In our last post, Improve Transformation Successes With Lighthouse Pilots, we underscored the facts about innovative transformation as holistic, highly complex initiatives that require innovation, an integrated operating strategy and vision, people, process, technology, capital, cultural development, and performance criteria to achieve sustainable success. Herein lies the complexity of putting all of these things together in a systematic (but continuously evolving) thinking, learning, and operating framework.

We also introduced the Lighthouse Pilot approach – A strategic model project that aims to achieve bold and rapid results, while better defining the unknowns and reducing complexity for the next follow-up pilot activities. Lighthouse Pilots are deliberately defined and placed between an innovative transformation strategy and the remaining efforts of planning, deployment, and execution. The purpose of these quick focused pilots is to:

  • Reduce the complexity and add a higher degree of achievable but flexible definition to innovative thinking and strategy (Translating the fuzzy logic of innovation into a coherent picture of many related narratives, through the clustering of insights and experimental progress);
  • Test and clarify the path of unknown and unforeseeable transformation journey, obstacles and barriers, hidden costs, and time-to-benefits realization (Particularly critical for creating shared value chain commitment, continuity of purpose, awareness, talent-building, communication, and time-based success); and
  • Proactively manage all the transformation risks, acquire new knowledge and guidance, continuously learn and build upon the intelligence of new successes, and achieve a higher and more sustainable degree of operating and customer.

Executives that approach digital transformation by trying to do everything quickly become overwhelmed, more confused, and buried in unforeseen costs.  Why?  Because transformation is complex with so many unknown branches, options, and choices.  Organizations can only achieve success if they separate the vital few from the trivial many, execute flawlessly, and then repeat the process.  This is the essence of Lighthouse Pilots.

This post provides additional guidance on how to define, structure, and successfully execute a Lighthouse Pilot activity. Keep in mind that the purpose of Lighthouse Pilots, like the transformation journey itself, is non-deterministic, fuzzy, innovative, open-ended, and evolutionary – Yet with many very structured, disciplined, and deliberate smaller steps along the way.


The Key: A Different Perspective

Lighthouse Pilots are based on the Theory of Jobs introduced by Clayton Christiansen of Harvard Business School. The premise is that whether you are an existing or potential customer, employee, supplier, stakeholder, regulatory agency, etc., we all have jobs we need to do that arise in our day-to-day lives . . . And when we do we hire products, services, people, processes, technologies, and other things to get these jobs done. This particular Jobs To Be Done approach brings executives and their organizations back to the basic business essentials of what they are trying to accomplish, where they need to go to improve competitive success, how to differentiate themselves from competitors, and how to evolve to an innovative industry leader in simple, easy to understand narratives.  These narratives or Jobs To Be Done are defined and aligned across the entire customer-stakeholder value chain.  Everyone from customers to suppliers and everyone else in the value chain has Jobs To Be Done for transformation to evolve successfully.  This operating model strategy definition, planning, and implementation process is totally disconnected from the parade of improvement methodologies and jargonese, and the broad spectrum of confusing technology solutions.  In practice this is not some new revelation but a much needed effort for many organizations who are confused or have lost their way.  The new part is new results that will not be achieved  by their same course of action.  We define the basic fundamentals of business success in common narratives as Jobs To Be Done.  This in turn drives the operating model strategy, its core processes, people, talent/cultural development, equipment, CAPEX decisions,  technology solutions, etc. in a fully integrated implementation plan.  The details of why, what, when, who, where, and how are part of this implementation plan.  It doesn’t happen the other way around (e.g., pick an improvement program or technology solution du jour first, and force fit it into the organization).

People inherently and rightly or wrongly, define Jobs To Be Done and pull these things into their lives to resolve highly important, unsatisfied jobs that arise. A job is the particular progress that individuals or organizations are trying to make to address particular circumstances. The particular circumstances are fundamental to defining Jobs To Be Done. Jobs have complexity built in via functional, social, and emotional dimensions.  In contrast, firefighting may also be considered as a job – But it’s the wrong job!  These reactionary efforts address symptomatic circumstances and often create even more real negative customer circumstances.  Jobs To Be Done are ongoing and evolutionary.  This is a very different and innovative approach to viewing the voice of the customer.


In contrast, firefighting may also be considered as a job – But it’s the wrong job!  These reactionary efforts address symptomatic circumstances and often create even more real negative customer circumstances.


The illustration below provides an overview of how Lighthouse Pilots fits within transformation and innovation initiatives. Lighthouse Pilots are defined from the realm of innovation possibilities using the Jobs To Be Done approach. Lighthouse Pilots enable quick, low risk, and inexpensive success or failure forward, tremendous learning experiences, and positive progress in the unknown aspects of the journey.   The output is a Lighthouse Pilots Map, a down-selected and detailed definition of Jobs To Be Done to move transformation efforts ahead. Lighthouse Pilot Maps are living and serve as the GPS for unknowns in the transformation journey.

