The Digital Runway is a term that serves both as description and analogy.

Think of the digital runway as your planned and tailored-to-your-needs take-off approach. By starting at the beginning with plenty of taxiing distance you’ll have all the opportunity needed to get moving and pick up momentum for a successful departure.

Before Departing

A few comments from the flight crew before we buckle up –

 “Welcome to your digital take-off as we prepare to depart for your transformation destination. Some advice as we buckle up: Expect some turbulence en route, in which case:

 – the floor lighting will not guide you
– there may not be a life jacket for everyone on board
– you will probably have to find your own escape hatch
– do however follow the instructions of your crew, together they will figure out what to do”

The runway describes the need for a taxiing space to build momentum, harness the lift-off energy, and the planning needed for all the operational components that work together for the outcome to succeed. These components are business functions more than technical or IT related.

As analogy, it shows how a very high-tech piece of engineering, a marvel that few, other than aircraft engineers, can comprehend, is totally in service for a simple operational outcome – flying passengers from A to B. There is no suggestion of aircraft needing “alignment” with business goals. The plane does the job the business plans for – and is completely dependent upon. No airline executive or employee worries about the technology, or about getting bamboozled or sidelined with a technical conversation. So with high-tech digital programmes – the business designs the outcomes to better meet customer needs, or find new unmet ones, and the digital delivery team – pilots and crew – get the result.

Just like an airline, there is a huge operational delivery focus to ensure the engineering marvels get airborne on time, properly fuelled, mapped, and loaded.

There are a number of essential steps in building and operating a runway the organisation can successfully adopt. These steps apply to every established organisation, since that established presence comes with overhead, processes and structures to be re-worked for innovation. And if you’re seeing competitive threats, you need to move fast. The Digital Runway will be a guide to the minimum steps and should serve as a tailorable checklist and execution guide.

The very first step is leadership team selection and visioning. The real challenge in transformation for legacy organisations is the strength of the change vision and the strength of leadership commitment to follow through. It can only be a fully top down engagement, both executing and promoting the change goals. Recognising that legacy is the enemy of transformation, leadership must become a mindset of total dedication to “walking the walk”.

The second core step is the empowerment audit. This is a review of the extent to which people are trusted, invited, given autonomy and real authority, as well as the extent to which managers practice active listening, shared decision-making and goal-setting. If these leadership behaviours are poorly expressed, the culture and engagement energy needed for transformation won’t be up to the job.

Following the airborne analogy, there are several steps for starting up, warming up the engines, building momentum, getting to take-off speed, and launching.

Just as a high-tech aircraft needs airport ops and flight control to be enabled to deliver the service, a high-tech organisation needs operational and organisational bits designed to enable the high-tech to function as a service. The question then becomes, how does the organisation design itself to enable high-tech to deliver? The answer can be found in the main steps necessary in designing your digital runway.

Designing Your Digital Runway

These steps ensure the priorities of organisation change, culture shift and value delivery remain top of the ladder, and the high-tech work remains a core element of operational delivery, but subservient to business value and growth goals. Some of these steps might be moved, or merged, perhaps where work is underway or there are pieces that from early review are in place well enough e.g. the first 2 steps, combining readiness review with leadership and visioning. Similarly for steps 5 and 6, combining the team empowerment piece with the tech capability. And that suggests bringing Agile thinking at that point into goal setting, team engagement and capability assessment.

Taking the steps in suggested order:


    1. Operational readiness assessment: Include organisation and resource constraints and assess how far along you are on the transformation path in regards to your people, culture, leadership and technology
    2. Core leadership team selection, development and visioning: You will very likely include organisation goals – growth, competitive position, culture state
    3. Designing the runway steps around value: Your digital runway must ensure that customer experience is front and centre
      • Think value, think people, think sticky
      • Every operational process can be discarded if not essential to deliver faster, simpler value
    4. Collaboration and partnering for delivery: These will be essential elements of the transformation, and for re-thinking your value chain and value-generating processes. Without including your partner and supplier eco-system you will have less insight into innovation opportunity, and overlook much of the potential to redesign value and processes
    5. The empowerment ethic: Auditing and recharging your empowerment culture
      • Related: Your C-suite colleagues might appreciate help to be more tech-literate, share in the Runway planning
      • Form the team contract, a key engagement step, ensuring shared adoption of goals and behaviours
    6. Readiness review: While this point will assess tech capability, it is not IT only
      • An essential if short step, in particular where there is tech debt and legacy IT needing an upgrade-or-replace plan
      • Where there are several project candidates, project selection can be done here, linking to agreed readiness work
    7. Training and on-boarding: Getting the leadership and project team on the engagement mission
      • Is everyone walking the walk? How is that monitored?
      • Taking the team contract out to the collective – get faster buy-in and goal adoption
      • Cultural markers, symbols, rituals – these are essential tags to replace the visible and invisible culture traits and to energise the the change commitment
    8. Starting team engagement: Selling the mission for complete buy-in, and adoption planning
      • However it is initiated it MUST be seen to be embedded in management behaviours
      • Review and finalise project selection, project resourcing and delivery planning
    9. Transition to execution and programme delivery:
      • Taxiing to take-off
      • People, projects, priorities and the detailed take-off steps to be developed by project owners
    10. The IT-tech piece has several components, for planning the IT delivery work.
      • Covers items such as IT legacy and upgrade tasks, deciding the platform choices across big data. cloud, mobile, IoT, social media, etc.
      • Checkpoints for IT operation and delivery:
        • the cyber-security stream check which vendors are stakeholders
        • integrations with website and other apps or data sources
        • any custom app development and integration
      • How the project(s) will be managed, with the governance and risk management process
        • how to ensure business and IT alignment is strengthened, such as with Agile project delivery
        • Agile is well-connected with delivering technical agility and rapid outcomes – and a separate topic to go into

By this point your team will be well into project planning and deciding resources, budgets, deadlines and so forth. It is important – essential – to retain the business focus. Business outcomes and engaged sponsorship are critical to success for any digital change goal.


Digital transformation is sometimes used to dress up automation and process improvement goals – but transformation is not itself an end-goal. It is however an essential capability for business innovation and remapping your customer value. The extent of tech debt is a factor in applying new approaches such as Agile for innovation and rapid delivery – and so an important initial assessment needs to map out both the organisation readiness and the technical delivery capability. Not taking careful stock of readiness work at all levels will result in a high risk of failure, or at best short-term results.

It might be the digital disruption era, but it’s also the era of committed collaboration and shared engagement. Those principles are the key to moving forward with confidence. Shared resources, shared risk, shared goals and shared learning will get your digital flywheel moving a lot faster and more reliably.

Start the engines!

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