Avoid Digital Transformation Failure in 10 Easy Steps

Avoid Digital Transformation Failure in 10 Easy Steps


Many companies will face digital transformation at some point.  It is no secret that a high percentage of digital transformations will fail in some aspect.

One reason these failures happen so frequently is that many companies have not attempted an IT-enabled transformation for about 10-15 years. During that time, a new generation of leaders have come onboard, and those that completed the last successful transformation have moved on.

The next thing you know, a system integrator (SI) is hired to bring the company a process for change and the talent to get things done. Typically, these SI’s come with governance models and playbooks that define the role of executive sponsor with words and phrases like:

  • “Leads change”
  • “Makes senior executive decisions”
  • “Removes roadblocks”
  • “Allocates talent and resources”
  • “Signs-off on the business case”

These catchphrases can make your head explode. Nowhere in these governance models or playbooks do the SI’s explain how to accomplish these actions.

Here are some actions that businesses can take to raise the probability of transformation success:

1. Make the business case clear

To enable transformation your business case needs to be clean, free of nonsense, unambiguous, and brief. A clean business case will enable the team to make decisions that are aligned with a vision.

2. Businesses need to have confidence that the transformation can be achieved

This means that you need to:

  • Communicate the business case
  • Lay out the overall plan and journey to achieve the goal
  • Acknowledge that there are going to be risks and bumps along the way, and
  • Do all the above with a high level of confidence

3. Hold the business accountable

This means rigorously tracking that all impacted areas of the business have allocated the required talent, implemented tactics to mitigate risks, and incorporated forecasts of benefits into future business plans. These preparations need to be visible at executive level and demonstrated on dashboards.

4. Take care of your team

Allocate your “A-team” to the project; these are the employees that the business trusts to make good decisions. Regularly provide these employees with a roadmap on how the initiative will allow them to achieve their career goals, so as not to derail them from their own goals and aspirations.

5. Prioritise operational continuity

People happily report to the steering teams on how well things are going early on. However, as the project moves forward and budgets and schedules begin to slip, the teams will feel compelled not to report bad news.  This then leads to taking risks that can lead to poor implementations and operational disruptions. Prioritising operational continuity at the offset creates the right conditions and reduces the risk of failure.

6. Lengthen decision lead times

All transformations require significant decisions to be made. Many of these decisions will require executive involvement, which inevitably takes time. Make a list of key decisions that will be required over the course of engagement. Ensure all relevant parties are onboard and that they have the employees they trust to make these decisions.

7. Call the shots

The team is going to need a decisionmaker who is prepared to make hard calls and live with the consequences. Part of this should involve lengthening decision lead times and getting executive buy-in on key decisions.

8. Set and communicate priorities

The business will be overloaded. Employees are more likely to want to work in overload situations if they have a clear direction on priorities. Failure to communicate priorities will lead to losses in productivity, as staff attempt to establish their own priorities or simply stall because they are not wanting to make a wrong decision.

9. Leverage your suppliers

Actively manage your key supplier relationships by way of regular meetings with senior leadership counterparts. Set these discussions strategically before significant milestones. Supplier quite often perform great feats to complete a job when they know a positive reference can be obtained.

10. Establish a management reserve

Keeping a management reserve will allow you to take the pressure off the team when times inevitably get tough.  It will allow them the ability to make the right decisions for the business.

Date: May 24, 2021

Author: Morris

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