As we mentioned earlier, Lighthouse Pilots are fully aligned and deliberately placed between the transformation strategy and the remaining planning, deployment, and execution efforts to add clarity to the journey. Lighthouse Pilots coexist with a master implementation plan and/or other less complicated implementation tasks. Again their purpose is to experiment, test, validate, and add clarity of potential Jobs To Be Done solutions in a real world pilot state. Adding clarity directly relates to holistic and well integrated transformation initiatives thus reducing risks, hidden costs, and time-to-benefits realization. Lighthouse Pilots also enable a smoother scaling of Jobs To Be Done solutions.


Transformation Strategy

An important point here is that a solid digital transformation strategy must be built around five different perspectives:

  1. Voice of the Customer (current business) – Growth and margin expansion activities, portfolio alignment, known and unspoken/unknown needs;
  2. Voice of the Customer (digital business) – Integration of digital technologies to delight customers and simplify their Jobs To Be Done;
  3. Voice of the Business – How does the enterprise leverage technology to add value to customers and future markets, and where do value drains or leakage exist;
  4. Voice of the Process – This includes both visible functional processes (physical assets) and invisible enabling processes (investment deployment, culture, innovative thinking, other under-the-radar social and emotional processes); and
  5. Voice of the Future – What does the future look like in concept, and what is the desired rate of transformation progress necessary to achieve market dominance and superior competitive performance.

Digital transformation strategies by their very nature are in the form of many abstract ideas and unknowns.  A key to success here is to avoid jumping the gun into some perceived correct action, and taking a bit more time to flush out more questions and facts about the unknowns in the transformation journey.

The Fuzzy Deployment Zone

The outcome of a transformation strategy is often a bold vision at a higher level of abstraction (This is great by the way), but the innovation ideas and possibilities can be all over the map. Where does the organization begin?  Many organizations do not acknowledge and skip over this fuzzy area, so they get off on the wrong track.  Others rely too heavily on technology by itself in transformation initiatives.  Much of this is driven by the anxiety for action and passive information about the As-Is, leading to the same in-the-box perceptions and opinions about change.

Successful transformation initiatives are very complex due to the functional, social, and emotional content . . . Combined with customer requirements that are changing at warp speed or have not evolved to some level of identity yet. The result is the Fuzzy Deployment Zone. Our firm offers a Transformation Diagnostic to help clients translate their abstraction of great ideas into real world breakthroughs in strategic and operating performance. The diagnostic and assessment puts the idea inventory through a formal screening and evaluation process focused on value creation, pain relief, and WOW factor identification. This leads to more relevant Jobs To Be Done and helps to identify the need for transformation lighthouses along the journey.

In the interest of actions and time, many organizations depart blindly and prematurely from of this fuzzy zone and ahead with their own perceived technology solutions before they have given proper due diligence to the whys and hows of Jobs To Be Done. Most transformation strategies are not actionable in their current state and need more clarity, definition, and risk mitigation to be implemented successfully.


In the interest of actions and time, many organizations depart blindly and prematurely from of this fuzzy zone and ahead with their own perceived technology solutions before they have given proper due diligence to the whys and hows of Jobs To Be Done.

Lighthouse Pilot Mapping and Jobs To Be Done

It is critical to use this Jobs Theory thinking and perspective to identify and define Lighthouse Pilots that will transform these fuzzy clustering insights into a coherent picture of a successful journey ahead. Jobs Theory and Lighthouse Pilots are the equivalent of discovery-driven planning. In complex transformation initiatives a Lighthouse Pilot Map serves as a navigational aid and to warn the organization of risky unknown situations in their journey. The Lighthouse Pilots Map is a living reference that provides an early warning system for unforeseen circumstances, major detractors and show stoppers in the transformation journey. Like a lighthouse at sea, the Lighthouse Pilot Map is a set of potential danger signals in the transformation journey. Lighthouse Pilots eliminate these unforeseen risks and costs, the inefficient compensating or work-around contingencies, and the outright failures.



Lighthouse Pilots enable quick, low risk, and inexpensive success or failure forward, tremendous learning experiences, and positive progress in the unknown aspects of the journey. 

