The Galapagos Framework: A new approach to digital transformation

As an experienced CTO and transformation leader, I’d like to share some observations on digital transformation and propose a new framework to help organisations realise the business outcomes they hope it will deliver.

Introducing The Galapagos Framework

There is a huge amount of strategic spend on digital transformations against a backdrop of significant failure rates and substantial future market growth.

It’s been widely reported that 70% of transformations fail to deliver successful outcomes.  Translating this into monetary terms means that by 2026 there will be a global annual spend of $3.2 trillion on digital transformations and $2.3 trillion of that will be spent on failure.

The figures are truly staggering.

Why do digital transformations fail?

Before we get to the solutions to the problems, we first need to understand what issues lie at the heart of these failures.

It could be said that all failed digital transformations are caused by failures in leadership, but this is too broad a view to be useful.

However, there are some consistent themes across digital transformations that do not deliver success over anything beyond the very short term, and I have grouped these into 3 dimensions (human, organisational and delivery) to make them easier to consume.

The human elements

Inadequate attention to human dynamics is a major factor contributing to unsuccessful outcomes of transformation programmes, specifically across the areas of:

  • Culture – the organisational culture not suited to successful change in the digital age.
  • Communication – staff drowning in a sea of communication that is not directly related to the transformation.
  • Skills – organisations not having the right type, right number, right level of skills in the right locations to execute on the transformation strategy.

The organisational factors

Every digital transformation is unique, as each evolves out of the dynamic nature and ecology of the main organisation.  However, key elements of the organisation itself (or its leadership) can have a significant role to play in the failure of the strategy:

CEO sponsorship – there is a lack of clear and unambiguous support from the CEO.

Scope – acting on poor advice, wholesale organisational change is embarked upon under the umbrella of digital transformation.

 Organisational structure – the structure of the organisation itself can cause issues, with some functions operating in silos and complex and conflicting reporting lines obscuring accountability and ownership.

The delivery aspects

The delivery aspects – the approach to the delivery of the transformation can, unsurprisingly, have a significant bearing on the success or otherwise of the transformation.

Complexity – failing to understand the complexity involved.  Business transformations are complex, and digital transformations are at the higher end of the complexity scale.

Transformation and regular change activities – orchestrating the transformation alongside regular business change can cause issues if not carefully managed.

Delivery approach – the approach to delivery of the transformation involves many interdependent and parallel streams of work that are run in a mostly linear fashion.

How do we fix this?

Clearly, a $2.3 trillion problem requires a fundamental rethink of the way in which organisations approach digital transformations.

The Galapagos Framework

The Galapagos Framework delivers this shift in methodology by providing counter intuitive insights and a more human centric locus around which digital transformations are conducted.

The Framework has been designed to solve the common issues that occur with these initiatives, and to be fully scalable from small/medium sized enterprises up to globally distributed multinational organisations.

Further, it allows organisations to move from digital transformation to Digital Acceleration and challenges the existing dogma of trying to do everything right first time by running multiple, parallel and interdependent, linear streams of programme delivery.

Some counterintuitive ideas

Cost and complexity are nonlinear.

As the number of interdependent, parallel streams of work increases the cost and complexity will also rise sharply (possibly exponentially).  Parallelism is never free and this increase in cost and complexity quickly outweighs any benefit of running the streams in parallel, even at small numbers.

The most efficient path is not a straight line.

Many concurrent and interdependent streams of work do not get you to your end goal faster.  Actual change is never linear.  Change exists in a complex, ever changing, multi-dimensional (and often messy) environment.

Today’s popular idea – Linear transformations

Linear transformations are finite (rather than evolutionary) and follow a direct path toward a predetermined, often inflexible, end goal.  Highly complex delivery plans and presentations are produced to demonstrate that the end goal can be achieved within the budget and timeframe available (please note that can be achieved does not mean will be achieved – see the 70% failure rate highlighted at the top of this article).

