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Navigating Digital Transformation Successfully in Asia – Why Do You Need a Great PM?

ISSUE #082

EPISODE#1

Navigating Digital Transformation Successfully in Asia – Why Do You Need a Great PM?

Feb 10, 2023 / 32:23

圖片來源Image credit - Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

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Digital Transformation is one of, if not the most critical agenda for most organizations. With that said, navigating what matters is oftentimes challenging. To understand digital transformation in practice across Asia and the role of program management to accelerate digital transformation success, we have Cathy Yeh, who is responsible for Microsoft’s Customer Innovation, and her colleague Deh-Hui Chuan, Microsoft’s Principal Program Manager for Customer Innovation.

Salon Participants

Deh Hui Chuan

Deh Hui Chuan

Principal Program Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

Principal Group PM Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

Cathy leads the Microsoft industrial solutions enablement efforts in Asia, engaging strategic customers and partners to accelerate digital transformation through Microsoft metaverse portfolio. Deh-Hui has been with Microsoft for close to a decade working with customers across different Asian markets and is now the Principal Program Manager in Microsoft’s Customer Innovation team in APJ. She is insightful and dedicated to help stakeholders with practical yet innovative advice amidst increasingly complex markets.  

After helping countless industry partners improve their business processes and operational efficiency, Deh-Hui and Cathy believe that some elements of program management (soft skills, technical know-how, and industry depth, among others) are crucial in uncovering the right digital transformation engagement for customers and accelerating that.


What’s happening?

  • Digital transformation is a critical endeavor for organizations in today's fast-paced business environment, driven by increasing changes in world politics, economy, and environment. The demand for digital transformation is still rising in the Asia Pacific region, as the economy is growing rapidly: economic growth in APAC is forecasted to be 4.3% in 2023, even stronger than 4.0% in 2022 given the uncertain global environment. (IMF
  • The current global economic climate is characterized by increased uncertainty and volatility, leading to growing demands for Asian businesses to digitally transform. By embracing an open mindset in building a better future in the digital transformation age, companies can better navigate themselves through changing market conditions. (McKinsey)  
  • Given the uncertainties and complexities involved, program managers play a critical role in driving the successful implementation of digital transformation initiatives within an organization. Not only are they responsible for leading cross-functional teams and ensuring that projects are completed on time and within scope while aligning with the overall business strategy. The program managers are also in charge of bridging the gaps and connecting the dots between business and technology. This duty requires much more than technical skills and industry knowledge from program managers, who need to have growth mindsets to elevate the organization to the next level.  (According to Cathy’s sharing)


Why is digital transformation so difficult?

  • While digital transformation is top of mind for most organizations, it is much more difficult when the rubber meets the road. And here are some reasons why it is difficult.
    • Unclear strategy: Without a well-defined goal, it can be difficult for organizations to prioritize initiatives and measure progress.  (According to Cathy’s sharing) 
    • Employee resistance: Employees may push back either because they do not fully understand the benefits or detriments of new technology, making it difficult to gain their buy-in and support. (Forbes)
    • Limited resources: Projects can be costly and time-consuming. Also, organizations may not have the personnel to fully implement them. (Harvard Business Review)
    • Data integration: Integrating new systems with existing ones is a complex process, and managing data effectively can be a challenge. (According to Deh-Hui’s sharing)
    • Measuring progress & conclusion: Showing the outcome of digital transformation initiatives can be difficult. Plus, sometimes organizations may struggle to justify the costs and personnel costs. (According to Deh-Hui’s sharing)
  • Lastly, implementing digital transformation at scaleis often the most challenging aspect of the entire process, requiring careful planning and execution.
    • Scalability: The infrastructure must be able to scale to accommodate the increasing volume and complexity of data while aligning all the stakeholder’s mindsets at a certain level to build up the sustainability of the project. (According to Deh-Hui’s sharing)


What are the qualities of a successful program manager?

  • Given the challenges to digital transformation, we observe that some elements of program management (soft skills, technical know-how, and industry depth, among others) are crucial in uncovering the right digital transformation engagement for customers and accelerating that.
  • PM (Program Managers) in digital transformation requires a combination of technical and leadership skills. Other than technical acumen, there are some key strengths and mindsets needed for a PM to be successful in digital transformation including:
    • Visionary: the ability to see the big picture and understand how the project fits into the overall business strategy. (According to Cathy’s sharing)
    • Leadership: the capability to lead cross-functional teams, effectively managing and motivating team members. (World Economic Forum)
    • Communication: the ability to effectively convey honest feedback to stakeholders at all levels of the organization. (The Enterprisers Project)
    • Adaptability: the capability to adapt to changing circumstances and pivot quickly when necessary. (Financial Times)
    • Authenticity: being brave to identify and resolve issues or consequences as they arise. (According to Deh-Hui’s sharing)
  • Program managers with digital transformation planning and human-centric mindset execution experiences are highly valuable for organizations in rapidly changing environments. 
Anya Lu