Alpha and Virtual Teams

Because of the inherent complexity of transformation initiatives, a different approach to engagement and teaming is deployed for Lighthouse Pilots. Alpha Teams are high performance teams at inception, made up of the best open-minded and intelligent people who can deal with the ambiguities of breakthrough change, while integrating all of the holistic elements of operating strategy and vision, people, process, technology, capital, cultural development, and performance criteria. Alpha Team members are well versed and deeply experienced in multiple industries, change leadership, innovation and creativity, business process knowledge, emerging technologies, and cross-industry best practices. Alpha Teams are able to deal with the complexity and ambiguity efficiently execute upon a typical Lighthouse Pilot in 4-6 weeks. This is complex stuff! It’s pretty obvious that organizations can increase the odds of their transformation successes through the right combination and use of insider-outsider resources.

Virtual Teams (Uber-style teams) on the other hand, are additional on demand resources (e.g., 1-5 people) that can be plugged into a Lighthouse Pilot to add new thinking, disrupt biases, or to implement quick strike improvement opportunities identified by the Alpha Team. This teaming approach is very fluid and not new. We have been talking about the need to accelerate engagement, ownership, and team performance via new approaches for decades. To learn more about the basis of this advanced teaming approach visit our LinkedIn post, How To Design An Adaptive Future Focused Holacracy Organization.

Implementing Lighthouse Pilots Using the IDEATES Methodology

Many claim that innovation can be planned and achieved through a more structured process. There is some truth to this. We use more of a semi-structured phased approach called IDEATES™ which stands for Identify-Define-Engage-Analysis-Test-Evaluate-Success. This is not a linear waterfall problem solving process nor is it some rigid methodology like PDCA or DMAIC. It is free-flowing, idea generation model designed to facilitate innovation in Lighthouse Pilot efforts. Here’s how it works in reality:

  • Lighthouse Pilots are initially launched with IDEATES™ as a linear process. Since we are dealing with innovation, the process is very non-linear with many unknowns, complexities, multiple options, and no permanent single solutions.
  • As the Lighthouse Pilot progresses and more information becomes known, there may be a reason to loop back and/or across to other steps to refine objectives, conduct further analysis, consider additional testing and evaluation, or changing the definition of success achieved – All in a creativity-based vs; linear order).
  • IDEATES becomes an open process based on the pilot needs (e.g., IDATATEDEAES . . .). Or the Alpha Team may be exploring multiple parallel channels of innovation activities following the necessary phases (Each different from the initial IDEATES order)  Alpha teams have checkpoints where they can refer back to the linear IDEATES process to catalog discoveries, create mapping exercises, and capture the new narratives of the team’s current status.  Using a fishing analogy, it’s like taking a break and pulling in the trawling nets to see what we have caught so far. Then the team is back to creative and innovative discovery.  In other words, innovation is not a linear, deterministic IDEATES™ (one time through) process.

Lighthouse Pilots may be independent or interrelated efforts.  The results and lessons learned from Lighthouse Pilots can provide main guidance, interaction guidance, or residual guidance to broader transformation initiatives.




The following paragraphs provide a more detailed description of our IDEATES™ innovation methodology.

  1. Identify (I) critical Lighthouse Pilot opportunities from the Transformation Diagnostic, Jobs To Be Done, and Lighthouse Pilot Map analysis. This is an ongoing living effort that should be managed and prioritized by a Lighthouse Pilot Steering Sub-Group.
  2. Define (D) the detailed Lighthouse Pilot in terms of the current circumstances, customer impacts, objectives and scope, goals and objectives, strategic alignment, and expected outcomes. Define also includes understanding current baseline performance and what Lighthouse Pilot success looks like with active (narratives) and passive (numbers) data
  3. Engage (E) the Alpha and Uber Teams in launching Lighthouse Pilots. These are the most innovative thinkers – The intrepreneurs who are very talented, deeply experienced, and most important of all challenged and comfortable with ambiguity.
  4. Analyze (A) and develop various options that can potentially lead to Lighthouse Pilot success. These options should all include upside potential, downside risks, preliminary implementation time-resources-costs, additional idea generation and other information needed to proceed.
  5. Test (T) the preferred option in terms of its functional, social, emotional, and economic feasibility. Test may also involve loop-backs for more analysis and refinement of the selected option, or possibly considering parallel testing of two preferred options.
  6. Evaluate (E) the Lighthouse Pilot in terms of achieving the desired goals and expectations. Obviously this involves a comparison to the Define phase where goals and expectations were initially developed. Maybe there is a gap, and maybe the goals and expectations should be more realistically tweaked based on discovering new information.
  7. Recognize Success (S) as progress toward improving a particular circumstance or risky situation on the transformation path. Success also includes the Alpha Team’s reflection on discovery and next steps.

