I am sure after reading my posts on digital mindset, the power of emerging technologies and how they are changing our world that you want to apply the concepts, tools and technologies as soon as possible to improving your business continuity, critical event management and risk programs . But it is important that the digital transformation you implement aligns with the vision and capabilities of your organization to best serve your customers.
If you work for an industrial age company and are responsible for the success of your company’s transformation to the digital age, you will have special challenges that often do not exist in a born digital age startup. You will also have incredible opportunity to improve older products and services. I know, as I have built digital for corporations and startups. I have been in your shoes and learned how to find many digital opportunities. I also learned how to overcome every challenge.
Most digital projects in mid and large industrial age organizations fail. Yes, over 50% of projects some costing millions of dollars, fail. There are many reasons for this high rate of failure. We will focus on three main causes of failed projects and how to overcome them:
- Lack of a clear vision and goals
- Poor communications within a team and with stakeholders
- Fear and resistance to change
I have led over 100 digital projects in my career (so far) and every one succeeded, although at times it was not easy. In this post I will share what has worked for me in every project I led. My goal is to save you time, energy, possible frustration and hopefully help you build a superstar digital program.
Unless you are the CEO or founder of the company, one of your first action items should be to meet with upper management (leadership) as early as possible. That will empower you to build the best and most on-target digital program possible. By the way, if you are the CEO or founder make sure the person or people directing your digital program read this UltimateBusinessContinuity.compost.
If upper management actively endorses your digital efforts, you will get cooperation from the entire organization including process owners and their direct reports. You will be digital gold!
Begin with a high-level discussion to level-set the scope and goals of the digital transformation program. Will the scope be only external customer facing or will it include transforming internal processes as well? I strongly recommend you both in scope. There is often a great deal of low-hanging fruit digitizing internal processes but sadly they are often overlooked.
I do not think your digital projects will be a hard sell to management, as digital is mainstream news and can provide great return on investment. Many leaders will understand the importance of making use of creative thinking, innovation and new technology to create customer value. Hopefully they realize every business, including yours, must be in part a technology business to prosper and survive.
Emphasize to management that disruptors can steal your customers and potentially destroy your business. Share some disruption horror stories. You could use ones they are familiar with such as Netflix – Blockbuster, Amazon – Sears, Ericsson – Apple, Lyft or Uber – the taxi industry, etc. Also, research and provide examples of lesser known ones that map directly to your industry. Those will hit closer to home and will have a big impact on management. The more they understand the pain the more responsive they will be. Make it all about them.
Communicate your willingness to go ‘above and beyond’. Demonstrate that you have initiative and want to help in any way you can. Management usually welcomes that type of team-oriented creative thinking and will understand the value that can come from your efforts.
On the other hand, if upper management does not understand the true value you and a digital transformation will bring to your organization they will not actively support you and it becomes more difficult to succeed, although not impossible in my experience.
I have encountered management that just does not get it and worked on my own time to develop digital value. Some of it I did in stealth mode beyond work hours as an ‘unofficial passion project’. Eventually management realized the value when I presented prototypes and demos of what I had developed. They appreciated my dedication and innovative thinking and became great proponents of the digital program initiatives.
When you have the support of management results will be wider reaching and digital transformation will happen faster. It will make your life much easier as well. If you cannot get their support don’t give up. It is only a ‘speed bump’. Be positive, follow your passion and just get it done!
It is important to learn upper management’s goals and expectations for the digital program. When you meet with them listen, notice their body language and verbal inflections. Read between the lines. Small details convey a lot of information.
One of my favorite questions is, ‘what keeps you up at night?’ That question has been worth its weight in gold to me in all facets of business including digital transformation, IT and business continuity. I always learn a lot from their response which is often, ‘being blindsided and losing customers to disruptors’. It makes sense. When customers are lost and revenue suffers it is upper management that is held accountable.
Not having critical digital technology available is also a top response of management and I agree it should be. When your organization relies on digital, technology must work. If your digital product is not available customers and employees will suffer. I have seen technology failures destroy businesses. To mitigate the risk of technology not being available it is important to create digital redundancy and backup for internal and external facing systems. You would be shocked at how many large, supposedly tech savvy, organizations have ‘been down’ for unacceptable extended periods of time due to the lack of planning and simple safeguards.
Tip – Actively listen, listen and listen some more – absorb as many leadership pain-points and digital goals as possible. During meetings with customers,
upper management, process owners or line workers, if you are speaking more than they are then you have a problem. Dial it back. You will be happy you did. You never learn anything while you are speaking. The old saying ‘we have two ears and one mouth for a reason’ is so true. Listening is a valuable skill most people do not have. Devote time to become a great listener. It will have a big impact on your career.