Anya Lu / Editor

Reported

Emma Chou

Emma Chou / Producer

Produced

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Salon Talk

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How does the rise of global tensions, such as COVID-19 and the trade war, affect supply chains and customer innovation? 5 則對談comments 2023-02-10 10:15:38
葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

Principal Group PM Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

Right after COVID-19 and certain geopolitical situations, most economic entities in Asia-Pacific are moving into a challenging period. You have worked with so many customers and assisted them to accomplish their digital transformation program in this region. What’s your insight and observation on this situation?

2023-02-10 10:29:29

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Deh Hui Chuan

Deh Hui Chuan

Principal Program Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

We’re at a pivotal time in customer transformation as there is so much uncertainty in the world. With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the past few years and several political unrests in different parts of the world, many businesses, including those in our Asia Pacific region, suffer from challenges subsequently as well as economic recessions. However, there is a saying in Mandarin that if there’s a crisis, there’s an opportunity(有危機就有機會).

2023-02-10 15:14:01

我對於這則留言有疑慮

I’m generally an optimist, seeing a lot of potential behind tough situations and doom analytics. There are lots of real-world examples of this. For example, the U.S.-China Trade War between 2018 and 2019 created huge tensions between the two superpowers in the world but pushed businesses to manage their geopolitical risks by pursuing diversity. Companies began to seriously consider diversifying their supply chains, sales, and manufacturing plans. Many factories in China have been relocating their productivity to Southeast Asia, and semiconductor manufacturers are building and hiring in Arizona as well. Such challenges would force them to take action, but those with resilience will eventually be rewarded

2023-02-10 15:14:30

我對於這則留言有疑慮

These challenges are not all about geolocation, as I’m seeing many clients taking advantage of the changes to push for innovation and transformation. Some of them see relocation as a signal to stop dealing with brownfield and existing issues like database quality, system integration, etc., and explore greenfield opportunities. There are always opportunities that come with crises.

2023-02-10 15:14:58

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葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

Principal Group PM Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

I cannot agree more, since we shared the same view of seeing the industry dramatically change. During the past few years, our customers, especially the customers in manufacturing, have accelerated their path in diversifying. Therefore, supply chain resilience, pop-up factories, and so on become hot topics we’ve seen in these years.

2023-02-10 15:15:32

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How does a Program Manager navigate transformation with customers in uncertainties? 8 則對談comments 2023-02-10 10:33:52
葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

Principal Group PM Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

During our journey in customer transformation in the past few years, I realize a capable program manager is very critical to our success in customer transformation. I’m currently based in Taiwan, the hub for high-tech manufacturing. I’ve seen our customers invest heavily in R&D engineers, software engineers, or maybe sales and marketers. However, I rarely see our customers have a big PM team to handle projects. 

2023-02-10 10:31:25

我對於這則留言有疑慮

I find that in most entities or corporations, the big boss such as CEO or chairman is usually the PM. He or she decides the opportunity you need to go after and the resource available to you. The problem with having a CEO, a top manager, or a top executive be the PM is that the one usually is the bottleneck. One single top person doesn’t have the capability to scale. That’s why we expect multiple PMs to have the authority to decide or make the arrangement of resources.

2023-02-10 13:52:07

我對於這則留言有疑慮

Let’s talk about your role, PM. What do you do as a PM, especially in the customer innovation team?  

2023-02-10 13:52:21

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Deh Hui Chuan

Deh Hui Chuan

Principal Program Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

To understand the value of the role of Program Management, we should first understand the essence of digital transformation, of which the entire process entails different stakeholders drawing conclusions from the limited responsibility, interest, exposure, experience, and knowledge they have, just like the ancient Chinese fable of a blind man touching an elephant (盲人摸象). The answer from a support engineer in manufacturing and that from an analyst in energy would be extremely different. Since the range of the answers is so wide, cross-functional capabilities are needed for PMs to dive in deeply and understand the opportunities in spite of variations from surveys. In short, I would conclude the role of PM as differentiating hamsters from rats, the good opportunities from the bad ones. 

2023-02-10 15:16:47

我對於這則留言有疑慮

According to our CEO, what “innovation” really means is to “put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see the world the way they see it.” In other words, a PM should understand other people’s views. Oftentimes, we tend to merely answer the question without listening to people’s real thoughts behind the question. Having empathy for the customers is critical.  

