If you were to go in for heart surgery, buy a new car or say your wedding vows to someone knowing that there was an 84% chance of failure… would you even bother?
Most major consultancies agree that no matter how awesome your tech is, your digital transformation (DX) efforts appear doomed from the start. In 2016, Forbes assessed the risk of failure in digital transformation to be 84%. According
to McKinsey, BCG, KPMG and Bain & Company, the risk of failure falls somewhere between 70% and 95%.
Clearly, we’re doing something wrong in digital transformation, yet we’re still willing to go through the motions knowing that it’s largely a waste of resources.
Over the last decade, I’ve executed dozens of DX and artificial intelligence (AI) projects, without a background in engineering, coding or IT. Why would an organizational behaviorist like myself be asked to lead large-scale DX efforts? Because tech is only 20% of the equation.
Drawing on DX experiences in dozens of companies over the last decade, and 25 years of research in organizational behavior, here are the 12 reasons I think your DX will probably fail:
- Lack of alignment to business outcomes: Most technologists, vendors included, struggle to put DX into financial language. If you want to get your CFOs onboard, you need to be producing a net present value (NPV) and delay cost calculation before your first proposal presentation.
- Lack of awareness within the organization: Humans by default fear what they don’t understand. The majority of your employees will reject new software, tools, apps and processes, even if they will improve their lives, unless they are slowly, consistently educated. #humansnotresources
- Micromanagement/mismanagement of agile teams: Why do you keep putting engineers at the top of DX projects when what you really need are soft skills ninjas? Putting expert coders and engineers where expert leaders and managers should be is a recipe for disaster— think 80% soft skills, 20% technical prowess.
- Distraction by the minutia: Part of what makes engineers and coders great is their attention to detail. If you don’t proactively train that strength out of them by the time they reach project management level, it becomes a weakness, and their attention to detail will distract them from seeing the big picture, being visionary leaders of their teams and communicating across departments and business units.
- Shiny toy syndrome: Stop buying cool things that don’t have a solid business case for implementation! Stop it!
- Inability to translate into executive language: Most executives are not technologists by trade. Your inability to translate your efforts into a compelling story that non- technologists can appreciate leads to self-isolation and siloing of the DX team. Drop your IT vocabulary and start telling compelling user experience (UX) and financial stories instead.
- Lack of control over external vendors: Clear timelines, owners and deliverables keep everyone working at the same pace on the same problems. Your lack of agreed- upon consequences for unmet expectations ensures that you will pay higher delay costs for not holding your vendors accountable.
- Lack of training for internal users: “Our new user interface (UI) is so intuitive that users won’t need to have their fears addressed and their hands held through the transition,” said no successful DX project owner, ever.
- Loss of talent to competitors: Your wizards are being hunted by companies willing to pay them more and let them work from home at 2 a.m. on a Friday night/Saturday morning if that’s what they want. Trust me, I’m often the one hunting them.
- Resistance for fear of being replaced: You have internal saboteurs who fear losing their jobs, so they’re doing everything in their power to undermine your progress behind your back. Who can blame them? Wouldn’t you if you thought your job was on the line?
- Slow decision-making processes: Your executives don’t have any sense of urgency because you didn’t bother with the delay cost calculations. So they’re playing golf while you’re tearing out your hair, burning money and losing your competitive edge.
- 12. Poor prioritization of development: You’re using politics in development prioritization, instead of profitability and business outcomes.
That’s why you’ll fail.
By the way, did you notice what I noticed? None of these have anything whatsoever to do with the technology. Your tech is fine; it’s the people who are getting in the way. You will fail 84% of the time, not because of inadequate technology, lack of organizational capacity or lack of funds. You will fail because you are looking at DX through rose-colored virtual reality (VR) glasses when you need to be paying much more attention to the soft skills.
Humans are the problem. And the solution.
Stop promoting your technologists to their level of incompetence in the finance and soft skills areas needed to execute across a mosaic of stakeholder groups. Or at least train them when you do! Though in my experience, it’s far less costly and less effortful to teach a strong leader technology than it is to teach a talented engineer leadership.
The reason you only have a 16% chance of success is that you’re paying attention to the wrong things. DX is 80% soft skills, 20% technology.
So do you really have the right leader on the project? Statistically not.
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