Making Change Flow 


Change the culture and sprint through transformations, say former CTO and business advisor. 

Fin Goulding and Flow Academy business partner Haydn Shaughnessy have penned three books, the latest called Transformation Sprint, to provide CXOs the tools they need to transition towards becoming organizations that are comfortable with change. The duo has created their business and books to help companies modernize and thereby avoid the high rate of failure that transformation projects experience. 

“We can no longer afford the luxury of being tripped up by problems that are so commonplace that, in truth, they should have been dealt with years ago,” the duo writes in the book Transformation Sprint. “We found that businesses are faced with a transformation challenge roughly once every four years.” At the center of the challenge is poor culture. “There is a business and IT divide that is very entrenched,” Shaughnessy says. Adding: “With the banks, there was an inability to set a strategy that would benefit from what IT is offering.” A number of studies by analyst houses and management consultancies find that 80% of business and technology transformation programs fail. Shaughnessy, a strategy expert, and writer says organizations fail to strategize enough, instead spend too much time re-labelling existing methods. Goulding adds that this wastes time: “Organizations spend three months creating Powerpoints, three months getting buy-in, and then three months getting people in place. You cannot afford that time.” 

Are CXOs the Problem?

“CEOs are nervous of radical change as it is expensive and can fail,” says Goulding. Both state that technology has its own pace, a pace that is different from that of the rest of the business and its own unique language, despite the concerted efforts of CXOs like Goulding to speak the language of business. The result is, according to Shaughnessy, CEOs just don’t have the knowledge and understanding of what technology offers their business. “If you are an executive, you are trying to figure out how to enhance your operational business, so how do you acquire the skills to redesign moving operating models and to do that continuously?” Shaughnessy clearly sympathizes with the challenge for non technology CXOs who are seeing new technologies come to fruition but have other responsibilities. It was this understanding that led Shaughnessy and Goulding to work together to develop and write about Flow as a way for CXOs to enact change and, in doing so, learn on the job.  

Goulding’s own career led him to his belief in Agile methods. He began his career as a systems and software development leader before progressing to a CTO at is a pioneer of e-commerce and brought iterative development and management practices to Goulding’s attention, and he has never looked back. “I had worked on digital transformations that didn’t succeed in two years and others that spent millions and then got cancelled,” the CTO says. 

“If you are an executive, you are trying to figure out how to enhance your operational business, so how do you acquire the skills to redesign moving operating models and to do that continuously?” 

Forming a Flow

The duo met when Shaughnessy was advising a major bank in need of change. At the time, Goulding was the CIO and CTO of gaming firm Paddy Power. Under Goulding’s technology leadership, Paddy Power had embraced Agile and become an iterative business, releasing new products and services on a regular basis. Banks, meanwhile, were struggling to move away from legacy technologies and business methods. 

Shaughnessy arranged a study tour of Goulding’s operation in Dublin, Ireland, to demonstrate just what was possible if the bank changed the way it worked. “To see those pin-stripe suits sitting on fake grass was amusing,” Goulding says of the meeting room like a football pitch that was part of the technology office. “They couldn’t disagree with the pace and fun of what the team at Paddy Power was delivering,” the CTO says, adding that to him and the team delivering seven million price updates on a Saturday afternoon at scale, and speed was normal. “We removed friction, and the use of technology like the enterprise cloud was part of that.” 

The technology team at Paddy Power delivered hundreds of different products regularly, whereas banks and banking leaders were still locked into four times a year update cycle. Goulding says that the Agile techniques used by the team were not unique to the gaming industry; they could be used by any sector. These methods include having all projects, as well as those for the senior leadership team, on a Kanban-style board for everyone in the organization to see. To prove Goulding’s point that the methods were transferable, the CTO moved back into traditional financial services in 2016 as an International CIO for global insurance provider Aviva. Again, based in Dublin, Ireland, Goulding brought his energy and passion for Agile methods to the business.  

“We started the Flow Academy because we have different skillsets, and we use the methods of transformation sprints ourselves,” Goulding says of how the methods detailed in the book of the same name can be applied to the partnership of two enterprises or a major enterprise. They set the business up in 2017 following Goulding’s Aviva career. Shaughnessy says dialogue is a key element.  

“We removed friction, and the use of technology like the enterprise cloud was part of that.” 

How it Works

“We want to create a situation where companies can reduce the risk of transformation. If 80 to 90% of transformations fail, a prudent business leader will look for ways to reduce
that risk,” Shaughnessy says. When helping organizations Goulding and Shaughnessy carry out extensive interviewing at all levels of the business to ensure they hear from the different skill levels. “Truth gets filtered out as you go up the organization. Further down the organization, you see the dysfunctionality and where that originates from, which then creates mistrust towards and between leaders, and we call that out,” Shaughnessy says. Armed with its research, Flow Academy then helps organizations develop a transformation, perhaps a service, in just four weeks so that the business gains confidence in delivery. “You are trying to create something that is agile and delivers value early,” Shaughnessy says. He calls these lighthouses as they demonstrate how the business is learning and can keep learning. “A firm that has no apps, for example, may build an app as a lighthouse project and then monitor how many customers download that,” Goulding adds.  

A further benefit of this method is it prevents organizations from relying on consultants to deliver change. “People are so busy with business as usual, so there is a tendency to bring in a consultancy and their resources to deliver change, but that just builds tension because the consultancy holds the keys to the castle. We identify that your business has the people and the ability to get the skills to deliver the change,” Goulding says.

Some may believe it is a step too far for their existing organizations, but Shaughnessy disagrees. “Black Lives Matter as a movement came about very quickly, so changes in culture can happen very quickly.” Once the culture has delivered a change, the duo believes a constant ability to change will develop across the business.  

You can find the Transformation Sprint book at:

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The Life and Career Stories of Fin Goulding and Haydn Shaughnessy


Digital Transformation Beyond 2020

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