If I was allowed to give you only one piece of advice on digital transformation, it would be the following: invest an extra minute at the design phase, and save hours on the implementation. The following lines will explain “what to do in that 1 minute”.
The digitalization of companies is not only a matter of developing and improving on technological capabilities, but also of re-organization and re-design of the entire company, including metrics, culture and the channel roles, if we are to effectively digitalize our operations.
The above statement summarizes the main message of most of the presentations and articles on digital transformation.
This message is the core of many Ted talks, this message comes up on LinkedIn, and is recognized and discussed by experts from large consulting firms on popular morning radio shows. The professional community, those who have already gone through a digital transformation or a little part of it, are trying to teach (very rightly) the market and encourage companies to go ahead and take the plunge. At the same time, they are also emphasizing how it will fundamentally affect organisations: operations and people will all experience major changes. If I were a decision maker, I’d stop here and swallow hard. This surgery is necessary, that is not a question, we are going to become healthier and more efficient in many ways, but it may come with a little pain.
In fact, the above statements are very true, we cannot just get at the task of digitalization purely from a practical or instrumental point of view, as both the human and the technological adaptation will be needed in the process. However, few people mention that the key to successful digitalization is setting the right pace, determining what momentum we will be starting with and the milestones we decide to set for ourselves.
The pitfalls of introducing digital transformation
One of the biggest mistakes is that companies tend to set themselves a goal that is too far away or not well thought out and at the same time they wish to get to this goal as quickly as possible.
In general, both the internal (who has to be removed from everyday routine to learn and later produce value with new methods) and external (how much it will cost and who can contribute) resources tend to be poorly assessed. We may introduce some technology that replaces a previous, less efficient process/function, but this technology rarely gets adopted seamlessly and more often than not fails to achieve the planned metrics.
This means it is very important to stop for a moment and assess the current situation before embarking on the process of digital transformation: we need to have a clear overview of our processes, a good understanding of our mistakes and an understanding of what purpose we need to introduce new technologies for, along with determining if we are capable of adapting or whether we even want to adapt our current systems and internal resources to these new technologies at all.
In the course of consulting projects, we have repeatedly run into the type of request that starts with asking us to help and determine how much it is going to cost to digitalize, say, the sales operation, since a new target requires online sales reach a 10% channel share. The answer from a technological perspective to such a question just requires conducting the appropriate assessment and based on this, provided there is an adequate budget, project planning and later development can begin. At this point you should stop for a moment and formulate some probing questions that touch upon the core of the business strategy and the foundations of the customer journey. The answers given to these questions will help you create your goal and set the pace during the digital transformation process in a way that it matches the company’s resources.
We solve the internal tension of business development
At Pattern, to avoid disappointment at the first major milestone of a project, we decided to highlight this key moment in the process and spend some quality time on it at the very beginning. At this point we collect all the necessary information from the stakeholders in the form of a structured workshop in order to create a solid foundation. To illustrate the importance of this phase, we run these exploratory workshops as an investment on our side for a nominal fee. Our goal is to highlight hidden opportunities and problems that would result in outsize impact or, in specific cases, to highlight the fact that the goal itself is wrong and that we are looking for magical optimization of business processes and better results behind the wrong door.
We support businesses during the first, most important step of transformation
The methodology of this workshop is infinitely simple, and I encourage those of you embarking on small and larger digitalization projects to try and run the exercise by yourself even without external help, it will help clarify the direction. The length of the workshop and the individual steps heavily depend on the specific topic, but you generally should follow the steps outlined below:
First and foremost, decide who should attend the workshop. If we are talking about transformation, the project is certainly going to be cross-departmental, so there should be at least one stakeholder each from marketing, from the department of product/service development, from the digital team, as well as colleagues from the customer-facing departments who meet customers every day. When it comes to a larger project, it is advisable to create several teams with the same role profile mix and cover different chunks in parallel. For example, in the case of sales, a team can deal with the acquisition phase, another one with retention, and so on.
Executive support is key: in our experience, it is much easier to organize such a workshop with the support of a senior and inspiring project sponsor: more people will attend and colleagues will see it as a more important issue. So at least ask the sponsor of the transformation project to start the workshop with a motivational speech, or perhaps have them send out the invitations.
- The first task is to understand where we are at the moment. This is called the AS-IS mapping stage, where we review together what the processes of the area to be developed currently look like. Here, it is imperative to always ask the right questions. Looking at a website development case, it could look like this: What kind of sales activities does the visitor encounter on our website as it is today (depending on the team, this is either acquisition related or about an existing customer).
- Visualize the target. Feel free to dream big at this point or to set distant goals. If participants from different teams / backgrounds take the time to think about this together, you will end up with a diverse set of objectives in a very efficient way. No need to be worried if these goals became too granular or get off on tangents, since right now the task isn’t synthesis or translation of the goals into strategic steps yet.
- Pain points/blockers: We outline the obstacles that threaten our goals. This could be a status quo issue or a specific technical problem, but the main point is to ensure that everyone expresses their ideas on what may hinder progress.
- Town hall: If we have more than one participating team, each one should take turns commenting and fine tuning the work of all other teams. There are various methodologies on how to facilitate this best, but all are geared towards ensuring that any discrepancies resulting from inadvertent mismatches in team composition are ironed out.
- Summary, evaluation: It is advisable for the moderator to do this on the day following the workshop because then the experience is still fresh. Focus on capturing raw, “as is” output to make sure no nuance is lost at this stage – clustering and streamlining can be done in subsequent phases.
The workshop steps may sound familiar because they contain elements from the Google Design Sprint methodology. Feel free to adapt this method (although some experience is useful to have) in order to fit it into the culture of your company so that it will actually help bring you closer to the goal. For further inspiration, check out the AJ&Smart Youtube channel
The above-mentioned workshop and its result is not going to fix all your issues with a snap of a finger (except, maybe, for ardent Avengers fans out there). However, it does provide a very good basis as to which direction to think about further and discover where there may be errors in the digitalization plans. In addition, the success of a well-organized workshop in the context of a more rigid organization, where several departments have been present working together, can promote the idea of collaboration for other similar projects.