How Johnson & Johnson transformed its corporate business-technology operating model

The problem: A corporate IT siloed from the businesses it serves

Johnson & Johnson’s Corporate Business Technology (CBT) team, which serves all Johnson & Johnson employees, set out to transform the employee experience through the company’s technology and how that technology partners with the business to deliver what it needs. Previously, CBT operated in a silo from the business and was oriented to delivering “projects”—tools and services that did not fully take into account the nearly 140,000 employees across 60 countries who would actually use them.

Three ‘unlocks’ for the transformation

In 2019, the corporate leadership team conducted a strategic reset to fulfill a specific aspiration: to “enable and empower a global workforce to help patients, doctors and nurses, mothers and fathers, and all those who use Johnson & Johnson products and services.” A core element of delivering on this aspiration was improving the employee experience when engaging with any corporate technology.

The transformation was a complex series of initiatives, but three decisions mattered most in making it successful.

1. Align on a bold operating model that empowers teams

Top business and technology leaders were clear from the beginning that the IT organization should be more empowered, responsive, and agile. That meant not being hindered by rigid software platforms, complex and unclear workflows, and IT developers who were several steps removed from the people who would actually use the products and services they built. But without specific guidelines and goals, leadership worried that the initiatives would result in activity but not necessarily in progress. They therefore focused on developing a set of concrete principles so that working teams were clear on accountability and autonomy but understood the need for boundaries and flexibility. Leadership across technology and the business aligned on three key principles:

  • Work as one high-performing team. To ensure that IT was delivering what the business needed, the core working team brought together business and technology colleagues from multiple groups to focus on technology-enabled offerings to be used by both customers and employees.
  • Focus on employee outcomes. Working teams had to demonstrate how their products would both help employees and build value for the business. Leadership developed metrics to track progress in terms of experience, services delivered, and employee appreciation for tools delivered.
  • Empower the front lines. Working teams had the freedom to achieve goals as they saw fit. For leadership to be confident in allowing this level of autonomy, CBT agreed that the teams had to have people with specific technical skills who could own both the execution and the outcomes within the team.

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2. Develop true partnerships with the business around products, not projects

Traditionally, the business had viewed technology development as “things IT does” and, occasionally, as “not my problem.” However, since the business was the ultimate consumer of what IT built, and supporting the business was the goal of the transformation, it was critical to engage the business in the development cycle. For this reason, Johnson & Johnson’s CBT team established a ”product” model that called on technology teams to deliver specific experiences or services (exhibit). This step was the key to unlocking a real partnership with the business, because technology was reframed around value delivered rather than around systems built or projects completed.

Shifting from a project to a product/platform operating model requires a new approach.

To ensure their alignment with the business, these product teams were assigned to work specifically for designated business units. A business lead was explicitly assigned to each product and co-owned it with a dedicated leader from IT, from concept to maintenance. Both had explicit and shared accountability for delivery of the product.

For example, one initiative focused on the launch of a single employee knowledge portal. Previously, employees had to navigate across hundreds of internal sites to find basic communications, information, and learning opportunities, which created frustration and impacted productivity.

The team established an integrated team to lead the work, which focused on developing simple and fast tools to provide employees with the information they needed to do their job.

The teams first conducted deep user research to understand what features to prioritize. They learned, for example, that users had no easy way to track workflow. Employees often missed deadlines simply because they couldn’t get needed approvals, and executives didn’t know where to provide them. Further analysis revealed that everyone turned to search to manage 90 percent of issue resolutions. With this knowledge, the team prioritized notification and search in its early work, which led to a 60 percent reduction in the time it took users to access meaningful functionality.

After the initial launch, the product was ranked the number-one site across Johnson & Johnson, with a 55 percent increase in customer-satisfaction scores and around 100,000 weekly global users. This served as a lighthouse to demonstrate the value of the shift from a project to product model and helped build momentum for scaling the technology–business partnership model.

3. Focus on the operating model, not organization

While many transformations start with staff reporting structures, Johnson & Johnson’s CBT team focused on developing an operating model that organized talent around the work. This was an important shift of focus.

Transforming the operating model required a baseline understanding of what wasn’t working well. A cross-functional design team worked to identify key points of friction across the end-to-end flow of work. For example, they found that there were more than six handoffs before a business-side colleague reached an engineer responsible for an aspect of the technology. These handoffs took time, and key insights were lost in translation. Another pain point was navigating the technology ecosystem—business units had to coordinate across multiple technology teams, depending on the complexity and duration of their project. This reflected the fragmented nature of IT itself, where teams were often responsible for only certain parts of a project.

To resolve these points of friction, Johnson & Johnson created an operating model centered around the goal of enabling high-performing, cross-functional, and autonomous teams that were assigned to work continuously on specific products. To deliver technology that provided measurable value to employees, the teams worked with designers on user research, identifying relevant lagging indicators (such as number of unique searches, time spent in the app, calls made to the help desk) and demonstrating the products to users before they were released. While people within each team still reported to their various functional leaders, they were primarily accountable to the team lead for delivering on their shared product.

To keep the product teams small and nimble but provide them with the resources they needed, IT established central teams of expertise, which built technical platforms (analytics and intelligent automation, for example) and services (such as design thinking, architecture, and communications) and deployed experts with capabilities as needed. This approach reduced previously duplicated efforts and investment. For example, a single leader was put in charge of the analytics platform, which reduced duplicate modeling, licensing costs, and data-science approaches that were prevalent in the more fractured former model.

How capability building can power transformation

How capability building can power transformation

Impact to date

Before the 2019 transformation, CBT had been able to meet its regulatory and financial requirements, but not as much the needs of the business when it came to the timely delivery of foundational capabilities and more advanced products in analytics, automation, and data science. Since rolling out the updated model, every top program has been delivered on time or early.

Positive impact has been measured in multiple ways:

  • employee-satisfaction increases, as reflected in customer-satisfaction scores (in some cases, more than 50 points on key products)
  • reduced cost to business for project delivery through a 20 percent reduction in the need for “coordination” resources
  • increase in the speed of product delivery (more than 20 percent across delivery teams)
  • reduction in non-value-added meetings (around 25 percent fewer hours)

This new operating model allowed Johnson & Johnson to react quickly when COVID-19 hit. With clear accountability, teams were able to shift seamlessly into remote work and quickly manage unexpected priority changes in employee engagement. For example, in just six weeks, the company established a product team that built and successfully delivered global tracking software enabling employees to self-report when they were sick so they could quickly get help and care when needed. Importantly, the new IT model and mindset have created a renewed sense of partnership, trust, and joint ownership between the business and technology.

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