How to Ensure Success in a Digital Transformation
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A digital journey is generally fraught with bumps, or even high-impact crashes along the way, and a staggering 70 percent of digital transformation projects fall short of their goals, despite leadership being aligned. It is important that leaders don’t put too much weight on short-sided decisions intended to keep the team moving forward while on the journey to the ultimate digital vision. Losing sight of the long-term objectives can jeopardize delivery of the project in the way it was originally intended, resulting in unintentional consequences such as excessive technical debt, unhappy stakeholders, and unrealized project potential—ultimately creating a digital disaster.
Too many times along the transformation journey, organizations are faced with small forks in the road which end with a well-intentioned decision on the path for moving forward yet veer the organization further from the ultimate vision. Decision points protrude in such forms as cost, timeline, technical and process choices. It is those decisions that could benefit from being evaluated against a set of digital commandments, or a set of standards defined at the start of the digital journey, to avoid an organization veering down the wrong path and ultimately failing to achieve the digitization vision.
Types of Digital Commandments
Digital commandments are a way for organizations to commit to a set of fundamental rules that must be followed in order to achieve the defined state of digitalization. Just like a company would not define a culture without having principles that embody the desired culture—if those principles are not met, then the culture will shift. Ruthless commitment to commandments is necessary to ensure a successful digital transformation.
- Commandment #1 – Customer voice trumps all others: All decisions should benefit the customer’s journey, even at the risk of taking longer than planned to achieve the transformation.
For example, an industry-leading U.S. financial services company saw the impact of not adhering to this commandment firsthand, when the organization attempted to rush to meet a deployment milestone on a large digital transformation, which resulted in workarounds that increased the burden on end users. While from a program perspective this was viewed as a success (achieving the milestone), the resentment created by making life harder on the user, created a buy-in challenge for subsequent rollouts and carried them further away from the digital vision.
- Commandment #2 – Future state > Status quo: Any decision made must improve the current state of the process.
Using the Agile framework’s minimum viable product (MVP) approach is critical to driving transformation, however; one should be careful that the MVP does not become too minimum. The cheaper and faster deployment is not always the best solution. For example, in a digital transformation of a leading financial services intermediary, diverting from automated ingestion of data to manual tracking of incoming email allowed the project to advance past a near-term hurdle, but it created technical debt and did not deliver the expected results from the digital transformation.
- Commandment #3 – Ensure change adoption is accepted before delivery: Any digital transformation effort needs to be underpinned by a strong change management strategy for it to stick with an organization and make the desired impact.
Clear messaging on the “what’s in it for me” is mandatory. Any decision on change should require acceptance from the leaders of any areas of the business that will be impacted. For example, when rolling out a new shared front office system at a large U.S. insurance firm, the company needed to gain buy-in from key stakeholders in various business units. However, their lack of buy-in resulted in one year and $5 million of waste as business units did not come together to focus on the vision of a new front office system.
These lessons learned would have been avoided by committing to a consistent commandment framework to review decisions and maintain an eye toward to ultimate objective of the digital transformation.
Setting & Enforcing Digital Commandments
For the digital commandments to be successful, it is imperative key tenets are agreed upon at the onset of the transformation journey. Alignment and overarching consensus around these principles, with sponsored support, is critical. From a tactical perspective, a sticky note session with key sponsors should be established that clearly lays out the digital vision and asks participants “When the team comes across decision points during the execution, what are key commandments that need to be followed to ensure the vision is achieved?” After the initial idea set is developed, related sticky notes should be categorized together by themes. Those categories should be the draft set of commandments that are then filtered through at least five different scenarios that the team may come across during the project. This exercise will refine commandments and ultimately align all stakeholders on approximately two to three commandments. Critically, informal change agents should also be involved in those discussions to help align the organization more broadly on the selected commandments.
During the execution of the digital transformation, the commandments would supplement the original project scope charter and be reviewed against any significant decision that could veer the journey off course. For instance, the project may realize that the intended technology does not meet certain business requirements and therefore, have to weigh options on how to carry forward. In a scenario like this, the commandments would serve as a way to evaluate each potential option, in addition to other key criteria.
While achieving a digital vision requires substantial investments of time, energy and funding, the use of digital commandments will aid in keeping the organization on the path to digital success. So, the next time your organization comes to a fork in the road, evaluate the options against the defined commandments to ensure the proper path is followed.
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