Digital Transformation Failures Part 3: Giving in to Distraction
A workday easily fills with distractions. A week, a month. Add up the distractions, and a lot happens when you aren’t paying attention. If you are working on a digital transformation project, losing focus equates to delaying value realization.
The following topics offer insight into common distractions that may result in the failure of a transformation initiative.
Losing sight of the customer
A digital transformation initiative will likely use the word “customer” more than one way. There will be references to “internal customers,” along with references generally to “customers,” which usually refers to external customers who pay for goods and services. Given the scope of most digital transformation initiatives, some customers may end up referenced as segments for more specificity.
Regardless of how definitions work in your organization, the customer should sit at the center of a digital transformation project. Lose the customer, and you lose the purpose of the project, or perhaps more pointedly, the real purpose of the project. Plenty of projects keep going, continue to spend money and keep claiming results after they abandon customer-centricity. But unfortunately, those projects will likely end up in the annals of failure and rework.
Digital transformation initiatives exist as hierarchies of activity. Every one of those should not only ratchet up to the business strategy but find customer-first language for expressing the strategy. A science fiction show named Heroes once spread the mantra, “Save the cheerleader, save the World.” In digital transformation, focus on “Save the customer, save the Project,” and you will likely be more right than wrong in setting priorities.
Designing customer experiences from the inside out
If the customer sits at the center, it becomes impossible to adopt an inside-out approach to design. Inside-out actually becomes the antithesis. Rather than solely looking at competitive pressures and emerging technology to inform choice, inside-out planning often uses external “trends” as the impetus for the plan. Good decisions reflect what others are doing rather than what this organization should be doing.
With outside-in transformations, customer experience drives strategy and design. Technology becomes the enabler of the experience, not its reason for being. Outside-in forces project talent to think first like a consumer and only then like an information technology professional.
Thinking like a customer offers a lever for culture change. Rather than talking about “thinking like a customer” or being “customer-centric,” consider this: Designs begin with the customer in mind, and the test of a design’s viability and efficacy ends with customer success. Design and measurement team to encourage customer-centered mindsets as the organization’s behaviors reflect its professed beliefs.
Customers also often act as an escape valve, reinforcing ideas that might not play in an “enterprise” mindset organization. Customers want what they want—even if it doesn’t play well with standards or challenges underlying architectural or licensing assumptions. Customers don’t care. Embracing the customer powers transformation by turning upheaval into enterprise practice.
Adopting “agility” without understanding what it means
According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, agile means being “able to move quickly and easily.” Moving quickly is often a personal capability that involves the strength and suppleness of the body. Moving easily means anticipating obstacles or using that personal capability to overcome or overwhelm them.
Those definitions also offer promising ways to think about agility in a digital transformation project.
To move quickly means to have a set of capabilities in place that can be arranged, orchestrated, or configured to meet the initiative where it is. The talent, the structure, and even the knowledge required must be malleable. That is one of the reasons partners add value to digital transformation. You may not know you need a skill until you start down a path, but that skill may prove both important and fleeting. Hiring someone permanently doesn’t make sense. Bringing in a partner offers flexibility. It enables agility.
When it comes to moving easily, initiative leaders need to ensure their responsibilities and accountabilities include removing obstacles from projects and tasks or helping others skirt around them. Moving easily means nurturing an awareness of issues as they occur. And that means paying attention. It also means making the issue inconsequential or eliminating it altogether. Moving easily also requires data-driven decision-making, not just sensing an atmosphere but reading the instruments that tell you the condition of the air.
Most agile animals can’t keep up a fast pace or become infinitely flexible. Neither can agile projects. That is why adopting agility involves incremental periods of rapid execution followed by reflection, feedback, and reevaluation moments.
Forgetting the importance of collaboration
Like Prime Rib and Barolo, agility works better when paired with collaboration. Of course, agile projects will involve teams of people working together. However, if you only take it that far, your project might be underperforming.
Good collaboration requires strong relationships. Give people the time and permission to learn how to work together and to converge on the tools and techniques that work best for them.
Focusing on customers is one way successful digital transformations avoid failure, regression, or underperformance. Choices become clear where focus exists. If the customer at the center can’t make sense of it, doesn’t want it, or doesn’t think it adds value, then you should probably reconsider whatever that thing is.
Some might argue that new solution skepticism by the customer impedes innovation—just the opposite. Innovations only become innovations when customers adopt them. Customers force clever people to figure out how to turn wild new things into valuable things—that transformation requires teams to focus not on selling a perceived value of an idea but on discovering how to make their idea actually useful.
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