Three common digital transformation mistakes and how to avoid them

This is a guest post by Stu French, partner for digital and application development at Versent

Over the last couple of years, where Covid-induced pressure has mounted on many large organisations to accelerate the outputs of their digital transformations, the whole concept of a healthy minimum viable product (MVP) has been notably diluted.

There have been some high-profile examples of late, especially in the finance sector, of businesses that have struggled with their digital transformation journeys, and they’ve triggered an undercurrent of commentary around time and cost relative to actual feature output.

Rather than naming and shaming those organisations that have not quite hit the nail on the head, let’s explore the three most common digital transformation mistakes and what businesses can do to avoid them.

Over-distributed decision matrices

When too many leaders of equal seniority input into the programme backlog, it makes it extremely difficult to focus on the customer problems to solve, as they’re buried in a fog of interdepartmental priorities.

The result is a scenario where top-down priorities are melded with bottom-up ones, and simply too much is crammed into the release funnel due to differing objectives.

The impact of this means the release is either delayed, the features within it are incomplete, or the commercial drivers of the programme are inadequately served. In the worst-case scenario, all three of these realities occur in parallel, and this is the driving input behind the statistic we’ve all heard that some 70% of digital transformations fail.

It’s simple to claim that this situation is very avoidable, but we all know that it’s much harder in practice – often because the tension between the stakeholder groups is rarely collaboratively resolved through proper operational model definition.

To succeed, businesses need to underpin their transformation programmes with engagement models that focus on internal outcomes even more than customer-facing ones. You cannot deliver consistent and aligned customer experiences through an operational model that isn’t aligning your internal teams in the first instance.

Forgetting the utility of digital products

Many executives express an over-reaching desire to release something “special”, pushing stand-out features up the priority queue, but end up missing the need to perfect the core tenets of the customer journey.

An overwhelming majority of businesses (especially service-based ones) forget that customers often don’t want to deal with them. Their exchanges need to be fast, seamless, and memorable, principally for their simplicity, repeatability, and reliability. There is almost no room for gloss and glitter, and particularly no room for features that don’t serve the majority user need – or, even worse, get in the way of the central jobs to be done.

This one can be solved by simply talking to your customer to build clarity around what they need and what their priorities are; and testing your experiences with them reinforces whether you’ve put features in their way.

Not having a clear post-release plan

The propensity to forget that you can keep releasing revisions immediately after your MVP goes live, means that often weeks and sometimes months can pass before your users feel like they’re getting what they need due to the time taken to refine it.

All too often, once that first release goes out the door, there is a reset in delivery cadence, and it’s one that disrupts team momentum and backlog realisation. If the post-release backlog isn’t even clear and agreed in advance, then this is a problem. This is the point that you disappoint customers more than anything, as you inadvertently communicate that your programme is over rather than a work in progress.

Programme release dates often mean more to internal protocols than they do to customers – a release that’s bound to disappoint is typically more damaging than doing nothing at all.

To keep your customers content, communicate what’s coming, when it’s coming, and incentivise them to remain engaged in the interim.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of slowing down to speed up. Slow down, and ensure everyone is aligned around the customer need, that interdepartmental priorities are consistent, and that they ladder up to a shared objective that is grounded and accessible. Slow down and listen to your peers more than you update them on your own team’s progress. And finally, slow down, and remember that the best digital experiences do a select few things extremely well, not a raft of things poorly.

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