Keep in mind that innovation and Lighthouse Pilots benefit significantly from a process like this which is non-deterministic, evolutionary, open ended and free flowing, discovery centered, and solution-after-next focused. Success might mean achievement of goals and expectations, modifying and testing other options, scaling lessons learned as is, integrating findings into other related Transformation Pilots and/or transformation activities, continuing with the same or different Lighthouse Pilot initiative, and other journey options.  The Success phase of one Lighthouse Pilot may be directly linked to the Identify phase of  a subsequent Lighthouse Pilot(s).

Lighthouse Pilots provide the much needed continuity between customers and emerging market opportunities, strategy and vision, people, process, technology, capital, cultural development, and performance criteria to achieve sustainable transformation successes.

How to Get Started

So what does an organization do next Monday to get started?  The first step is to conduct an objective Operational Transformation Diagnostic (refer to our website post “Let’s Talk: Turn Your Change Anxiety Into Superior Operating Performance.”).  This is a quick, inexpensive review of your digital transformation strategy and assessment of the Fuzzy Deployment Zone relative to mission-critical changes needed to achieve superior competitive performance.  The diagnostic views the gaps between current conditions and the digital transformation vision.  This may include (but is not limited to) an assessment of the following areas:

  • Operational Strategy, Alignment, and Rationalization
  • Manufacturing, Warehousing and Distribution, and Supplier Management
  • M&A Effectiveness and Portfolio Performance
  • Time-To-Market and New Product Introduction
  • Supply Chain Optimization and Cost Controls
  • Order Fulfillment-To-Cash, E-Commerce Innovations
  • Strategic Sourcing, Integration, and Visibility
  • Financial and Cost Management
  • Technology Integration Planning
  • Capacity and CAPEX Planning
  • Digitization, Analytics, Real Time Performance
  • Enterprise-Wide Operational Perfection
  • Asset and Cash Management
  • Talent and Human Capital Management
  • Executive and Organizational Readiness

Our goal is to help our clients translate their bold fuzzy vision into a more defined and actionable state (Jobs To Be Done), and provide guidance on defining and structuring Lighthouse pilot needs in their transformation journey.  Once there is executive consensus on our findings and priorities, we assist our clients in the detailed leadership, technical mentoring, and successful implantation of Lighthouse Pilot efforts, and/or overall guidance on the broader transformation journey.  Our proven approach helps clients achieve a higher and faster rate of success by what we refer to as No Doubt” Execution.

To discuss your current challenges in more detail, email the authors directly or contact our offices at 603-471-0300


Innovation and transformation is all about creating new breakthroughs from the jumble of real life experiences we all live in. Innovative organizations immerse themselves in the messy context of real life circumstances to figure out what transformation might look like. At the transformation strategy level, the who-what-where-when-why-how’s are absent and there are no right single-point answers. This is a creative and unbounded challenge leading to a holistic narrative that never reveals all the answers and is always subject to change based on new and emerging circumstances. At any given moment this deep complexity is rooted in the combined elements of strategy, people, process, technology, capital, cultural development, and performance criteria. A best practice that continuously tests and clarifies the transformation road map is the key to managing this complex journey to greatness. This approach assembles the right narratives that reveal Jobs To Be Done and Light House Pilot opportunities.

Lighthouse Pilots provide the much needed continuity between customers and emerging market opportunities, strategy and vision, people, process, technology, capital, cultural development, and performance criteria to achieve sustainable transformation successes.  Lighthouse Pilots are a proven key enabler to proactively reducing the unknown and unforeseeable risks, costs, and time-to-benefits realization of an organization‘s transformation journey. Why is this true? Because Lighthouse Pilots help to discover what’s new in the realm of the unknown and undiscovered opportunities that can be developed further and/or implemented. Cobbling together a quantum leap change initiative based solely on a single element (technology, for example) always ends up in workarounds, compensating operating practices, excess costs, unhappy customers – and transformation failures. Technology is sexy, but it is never the standalone solution by itself. Failing to believe and pay attention to the multifaceted complexities of innovation is the largest detractor to sustainable transformation successes.



Terence T. Burton is President and Founder of The Center for Excellence in Operations, Inc. (CEO), a management consulting firm specializing in strategic and operational transformation.  Terry has four decades of extensive operations and supply chain experience as a hands-on practitioner and executive in private industry, and has led consulting engagements in a wide spectrum of industries, having consulted with over 350 clients in 23 countries on their strategic and operations improvement initiatives.  Terry can be reached directly at



Dr. Helmut Falser is the European Managing Director of The Center for Excellence in Operations, Inc. (CEO).  Helmut has worked extensively with many premier and mid-sized high technology, telecommunications, software, automotive, medical equipment, and insurance industries throughout Europe.  Prior to his consulting career, Helmet held senior executive positions with several high technology companies.  Helmut can be reached at