, any method should adhere to the essential theory background to safely claim that it is a framework. My research into the topic says that any framework should subscribe to either of the following as an approach of development: Logical Model and Theory of Change.
The Logical Model presents a way of how an effort or an initiative is supposed to work. It has many names like a roadmap, mental model, or rational. A Logical Model has many elements rightfully be called so. In short, it needs to have the following: purpose, context, inputs, activities, output, and effects. As for the Theory of Change, it is a more elaborated methodology that is very similar to the Logical Model but will dig deep into all possible pathways along with all outcomes, whether they are positive or negative. It presents the rationale of how and why a change should happen if a path is followed. You can indulge yourself in these social examples to get familiar with it.
I genuinely wish that digital transformation is something that we can model and practice. I want to it is transparent and beneficial. But without understanding the underpinning principles of such hype, this one or the next that we will have, no a so-called framework or model could carry the burden for everyone.
And as George Box once said: “all models are wrong, but some are useful.”