Women of Silicon Roundabout 2023: Q&A with Shabari Shetty

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2023 has been a busy time for digital transformation with the global market expected to reach $2.17tn. To take the temperature of the tech industry for 2024, MMT’s Senior Technical Product Owner, Shabari Shetty, recently headed to Women of Silicon Roundabout 2023 (WoSR) event.

During the event, Shabari also hosted a workshop, focused on the subject of realising the sustained digital transformation through process pivots. In this Q&A, we spoke to Shabari about her insights from this exciting event, her experience of running her session - and why people and product alongside process hold the keys to success.

 Tell us about the WoSR event in a nutshell

WoSR is the UK’s largest tech event for women. It’s fair to say there were more women delegates, but in truth the conference is for everyone. There were some great  speakers and a wide range of exhibitors from a wide range of industries and covering topics such a digital, innovation, emerging tech, productivity, leadership and personal growth. I enjoyed connecting with people in engineering roles, heads of department, heads of product and many more.

Can you highlight some of your key takeaways?

The agenda over the two days was split between tech topics and aspects of personal development.

It’s no surprise that AI was trending among the tech topics this year. I have to say, as a product manager working in the AI space, I would love to have seen more deep-dive or advanced AI knowledge sessions. Overall the agenda covered great sessions around building a career in AI and leveraging data and data insights to build more impactful products. My guess is that the 2024 programme will feature more content for experts.

It was encouraging to see so much content focussed on career progression and wellbeing at work for women. The topics ranged from companies’ diversity and inclusion policies to supporting women going through menopause to stories around breaking through the glass ceiling. It was refreshing to learn how women deal with  claiming their seat at the table, then own it. I started my career in India and it was noticeable how the proportion of engineers at the entry level was predominantly women and as  you moved higher up the ladder the proportion dropped steadily.

Any other industry trends you picked up on?

Well, there’s still a definite buzz about digital transformation. It isn’t slowing down. This is driven by the digital change coming to all sectors, even the ones that were traditionally seen as “offline” in the past. The engine of digital transformation is, however, evolving rapidly, fuelled by the emerging technology and rapidly advancing AI models. But no matter the speed and magnitude of technological progress, I believe the three key pillars of sustained digital transformation remain: people, process and product.

The ‘people’ pillar brings me on to the next trend I’ve discerned away from the event - intersectional thinking. Sustainable change now relies on people who can bring multiple skills and viewpoints to the process. For instance, if you’re a developer but  compliment your skillset by broadening your understanding of other areas, such as psychology or leadership, you’re tapping into intersectional thinking. I feel it's the way forward. By seeing our jobs more holistically, we become less constrained and able to bring more to the table. When the economy is struggling, that type of layered expertise can make a big positive difference.

You mentioned process, the topic of your workshop. How did you devise this theme?

My WoSR session was  a consolidation of everything I’ve learned so far during my digital transformation career. Too often, a business will just go after a key goal - usually financial - and focus on new product development. But process implementation is something not many focus on enough, despite it being crucial to success in any digital transformation. I believe that a small tweak in an existing process can sometimes render the same impact as some groundbreaking discoveries or innovation. 

How can organisations handle process today?

In my workshop, I presented the five considerations for successful process implementations.

First, “think process”. Many companies go product-first. If you flip your thinking to process, you are more likely to benefit from something that’s repeatable and underpins a series of great products, not just one. Over the years, for example, Toyota Production System has nailed reliability of the company’s production systems. It’s also important to remember that processes can and should always improve - but change doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly disruptive.

Second, “thrive vs survive”. Your team needs to see digital transformation as an opportunity, not a threat. One of the key challenges in large organisations is that leadership struggling to make their team feel good about new processes and change. The solution to this can lie in something simple such as sharing the rationale of the change with your team and effective communications. 

Third, “autopilot”. Neuroscience tells us that if we can get to a place where we remove analysis of what we’re doing in our mind, our body can work 20 times faster. Work on a process and with time it will start working for you. The example I gave is the astonishing success of British Olympic cyclists. They trained to stop worrying about opponents and simply focus on putting their bodies in a state of flow. If your processes have stabilised and are working for you, enjoy the flow. If it’s not stabilised and you’re in a state of flux, then always aim to get to the state of cruise control! 

Fourth, “going homegrown”. There’s a tendency to try and repeat the success of the ‘trendy’ digital transformation models developed by the large global organisations like Spotify or Netflix. But few processes work as easily as ‘lift and shift’. I always advise companies to invest time in assessing what processes work for your business and personalise your approach. Steve Jobs famously collaborated with the Dean of Yale University for as long as a decade, documenting Apple’s processes until they were codified in the company.

Fifth, “scale is everything”. We know that bringing change is simpler at start-ups and smaller companies compared to the large enterprises. It’s like turning around a coracle vs. an oil tanker. That’s why, once a process is in place, bigger organisations need to double down on it to make their digital transformation sustainable. 

If people want to find out more, what should they do next?

I left workshop attendees with a copy of John Kotter’s change model. It’s worked for countless organisations over many decades. You don’t have to follow all steps in a prescriptive way; if something isn’t working, simply refer to the model, see what you’ve missed and what you can alter in your process, people and products to make a significant difference.

And , of course, here at MMT we have an amazon team of digital transformation experts, so do get in touch to discover more about how improving your process can turbocharge your digital transformation.