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Factors Behind Successfully and Repeatedly Executing Digital Transformation Programs at a Lightning Pace

IT transformation projects often fail due to poor planning, poor communication and more. In this article, Mohammad Rizvi explains how to be successful and give your customer a great experience.

Gone are the days when a typical technology transformation program took a year or more. The pace of technology and business changes are influencing and at times complimenting each other. Executives want results in weeks rather than months or longer. Cloud based SaaS (software as a service) platforms that provide a solid foundational capability coupled with elasticity, scalability, ease of configuration and customizations have become the choice of the day. Organizations that shied away from doing transformational changes, are now forced by external factors to undertake such programs. Such programs, though transformational in nature, typically do not last beyond six months. Even though organizations are constantly under cost pressure, they are willing to pay top dollars to partners who have proven success to lead such transformation programs – time and again in a compressed timeline with superior quality.

This article focuses on factors behind successfully executing such programs at a lightning pace – again and again. Such a program will have following four distinctive steps.

Step 1: Current State Analysis

Current State Analysis requires understanding current business and technology challenges; helping the customer choose the right technology platform and helping the customer understand how the technology platform will resolve business challenges. Experts run high performance and short exploration workshops to understand what is valuable to the customer and which problems the business is trying to solve. By talking to diverse teams from different departments and people from different levels in the organization hierarchy, it also helps uncover bottlenecks, what matters to whom, system and process challenges, etc.

Step 2: Future State Technology Requirements

During this phase, use cases from all user groups are collected and validated. Business architects and analysts create process maps, journey maps with personas. Interaction flows are validated with users through storyboarding, wireframes and mockups. The team also defines the KPIs that will determine the success of the program at the end. An implementation roadmap with use cases is prepared and reviewed with the customer which provides a high-level view to leaders. The implementation roadmap tells how the end goal is achieved and what are the steps involved. In this phase, KPIs are mapped to the use cases to ensure coverage. Quality and accuracy of this phase will be the foundation on which delivery will be based. Any slips in this phase will have major impacts on the next phases – which will mostly be irrecoverable.

Step 3: Technical Delivery

This is a no-brainer. The program should meet the objectives within budget, quality and timelines. But it is easier said than done. This is where everything that has been discovered in exploration workshops will be used, turned into epics and stories, designed, developed, tested and finally, presented to “pilot” users who matter during each sprint.

Step 4: Change Management and Roll Out

At times, change management and roll out strategies are not given due importance, but these are critical parts of transformation programs. Key points for implementing such a technology program require efforts from both the technology implementation partner and the customer. As a technology implementation partner, it is about your team and tasks that you can control, and how you can help your customer achieve change management goals.

As an implementation partner, the tasks you’re responsible for – mostly are in your control. There will be activities where you’re responsible but close collaboration is required from the customer.

What is in Your Control as a Technology Implementation Partner?

As an implementation partner, you can define the roles, team composition, team members’ skill set, and project planning activities. It is a good idea to create an activity RACI matrix and create detailed WBS along with dependencies. Afterwards, have agreement with your customer too during the planning stage.

Project Manager vs. Technology Manager

The partners who are repeatedly successful in executing such high-profile strategic programs have understood that “traditional” Project Manager roles are largely obsolete. Project Manager roles may still be useful for pure administration in multi-year / large programs that consist of large teams, but, other than that, in current agile environments such roles are considered only an overhead. If a leader does not understand current technology, platform capabilities, technology nuances, overall solution and functional domain – he or she can’t lead such a program.

Team Composition: Matching the Pace of Execution

Every day of such a program is critical. If there are team members who can’t match the fast pace, pace will be defined by the slowest team members. The choice of high performing team members – the A-Team1 is important. They must be people who are at top of their game, be it in functional, technical or leadership roles. While technology experts are expected to have depth and breadth of technical knowledge, the remaining team members must know technology to a good extent. Similarly, functional experts must know the impact of their work and decisions on downstream systems and other teams. Resource multi-skilling is a must – with one primary and multiple secondary skills. Team members should have team skills and should be willing to take additional activities to average out the workload. The key point to note here is that building the team should be done proactively.

Everyone is a Driver

It may seem strange, but all the team members in such a program are self-driven, proactive, focused on results and at the same time hands-on. It does not mean that they are ordering others around all the time – rather it means that they know the work in-and-out, do the work themselves proactively, and take mitigation and corrective actions constantly. It should not be confused with a Driver personality2. The personality will need to be balanced and flexible as the situation demands.

Overlapping Roles

Even though each member’s role in the project is defined, everyone will have to overlap (and sometimes fill shoes of the others) or stretch boundaries when the need arises. Skills, attitude and people acumen are key ingredients of high-performance teams. For example – a functional expert will start with the role of business expert, slowly wear the technology hat during design and development, get into quality assurance activities and sometimes even help in change management. Similarly, a technology expert undertakes many activities that are overreaching with leadership roles. He not only drives his own technology domain, he helps teams on which he has dependencies and makes sure they succeed, too.

