4 Keys to Success for API-Driven Transformations

Jason Harmon CTO
by Jason Harmon CTO on May 18, 2023 6 min read

Everyone wants to ‘digitally transform’ these days, and they think APIs are the quick and easy way to do it. But change is never easy, and there are some critical steps to get right if you want your program to succeed.

This week on the API Intersection podcast, we interviewed Shane Hastie, a Global Delivery Lead at SoftEd and lead editor at Infoq. He has multiple decades of experience in information technology and has worked in various roles, such as authoring, consulting, and teaching.

I chatted with Shane about the challenges of cultural change in company transformations and the need for a growth mindset when it comes to building our API team and program. Let’s dive into some common challenges that teams encounter when it comes to change and how to maximize your API efforts to transform successfully.

Don’t Forget the Middle Managers

Shane’s first piece of advice was that large-scale, technology-driven transformations should be led from the top (think program leaders/executive level) and driven to the bottom, which means heavily involving leadership and middle management groups. Shane caveats that the middle management group often feels threatened by changes and may resist transformation. To avoid this issue, it’s essential to provide value to these individuals and position the changes in a way that benefits them.

Include middle management in the conversations early on as a foundational component of the change. Similar to how you would approach your API design (with a design-first approach that’s inclusive of all stakeholders), apply that same method to your digital transformation initiative. And when including that group, Shane emphasizes that it’s critical to ensure that the transformation actually addresses the concerns of the middle management group because, otherwise, it will lead to failure.

“The statistics indicate that around 70% of transformations, including digital and agile transformations, fail. And when you forget to involve middle management, you can imagine that statistics worsen,” shares Shane, “Prioritize small steps and experiments, don’t take any big leaps right off the bat.”

However, it’s more than middle management that should be involved in those foundational steps. As a best practice, maximize that design-first approach all the way and include representatives from every stakeholder group that the transformation would impact. This includes your technologists, customer support, sales, marketing, HR, and finance representatives.

“When involving these stakeholders, communicate the ‘why’ behind the strategies and align the business goals with your technology goals. That can help organizations understand the feasibility of their transformation efforts,” shares Shane.

Empathy and Creativity for Your Developers

Shane also delved into the creative nature of software development, highlighting the artistry and beauty of well-written code and the importance of great code in the digital transformation process.

When considering a transformation, alignment between technology and business strategies is a must. Software development’s creative aspects are improved by having empathy and human-centricity in the transformation process.

“There’s definitely an emerging discipline of designing for developers. It’s critical to remove friction in the development process to foster creativity. And that same principle applies to your digital transformation process,” shares Shane.

Empathy for the developer is not a new concept, but it’s a vital one that continues to play a pivotal role in any kind of technology work.

“There’s a certain level of creativity and artistry involved in coding and building well-written programs. Find ways to free up developers’ creative minds to focus on building impactful solutions and automate mundane tasks that will make transformation a lot smoother,” shares Shane.

There has always been such a focus on developer education’s scientific and technical aspects. But, the emerging discipline of designing for developers and allowing that creativity is becoming even more critical to maintaining a long-term solid developer experience. Get on board with a delightful developer experience now, or your digital transformation may not succeed.

Prioritize the Role of Product Management and APIs

Excellent product management is essential to effective organizational transformations. The ever-changing role of product management has evolved to be one that promotes a broader understanding of the market, technical implementation, and overall product vision—all while trying to balance those cross-functional teams.

If you’re utilizing APIs for your digital transformation, ensure the Product Management lead understands the importance of treating and managing your APIs just like any other product. PMs should understand the impact on customers’ lives through the availability of APIs, what needs the APIs are solving for, and if you’re even solving the right problem with your transformation efforts.

“Consider quality elements, ethical aspects, and clear success metrics when managing APIs as products. The fundamental principles and success measures are no different than any other product you may stumble across,” shares Shane.

Two Different Paths, Same End-Outcome

When considering how to approach a digital transformation, there are two specific approaches you can look at using. On the one hand, you can utilize the technology strategy focused on creating a modular system with reusable components. Wherever possible, composability is essential to allow for fluid and adaptable technology (such as APIs) in case you need to pivot during a transformation. This approach lies more heavily on the technology itself than the business process, but great technology is only as well-built as the people who designed it.

The other approach you could take is the business-strategy-focused one, with an emphasis on leveraging APIs and marketplace dynamics. Now, both these strategies can often lack alignment and integration, and that disconnect can hinder effective communication and collaboration between technology and business teams. If you’re taking this approach, Shane encourages you to focus on the foundational design stage and ensure all relevant voices are in the room from the start.

“Regardless of which approach you take, focus on the value streams. Shift your mindset from silo-based thinking to value streams and products, with ownership across the entire value stream. Start by thinking and working collaboratively in a cross-functional value stream across your organization, even if it’s not fully formed yet,” shares Shane.

In the end, it’s clear many organizations need help with the apparent need for solid alignment between technology and business strategies. It can be hard to balance the creative nature of software development and creating a delightful developer experience while also ensuring all stakeholder’s goals are met AND managing your APIs as products to encourage a smooth transformation.

Digital transformation and change aren’t easy, but a solid API program can make the journey smoother. I appreciate Shane coming on the show and sharing his thoughts! For more advice from industry leaders, check out the API Intersection podcast.

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