When it comes to digital transformation projects, achieving success can prove elusive. Time and money get thrown at an exciting new initiative, only for those holding the purse strings to be disappointed by the outcome. According to Forbes, 70% of digital transformations fail. Or there’s this McKinsey poll, which found that only 14% of digital transformation efforts delivered long-term performance improvements.

Just because it’s hard, though, you can’t ignore it. Most organisations must transform into digital businesses in order to remain competitive. According to Harvard Business School, leaders in the digital race do better financially than those who are slow to adopt digital technologies. So, it is worth the effort.

Why do so many ambitious projects turn into fiascos? And, more importantly, how can you make sure your project doesn’t fail, too?

Learning from others’ mistakes

There are many memorable examples of digital transformation projects gone wrong. Stories abound of organisations that pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into projects that promise the world but fail to deliver. While we certainly don’t want to name and shame organisations here, we do want to examine some of the common threads that lead to failure.

Here are some reasons why digital transformation projects fail:

  • Bold ambition is often a culprit. Organisations set out to achieve too much, too soon. When the focus shifts from quality to quantity, business outcomes can fall by the wayside and a return on investment is not achieved.
  • Unexpected roadblocks are common, too. Even the wisest managers cannot predict the direction the market will take – they may have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to embed IoT into all products, for example, only to discover that the market has moved elsewhere, and their massive investment is for naught.
  • Poor planning can affect outcomes, too. Without a clear set of objectives in place – which have strong ties to business outcomes – then digital transformation can become a hazy, grandiose project that lacks the necessary vision to get results.
  • A lack of widespread adoption or integration across the business can see even the best projects flounder. If your people aren’t trained in the new technology or it remains stuck in a silo somewhere in the business, then it’s never going to get off the ground.

From snafu to success

While failure is common, it is possible to turn things around and make your digital transformation project a success.

A great example of a company getting it right is Macquarie Bank. The Australian bank is on a massive journey of digital transformation. One of its transformation initiatives was the digitization of its home loan contracts using DocuSign Agreement Cloud. Previously, home loans were sent by paper, which was slow, costly and less secure. This small change has saved reams of paper and sped up the fulfilment process, so that customers can get their home loans approved faster.

You can get it right, too. Start small and do things that require minimal change or investment, but deliver big impact. Use an agile project methodology that enables you to carve up bigger projects into more manageable chunks. Educate staff from the outset on the changes, so that uptake is assured upon completion. And above all, tie your digital transformation efforts to business outcomes. If you’re clear on what you want to achieve and why, then the rest should follow.

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