The Popcorn Effect

by: Isabelle Perreault

As a mother of three kids under 7, I have become comfortable with chaos.  In our household a new challenge, tantrum, joy or frustration explodes like popcorn every 30 minutes!  The secret to coping is to remain calm (I’ll let you know when I fully succeed!) and to set clear boundaries. Fortunately, as the parent I hold most of the cards (namely M&Ms and ice cream) so the governance structure is clear. Not so for many organizations embarking on a digital strategy.

Many organizations launch a number of uncoordinated digital initiatives between business units to meet business demands and customer expectations. Some projects move too slowly while others hurtle forward without considering risks or interdependencies. Often there is duplication of effort and the introduction of incompatible technologies.  This has been called the digital “Popcorn effect”.

As digital strategy crosses organizational boundaries it demands unprecedented collaboration between departments. Of course the need to align executive teams on cross-functional initiatives is certainly not new. However, the challenge with digital strategy is that there is rarely a single obvious owner. Should it be Marketing, IT or Operations?  Should IT’s demand for a new technology infrastructure supersede Marketing’s request for a new social media monitoring tool or will Sale’s request for a new Customer Relationship Management system win at budget time?  In fact, these departments should be working together towards a common digital vision, making investments to improve operations or customer experience in a coordinated way.

Some important questions must be addressed:

  • How will each initiative help move us towards our vision?
  • Do these tools need to work together?
  • How will customer data be integrated?
  • Can we share or coordinate resources?

Answering these fundamental but complex questions takes governance.  Too much autonomy can lead to the popcorn effect and creates unnecessary risk. The right level of centralized oversight will improve efficiency while maintaining agility.

Everywhere you look there are new technologies, new approaches and tools to help your organization become more social, more collaborative, more data-driven and more digital.  So unless M&Ms and ice cream will be sufficient to tame the “digital chaos” in your organization, I recommend having a clear governing framework and mechanism to streamline your efforts and guide resources toward a common digital vision. Oh, and staying calm helps too!

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