The last card in our hand of ACES is situational awareness. The three other cards — ambition, culture, and engagement — can be found here.
Knowing what’s going on is helpful. I know this is stating the obvious, but it’s surprising how rare it is for people to know what is going on, mostly we just think we know what’s happening but it doesn’t allow us to decide.
An example is when you’re in an unfamiliar location and you see signs showing a road is closed or there is a diversion in place. You know the situation, but this gives you nothing to guide your next action.
In business, similar situations occur when we’re looking at metrics and reporting information. We have a picture of what has happened. What we’re often missing is the insight into the numbers that allow us to act. The numbers lag and since they reflect past actions, it is difficult to know what to change.
You’ll be experiencing something similar when you’re hearing comments like “people are saying” or “organisation X is doing this” — the common characteristic is these approaches are storytelling. This can be useful for conveying information but make it difficult to see the actionable insight.
Simon Wardley talks more about this challenge in his work on Wardley Mapping. It’s worth looking at this in its entirety as it will give you an approach for understanding what is going on in your business and what the options for the future are. You can find all of Simon’s work here.
The first step in building your situational awareness is to build up the board that shows the current state. Again, it’s surprising how often people think they know what their business is about only to then find they struggle to articulate it. By showing how the various aspects of the business link (and Wardley Maps help here) you’re able to get a much clearer idea of the relationships that exist between areas and functions. You’re also able to see what the value to the customer is and where you may have duplication of capability or effort. As is often the case, it isn’t the model that gets you the answer; it is the conversation you have. There are several ways you can build up this picture, but the important thing is to start by knowing the current landscape.
One thing you will uncover is that knowing what your customer needs are is key to any future decisions that you will make. The “build it and they will come” approach is rarely viable and so by identifying who the customer is and what they will consider value from our business is one aspect of actionable insight.
Now that we have something that we can look at which shows the current situation then we can explore what is going on or could change around us that will either represent risk or opportunity.
As you do this, you’ll see the benefit of having a cognitively diverse team who can contribute to the discussion. This will give you multiple perspectives and help you consider things that wouldn’t immediately be obvious to you.
It is impossible to make accurate predictions, but there is evidence to support some key trends which you can include in your evaluation. For example, technology will mature over time and become more widely available at a lower cost.
Another development is there is the democratisation of capability and removal of barriers to entry as a market matures. The development of artificial intelligence is a good example here — you’re now able to take a photo and have it classified from your phone via one of many services without needing to do any development work yourself.
Thinking internally, you can look at what your organisation may consider a sacred cow. This will highlight to you where you may experience inertia to change and come up against the innovator’s dilemma. Apple was prepared to disrupt the revenue stream of the iPod when it launched the iPhone. Most organisations aren’t prepared to take this step and go the same way as Kodak and Blockbuster.
You notice that there is less focus on what your competitors are doing or where your market may be disrupted. It isn’t that these aren’t an important aspect to consider, rather that if we don’t understand our own business, then the impact of action by others is impossible to understand. By starting to know our situation then we can make informed decisions rather than be reacting to what others are doing.
Having built up an understanding of your situation, considering the changes that may affect the components you use and the user community that values your service or product, you can revisit your ambition and understand what needs to be done to achieve it.
The power of Situation Awareness is that you have a clear articulation of what is going on and where you want to get to. Clear because it isn’t a story told by executives but a diagram that have an anchor (the user), shows movement and exposes the mystery of the business to scrutiny.
Just as having a map in the car doesn’t give you an answer when you come across a closed road, nor does situational awareness remove the need for deciding. What you have is a way of seeing the options and the areas that could be impacted by them.
With this final ace in our hand, we’re in a much stronger position to start on our transformation journey.