Done with proper planning and preparation, digital transformation takes an organization and its operations efficiently, reliably, and smoothly from where it is today to where it wants and needs to be to achieve its business objectives—whether that’s gaining, maintaining, or increasing its competitive edge.
Conversely, launching a digital transformation initiative without a clear roadmap is like trying to get to a distant destination in a country you’ve never been to without a map. You might end up at the desired location, but only by accident. It’s far more likely that you’ll waste large sums of time, effort, and money wandering aimlessly and then ultimately find yourself standing by the road with your thumb out, looking for a ride from someone who knows how to get to where you thought you were going.
Consequently, creating a digital transformation plan is essential. And that plan has to be carefully considered and subjected to a great deal of review before it’s finalized. It’s not uncommon for a business that’s eager to start making progress on its initiative to produce a simple skeleton of a digital transformation plan just so they can “check the box” on that task and move on. That approach may save you a little time, but it can cost you dearly as the work progresses and contributors are unclear about the project’s goals and their responsibilities in helping meet them.
The Right Way to Craft a Digital Transformation Plan
In our extensive experience with helping companies embrace the benefits of a more digital approach to business, we’ve found that the 12 steps below are essential to creating the digital transformation plan that will serve as a rallying point and touchstone for everyone involved in the project.
- Understand the competitive landscape. What do you want to change about your operations? Why do you want to change those things? Who are your competitors? What are your competitors doing now? What do you expect they’ll be doing in six months or a year? The answers to these kinds of questions help ensure that you don’t execute your digital transformation perfectly only to discover that it wasn’t focused on the right goals and won’t deliver the benefits you hoped it would.
- Document your goals in clear, unambiguous terms. A digital transformation initiative can and should produce truly remarkable results, but there should be nothing remarkable about the language used to describe them. This isn’t to say that your plan shouldn’t have any inspiring verbiage, but there can be no confusion about the specifics of what you’re after. If there is, you’ll inevitably have a team who leaves the starting line and heads in different directions.
- Explain your goals and get buy-in on them. No matter how clear your objectives are, if nobody cares about them, you’ll struggle to achieve success. Focusing too much on the “how” in your plan and not enough on the “why”—particularly in the initial sections—can doom it to failure, or at best, mediocrity.
- Organize and prioritize your goals. Your plan should make it clear how your digital transformation will progress from one milestone to the next, with each phase building on the successful completion of the prior. Parsing the work and sending teams off to complete it with the idea that you’ll just knit the deliverables together at the end is not a good idea. Your plan should enable everyone to pull together and in the same direction.
- Develop, publish, and track KPIs. To hit your targets consistently, you’ve got to be sure you’re moving in the right direction all along. Key performance indicators that are available to all project participants, continually monitored, and updated regularly can help you do that.
- Choose your project management tool-set. In order to successfully manage a project, you’ve got to have the right tools. That includes having functionality for quickly and easily reporting on the KPIs you’ve defined.
- Document a reporting structure and team member accountability. A digital transformation initiative likely will require the expertise of people in several functional areas, so your team may not have a clear “chain of command”—and it needs one. You probably don’t want to call it that, but there needs to be clarity about who each team member reports to for this project.
- Establish a project budget and timeline. While you’ll likely rely heavily on a third-party provider’s expertise for your transformation, your employees will act as owners. Consequently, it’s important to allot time in their schedules to handle those responsibilities on top of work they’re doing for your customers or clients. Don’t let your team burnout.
- Break your plan into phases. There are many advantages to a phased approach, from natural pauses that allow for testing and quality control, to enabling team members to hit intermediate goals on the way to the big-picture objective and to be energized by those successes. Plus, every project is an exercise in continuous improvement—everything you learn from completed phases can be used to your advantage in the next phase.
- Incorporate opportunities for feedback throughout your plan. Getting post-implementation feedback on digital transformation projects is vital. But you can help ensure that it will be largely positive feedback by getting plenty of input along the way. If a particular project requires an intuitive user interface as its foundation, for example, you don’t want to launch the completed tool and discover that users aren’t wild about how they’ll interact with it.
- Maintain the momentum. As much as possible, prevent distractions and keep the initiative moving forward so you get the maximum benefit from your “continuous improvement” approach. Guiding and steering a project that’s in motion is much easier than restarting one that’s stalled.
- Reward and publicly recognize your team. Without the time, effort, and ideas of your team members, your digital transformation project goes nowhere. When you’ve successfully deployed the deliverables, be sure to reward them in some way. And while most people will say they don’t want or need a public pat on the back, everybody secretly enjoys getting one!
Draft Your Digital Transformation Plan in Pencil
Team members should be expected to understand and stick to your digital transformation plan. That being said, you don’t want to etch it in stone.
There’s nothing wrong with lessons learned along the way causing you to rethink and redefine parts of your plan. And that might mean changing your end goal, the path you take to reach it, or both. Your plan should be firm, but not inflexible.
In the end, it’s all about delivering results that help your company operate more efficiently and effectively.