Decision Making

At times, whether a decision is a right decision matters less than making a decision quickly without procrastination. Everyone should be empowered to make decisions. If the team composition is right, it will be rare to make a wrong decision in the first place: “it was more advantageous to make a decision quickly, even if wrong, than to suffer the delay required to make sure the decision was right”3.

Expect the Unexpected and Plan for It

Every day counts. Have a plan B, and even a plan C ready to keep the ship sailing to meet the end goals. Most of the customers today are willing to accept changes during execution as long project goals, timelines, quality and budget are not impacted. Though buffers are difficult to build in the plan, consider the project as a Lego building project. Make every day count. For example – swap epics/stories between sprints as the situation changes; smartly plan for stories that have dependency on other systems/resources with lesser control.

Plan for Additional Scope

This may sound like an unrealistic expectation, but during the sprint demo sessions to the business users, you will identify new stories which will be important or even critical for program’s success. Most of these stories will be around system usability, and rest around enhanced features and (supposedly) missed requirements. Even though Transformation projects tend to have fixed scope and use cases, it will make complete sense to develop and deliver the additional stories. To make time for these, load initial sprints heavily and complete all foundational work within those sprints. Idea behind this is twofold. Foremost is – any changes to foundation design should be known early. Second is – once foundation stories are working, end users will get find hand experience of the working product and you will get constructive feedback.

Decide Collaboration Tools

Use a collaboration tool that can be used by all teams without challenges. This will be an important success factor given that execution will be at fast pace. Processing story changes, informing teams of their actions, issues tracking, and reporting should take least administrative effort. In absence of such a tool, effort will be wasted on unproductive work and potential delays. Today, all top of the line ALM tools5 have minimum feature capabilities for collaboration.

How to Make the Customer Work with You at Your Pace

Getting the customer to work at your pace can be tricky. Every customer is different, and one learns something new with every customer. Some of the pointers are nevertheless common.

Work as a Team with the Customer

Keep your focus on the big picture and work closely with your customer. Try to make a difference, support your customer as far as practically possible. Be empathetic and have respect for the customer’s challenges. If a challenge can’t be resolved even, with your and your customer’s best efforts, it’s important to identify this situation and prepare the customer team for the eventuality. In most of the cases, you will be able to mitigate the risk. Even if the risk eventually becomes an issue, you will not find yourself at receiving end. Make use of regular customer connect and keep customer abreast of your progress.

Listen Well and Communicate

Listen attentively and ask questions. This will help you appreciate the challenges your customer is facing. Take time to understand the issues and how they affect the program and customer’s business. This will help you make right decisions at the right time. In tough situations, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Show empathy. That’s the least you can do if you can’t resolve a customer’s issue. Not only will the customer appreciate it, it will be your differentiator. “By listening well — in other words, through active listening — we discover the best way to deliver the message we need our audience to hear.”4

Consult Honestly

You can only be successful if your customer is successful. Hence, provide honest consultation. When customers know you value their needs, they will work with you collaboratively and may be willing to go extra mile. Encourage your team to do the same at all levels. Share feedback openly and don’t hide things. If you do the right thing for customer, it will win you an advocate. You should paint the picture in advance and provide technical direction throughout the journey.

Match Working Style

Identify the working style of your customer’s team – the earlier the better. Some members could be introverted and some extroverted. Some may like emails, and others may prefer verbal communication. Match the working style to make the best of it, at your desired pace.

Keep a Daily Sync Call at Leaders Level

Having a daily sync with the customer at lead level works wonders. Even if the daily connect is for as short as five minutes, it will make a difference between successful execution versus the rest. This open dialogue should be used for mind sharing, and resolving items in time before they cause a snowball effect. The agenda for this sync meeting should include review of activity status covering both the teams, risk reviews, mitigations and look-ahead items.

Customer Experience Matters

Provide friendly and personable customer service. Since your work is the service you provide to your customer, their experience matters. Personalizing the experience at all levels throughout the journey at all customer touchpoints is imperative. Be it emails or in person meetings, your professionalism should stand out.

Conclusion

Serve your customer well and make the journey enjoyable for them. As in any other industry today, customers choose a company based on overall experience. Nobody wants a partner that induces work-stress or impacts work-life balance. This will win you internal promoters when you go for repeat business. By providing amazing execution experience, you can retain and grow your business. Customers do not mind paying a premium for better quality and superior experience.

References

1. Do You Have An A-Team? https://www.forbes.com/sites/davelavinsky/2013/05/09/do-you-have-an-a-team/#5835f4436975

2. Pardon me–your personality is showing! https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/personality-influences-way-address-challenges-6674

3. The Time Paradigm. https://www.forbes.com/asap/1998/1130/213_2.html

4. To Communicate Well, Listen First. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/01/03/to-communicate-well-listen-first/

5. Providing the Necessary Tools and Reports for Very Large IT Projects. https://www.red-gate.com/simple-talk/opinion/opinion-pieces/providing-necessary-tools-reports-large-projects/