The uncomfortable reality

These linear plans look great on a slide but invariably increase the risk of failure.  There is a large amount of analysis and decision-making performed before the transformation itself moves forward.  Essentially, organisations are placing a bet 6/12/18 months (or longer) into the future that all the upfront analysis, assumptions and decisions still hold true at the time of delivery.

The most efficient path – Digital Acceleration

Digital Acceleration is an iterative process that allows organisations to deliver transformations and demonstrate continual progress, at pace.

Rather than tackling the transformation as one large single event, organisations will improve one (or at most two) discrete area(s) of the business quickly and then move on to the next.

Organisations are complex and operate in a globally uncertain environment.  As such, it is impossible to understand the full complexity of the business and how this will react in the face of global external disruption.

Digital Acceleration means that organisations stop trying to win the lottery by betting the house on one large linear transformation event.  The risks are smaller, complexity is contained, costs are reduced, and the probability of success increased.

This approach drives behavioural change and increases innovation.  Hypotheses are tested and developed quickly in a real-world environment and either succeed or fail fast. This improved, iterative risk management process gives teams the confidence to drive more innovation and so a virtuous cycle ensues.

The Island – a coalition of the willing

One of the key organisational constructs of The Galapagos Framework is The Island.  This is a discreet, dedicated innovation environment, free from existing business influence and risk, which promotes the fast evolution of ideas and deliveries.

The Island has the freedom to explore new approaches, techniques, and technologies to solve the common issues in the most efficient and effective way.

The Island is wholly responsible for the delivery of the entire transformation and ensuring that any new technologies/processes used to deliver the transformation are easily re-integrated back into the main organisation.

The Nucleus of The Island

The power of The Island lies in its simplicity with just 6 roles driving the entire transformation forward (regardless of the size of the transformation).  These roles form The Nucleus of The Island and are described below.

 The Leadership Function

  • The Accountable Executive – this role is accountable for the delivery of the entire transformation.
  • The Business Head – this role is responsible for getting a product to market and generating revenue from the product.
  • The Delivery Head – this role is responsible for product build, and any new technologies, operating models, processes and procedures used on The Island

Three further functions sit below the leadership function, and these are:

  • Product – responsible for all aspects of product design/development, sales & marketing, and revenue generation.
  • Technology – used in its broadest sense, this role is responsible for the creation of the product and the delivery of this to the end customer.
  • Customer Experience – this role exists to bring the customer closer to the engine room of product development and delivery.

The Island endeavours to solve at a stroke some of the most important problems across the human, organisational and delivery dimensions.

Culture, communication, and skills are all controlled by the leadership function.  There are no organisational silos on The Island as, outside of six roles mentioned above, The Island operates in an entirely flat structure.

There are likely to be many cross functional teams on The Island, sitting outside of The Nucleus, and these teams operate in an entirely flat structure.


Using The Island structure in conjunction with Digital Acceleration allows companies to make their business and delivery models flexible enough to cope with unexpected events (internal or external) and absorb the impact of these in a much more efficient way than more traditional approaches to transformational change.

This flexibility is crucial in today’s globally volatile and uncertain environment.

Closing thoughts

The Galapagos Framework addresses the fundamental causes of failure in digital transformation programmes by adopting a new, more human-centric, approach to transformational change, and solving the common problems that plague these initiatives (across the human, organisational, and delivery dimensions).

The Framework provides the principles, structures, and artefacts that allow organisations to adopt this more people-focused means of delivering success in digital transformations without the need to stake everything on a single linear event or transforming the entire organisation’s operating model.

This approach allows organisations to take control of their digital transformation journey and significantly reduces costs, operational, financial, and delivery risks whilst increasing productivity, delivery performance, and ultimately profits.

To find out more about The Galapagos Framework you can visit

You can also pre-order the book Evolving from Digital Transformation to Digital Acceleration using The Galapagos Framework here:

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