Do not let anything slip through the cracks. Maintain eye- contact. As soon as possible update your checklist, spreadsheet or database with takeaways from the meetings. Soon you will have an ocean of information flowing through your desk. Staying organized is a must. Do not let tasks slip through the cracks or you will get bitten in the end.
Tip – Communication is critical – schedule digital program steering committee meetings with upper management regularly over the life of your program. Most projects, digital or otherwise, fail due to a lack of communications. If all meetings are not required, it is ok to cancel. Management is busy so meet when it is important but cancel when you or they have nothing on the agenda. They will respect that.
Tip – Break down silos – if you are in a medium to large industrial age organization you will likely be working with many different department leaders that report directly or indirectly to upper management. Silos may be ingrained in the culture of the organization. Silos are more prevalent in industrial era organizations than digitally born ones. These silos MUST be broken down to improve communication. Developing a successful digital transformation program means data and information is flowing vertically and horizontally across an organization which will create value.
Tip – It is ‘all about them’. Your elevator pitch should focus on how the digital program will benefit the exact audience you are speaking with. People are often afraid of change. They may be concerned with losing their job or may be embarrassed by not knowing how to do things with technology. These are understandable concerns.
Communicate the positive business reasons for implementing a digital transformation program and the
negative aspects of not having one. For example, a digital program can make the organization a leader in the industry, gain new customers, retain current customers, derive new revenue and reduce expenses.
Then take the reasons to a level that really hits home at a logical and emotional level – keeping the company in business, maintaining job security, having the ability to pay their bills and the prestige of working for a leading company. If you deliver a powerful ‘about them’ message, managers will dedicate time to helping you build the digital program.
Tip – You really need a meal – I have led many different types of enterprise-wide cross functional projects, including digital transformation, business continuity, enterprise software development and implementation, etc. In my experience, a great way to get full support from all levels of management is if upper management hosts a lunch for you your first week of the program. Everyone loves a good meal.
The meal meeting will clearly demonstrate upper management’s support and buy-in for you and the digital transformation program. To kick off the meal they should speak to the attendees about the company’s commitment to becoming a digital leader, changing the culture, breaking down silos and becoming innovators and disruptors. They should emphasize it will be for everyone’s benefit and job security and everyone must participate in making the digital initiative a big success.
Interacting with people that will be critical to the success of the program in a somewhat social scenario will further break down barriers. You might be surprised how infrequently these managers speak with each other. The benefits in getting everyone together and on the same page can be astounding! It will be beneficial in breaking down silos.
Meetings and time commitments from middle- managers and line workers will fall into place when they realize upper management is committed to building a vibrant digital culture. This will enable you to meet your project deliverable dates and bring products to fruition on time or early. There is nothing worse than missed deliverables and a ‘forever’ project.
In one visionary company, upper management hosted a kickoff lunch for me to meet all the middle managers that
would be instrumental to the success of my program, while one of my counterparts in another region of the country met with the middle managers ‘cold’ (no upper management hosted lunch or even email prior to middle management meetings). Coming into the meetings ‘warm’ made my job easier and very effective. People knew I was on-board to help them ‘get digital’ and never get disrupted. My counterpart, on the other hand, was seen by the middle managers as an efficiency expert. People were avoiding him at all costs. Perception is everything! It is hard to change first impressions. Unfortunately, my teammate left the company within a year, while I succeeded.
Finding Hidden Opportunities for Digital Transformation
Let management know that as you build the digital program and examine how things are currently being done, you will gain a unique holistic understanding of how your company works from end-to-end. This can lead to new external customer facing opportunities and internal ways to improve processes, generate revenue and/or reduce expenses.
A great way to find hidden opportunities is to spend time with managers, office workers, warehouse and factory workers, delivery drivers and anyone else that that does the actual work. See how they do their job and take detailed notes. Do not only interview managers. Often, they are removed from the actual way processes and tasks are done. Also, interact with customers to see how they are using your products and make suggestions on improving them.
I guaranty the time you spend with these people will be worthwhile. Not only will it help you develop your program but it shows people you care about them. Thank them for their time and leave your business card with them. Let them know your door is always open to them and you value their suggestions. Remember, in a company digital is a team game and everyone must participate.
Here are three possible internal digital transformation opportunities you may identify in your organization. I consistently find these and many other ‘low-hanging fruit’ opportunities in companies of all sizes:
- Departments hoarding information in local spreadsheets which devalues the data, is an opportunity to streamline the process and increase
revenue with better cross process analytics. This reduces costs associated with input errors and avoids time being wasted inputting the same information. Think gold copy for success!
- Commercial truck delivery drivers using paper forms to log hours worked. That is no longer allowed as you learned in the post, ‘The Smart Supply Chain – Our Chain of Life’.
- Salespeople inputting orders on paper where it could be migrated to a form on a tablet which instantly transmits the orders to the central database. This will reduce errors and compress the delivery time to the customer. That can mean product differentiation and revenue.