2023-02-10 15:17:15

我對於這則留言有疑慮

One of the manufacturing customers came to us after seeing a YouTube video that Microsoft did for another customer about digital twins. This is a classic example if I had just listened to their request and gave them precisely that, then I think I would have not given her organization a thorough perspective.

2023-02-10 13:53:07

我對於這則留言有疑慮

There is a saying in the consulting field called “Don’t give customers the coke”. Oftentimes, the customer sees a coke on the table or in other people’s hands, so the customer thinks he needs a coke. But, actually what he really needs is water. If a PM only asks a few questions and doesn’t think twice before handing in the request, a PM would never find the real needs.

2023-02-10 13:53:22

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葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

Principal Group PM Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

I think you made a very good point. Do customers really want a coke? Are they thirsty? Or do they just want to drink a sip? Sometimes I feel they are not really thirsty or hungry. They just want to try or make themselves look great. People are often confused about all those shining and cool technologies turns, without really thinking about the real benefits or values to their companies. 

2023-02-10 15:17:58

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What are the characteristics of successful Program Managers & the fundamental questions to be asked during projects? 5 則對談comments 2023-02-10 10:49:49
葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

Principal Group PM Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

Program management is all about leading customers, internal and external ones, to explore their needs. As a seasoned PM, how do you connect the dots and make more comprehensive decisions in a holistic view? 

2023-02-10 13:54:42

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Deh Hui Chuan

Deh Hui Chuan

Principal Program Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

Curiosity is one of the successful traits a PM has. Good PMs never stop asking questions and never take the answer for granted. When it comes to handling digital transformation, my advice is to focus on the why, who, and where of the projects: always ask why is this needed?  Who are the stakeholders? And, where is this going? These are the fundamental questions when helping customers embark on digital transformation journeys, and they must be asked repeatedly throughout the process.  

2023-02-10 15:18:28

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In addition, a PM needs to wear multiple hats, the method of Six Thinking Hats. During the program management, a PM will be the one to ask devastating questions, see the positive things to win the possibilities, and drive the excitement of the program all at the same time. It is because the PM needs to utilize different hats at different times to have multiple points of view and understand whether the opportunity or resource is at the right moment to go in.  

2023-02-10 13:55:03

我對於這則留言有疑慮

Most importantly, resilience and grit are required for PMs to realize the full potential of projects, especially those in digital transformation. Oftentimes people would expect a 3 to 6 months commitment when entering a digital transformation project, but in reality, it always gets longer and longer. It takes resilience, grit, and patience, as well as time, curiosity, and gratitude to bound stakeholders together and keeps them contributing consistently in any engagement. At last, the efforts will pay off at the right moment and turn opportunities into fruits.  

2023-02-10 15:19:08

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Therefore, curiosity, empathy, and resilience are the key characteristics of successful PMs. Only those with these traits can simultaneously ask the toughest questions that push progress and see the positivity in possible consequences, driving excitement among project stakeholders and motivating them to devote resources to turn possibility into reality. Last but not the least, have fun and enjoy along the way.  

2023-02-10 15:19:27

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How to drive a sustainable transformation? 4 則對談comments 2023-02-10 15:07:20
葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

葉怡君 Cathy Yeh

Principal Group PM Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

Can you share your insights on a systematic, structured methodology for managing people and technology to facilitate digital transformation? 

2023-02-10 10:50:37

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Deh Hui Chuan

Deh Hui Chuan

Principal Program Manager at Customer Innovation, Industrial Solutions, Microsoft Corp.

There are two key components in managing digital transformation, the scalable plan and having the right team with the right mindset. 

2023-02-10 15:19:42

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The difference between genuine transformations from the risky, exploratory ones is knowing “what’s next”. It’s easy to just say let’s evaluate this new technology but genuine transformation means knowing the next step after developing, evaluating prototype technology, and getting good PR. The least of a genuine transformation is to have a business plan to scale the change. Hence, having a scalable plan is critical.  

2023-02-10 15:20:32

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Oftentimes the most challenging step of building a transformative environment is finding the right team, the key to empower a change. It is extremely common that the first few contacts that PMs reach out to for projects are not the right ones. The tip is to look not for the title, like Chief Technology Officer or Chief Innovation Officer, but instead for the mindset. Look for people that are transparently open and willing to discuss the bottlenecks of existing procedures in the organization. Finding the right teams with the right mindset would be a critical point for the path to a genuine transformation.

2023-02-10 13:56:23

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