horse race
PHOTO: Simson Petrol

We’ve just closed out the first quarter of 2019. Generally speaking, this a great time to step back and take stock of how you’re progressing (or not progressing) against the digital transformation goals you laid out at the start of the year. Maybe you’re off to a great start and are making steady progress against your plan. If that’s the case, congratulations and keep it up!

On the other hand, maybe you’re struggling to get those ambitious transformation projects off the ground. Or maybe they started well enough, but now your organization’s emotional and or financial appetite for change is waning as that post-kickoff enthusiasm starts to wear off. In either case, now is the time to make the adjustments necessary to regain momentum and get your projects back on track.

First things first though: don’t panic. While this is a great time to assess your progress, no race is ever over at the quarter pole. Heck, Secretariat wasn’t even leading at the quarter pole when he famously obliterated the field to win horse racing’s triple crown at the Belmont Stakes. Transformation isn’t easy, and projects aimed at fundamentally reshaping your business for the digital era aren’t always smooth and linear. In fact, they’re hardly ever smooth and linear. So if you’re not off to the greatest of starts, you’re by no means alone, and there’s still plenty of time to turn things around.

Now that we’re down off the ledge, here are some tips and best practices that can help you do just that.

Related Article: An Iterative Approach to Digital Transformation

Communicate Relentlessly

Sure, I know this sounds neither specific nor actionable. But committing to more regular communication can be what gets a stalled digital transformation project moving in the right direction again. Think back to your company kickoff or annual planning meeting, for example. The fact that everyone is together and communicating undoubtedly contributes to the ambitious plans that generally emerge from those types of meetings.

But then everyone goes their separate ways, returns to their (long) list of daily to-dos, and before you know it, that plan to synchronize your e-commerce experience across all of your digital properties, or deliver more frequent product releases, or finally build that native mobile app, is still just that - a plan. Something as simple as setting up a weekly or bi-weekly sync with the relevant stakeholders is often all that’s needed to get that project back in gear.

Related Article: Communicating Your Vision of Digital Transformation

Shift Right, Too

If you’ve read any of my previous musings, you know I’m a strong proponent of all things “shift left.” To shift left means to implement key tasks such as continuous testing as early in the software development process as possible, thus helping you find and prevent bugs early in the delivery cycle and improve the quality of the digital experience you put forth to customers. 

If you’re doing all that and it still feels like your projects are losing steam or not having the desired impact, it’s probably time to think about shifting right as well. (And even if they are, it’s still time to think about it.) After all, the work of improving an existing digital experience or delivering a new one is never complete. That’s why it’s critical to complement all of your hard work at the beginning of development process with equally strong efforts to continuously improving your customers’ digital experience post release, while delivering increased agility and operational efficiency for your own business.

Related Article: 5 Resolutions for a Digitally Excellent 2019

Don’t Go for Broke

One of the biggest misconceptions about digital transformation projects (or any IT project, really) is that they have to accomplish something big, something new, something transformative. That might sound good on paper and get the troops fired up at annual planning meeting, but in the real world, discretion is often the better part of valor. Sometimes the best way to approach digital transformation is not to think about it as transformation at all, but rather as testing, experimentation and augmentation.

If you’re having trouble getting an entirely new initiative off the ground, maybe it’s time to stop forcing that rock uphill for a while and instead focus on something more manageable. Not every transformation project has to involve building something from scratch. Maybe instead of completely redesigning your website or building a brand new native mobile app, you focus on delivering a faster, more visually appealing experience on your existing site and app. The lift isn’t quite so heavy, and the impact on your business might be just as strong.

Related Article: Digital Transformation: Should You Be Playing Offense or Defense?

Try and Fail

What I’m about to say will be sacrilegious to some, but here goes: Yoda was wrong. 

At least when it comes to digital transformation. Because there absolutely is such a thing as trying, and failing is absolutely an acceptable outcome. Look, nobody wants to fail, and nobody should go into a project desiring failure. But we’re not just transitioning from PCs to Macs here, or physical servers to VMs. Whether with big steps or small ones (see above), we’re fundamentally transforming the way we do business for the digital era. Expecting to do so without the occasional failure just isn’t reasonable. Failure is a part of digital transformation. Expect it, accept it, and most importantly, learn from it — and then apply those learnings to the next project.