How not to fail at digital transformation

It is said that digital transformation projects fail up to 95% of the time! [1], I’ve seen slightly lower numbers, but still exceptionally high.

I’m not going to go into the why, the article I linked to above does that, and I will let you read that, what I’m going to tell you is how I implement digital transformation projects successfully, so that you can do it too.

One of the keys is to work across the silos of your organisation, this makes a lot of people very nervous, but it’s the only way to do it and be successful. This means talking to people, involving them, keeping them informed.

Another key is to involve the users. This often gets called design thinking, these days, but design thinking wasn’t something I’d heard of when I first did it 20 years ago, it just seemed to be the right thing to do. I certainly don’t know what would make people’s jobs easier, and reduce their workload, or at least not increase it, so I ask them. I talk to them about their processes, what they call things, how they are organised. The things that worked for them, what didn’t work for them.

Once I get their input I create wireframes or prototypes and validate them with the people I’ve talked to, making modifications where I’ve misunderstood something or not asked enough questions. We often do this 2-3 times until we get it right. This gets call agile, trying and failing, or iteration; again it just seemed to be the right thing to do when I first did it. I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t an expert in whatever my users were, so if I was going to help them, I was going to need their help–it was a team effort, we were in this together.

Something else that is critical is keeping everyone informed: users, management, other stakeholders. We have regular emails, updates, and meetings as well as documents being posted online for people to access. It takes a lot of communication: A LOT!

I ask questions and ensure alignment. When something doesn’t make sense, I go back to the users, the use cases they had described, the organisation’s vision or strategy, whatever helps me ensure we are moving in the right direction, in the best interests of the people I was working with and the organisation as a whole. If I have conflicting information, we talk about it and make a decision, sometimes, I make the decision, sometimes the team does, whatever keeps us moving towards the goal. The times that I make the decision, I explain my rationale and reasoning, so that people don’t feel excluded, like I have “done it to them”. We are in this together, we only succeed together.

I treat people like equals, with the trust and respect they deserve. They come to trust me, and work with me to achieve our objectives. It is hard. Lots of people don’t like it. Lots of people want a command and control approach, but that’s not going to be successful. We’re in the age of the knowledge worker, and have been for a long time. It demands a different approach than the industrial age.

You have to be passionate, tenacious, and willing to admit you don’t have all the answers but you’ll find out. Success takes leadership, not a place on the hierarchy.