by Ivan Seselj

How to avoid the next epic transformation fail

Nov 20, 2017
Digital TransformationIT Leadership

Success is not about hoping for the best on the big projects, it’s about developing your organizational capability for change as a whole.

porting converting diamond in rough transform change
Credit: Thinkstock

Why are technology transformations so challenging, with so many failures? Even when the technology has been deployed hundreds of times before, by many different organizations. Even when experienced implementation partners are selected to handle the transition, boasting pages of references. Even in these cases, so many implementations still experience massive budget overruns, overshoot delivery dates, and fall well short of expected benefits.

In some cases, disruption becomes so bad that the business actually loses customers, while stakeholders begin to question the value of both the investment and the business as a whole. Companies can experience years of hurt before ever realizing a return on the investment they’ve made.

Change is challenging because it’s just not as simple as paying the experts to install the new technology and then “flipping the switch.” We need to accept that there are change management fundamentals that cannot be ignored or short-cut, just because technology is involved. Risk and change management cannot be outsourced.

Focus needs to shift from the technology, to building an agile mindset and the capacity for change within your organization. I would suggest there are four key elements to creating this change capability.


Change is always scary. It is incumbent on company leaders to set the tone by stepping up and not just supporting, but visibly leading any change effort. Trust and buy-in from their business teams is critical, to guide them through what will still be a tough journey. For their part, teams need to understand that there will be pain with any business transformation, but that the pain will be worth it and that leaders will be on their side. Success can only come from a team working together.

Change management 101

Before any change occurs, there first needs to be a clear understanding of how the business currently operates. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” isn’t good enough. Assumptions are land mines that can erode return on investment and kill project deadlines. ROI will only come if teams are prepared for the extent of change to the new way of doing things. And to do that, they need to know where things stand today, as well as how they will change tomorrow.

Processes are how we speak change

Change is easier with a healthy communication channel between teams, subject matter experts, tech specialists, and decision-makers – a common language that provides a thread through which teams can connect and evolve ideas through the project implementation. Without this agreed ‘language’, project technical specialists will revert to the status quo of detailed technical specs which are (and have always been) confusing, difficult for teams to understand during the project, and will be completely ignored after implementation.

This common thread is the organization’s business processes. This common language promotes team connections, so that they can join into the conversation and collaborate on change. Processes are not only used to describe the way things will work, but also to provide a shared vision across the organization.

A BPM platform is an enabler for this type of process conversation. The more people involved in the conversation the better – before, during, and after the implementation. Processes should already be the way in which we speak change before new projects even kick off.

Anticipate and plan for fixes

No matter how well planned, I’ve never seen a tech implementation go perfectly. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to secure ROI. You simply need to expect and plan for post implementation fixes by bringing process owners, IT specialists, domain specialists, subject matter experts, and others into play. We know that the project team will disband at some point, so structures and responsibilities need to be in place to inherit decision-making and ongoing change ownership for what is ‘the new way’. If needed, use an agreed platform to control the conversation and approvals among these players.

Change and improvement is a journey that never ends

Success is not about hoping for the best on the big projects, it’s about developing your organizational capability for change as a whole. It’s much harder to develop this capability if change is viewed as a start-stop journey of transformations, delivered on a project-by-project basis. Don’t stumble through ROI project by project. Instead, focus on developing a change capability that will enable your teams to succeed at change time and time again.