There is a lot of transformation happening around us. Business transformation, IT transformation and digital transformation, to name a few. These transformations certainly can disrupt business operations. It makes sense that at the end of the transformation you obtain the benefits/value you expect to obtain. Undertaking any form of transformation just for the sake of transformation is probably not a good idea. I’ve seen situations where an organization does not have a clear understanding of what that future transformed state will look like. Or worse, they get to that future state and it is not what they needed or expected.
So what can you do? How do you make your transformation effort a success? There are no guarantees, but there are ways to ensure that at least you get started in the right direction. I’m a strong believer in asking key important questions. The better the questions (targeted to the right audience), the more likely it is that the answers can help guide the transformation effort.
I have compiled a list of seven questions you should ask before undertaking any form of transformation. Many of the questions come from my own transformation project experience. Here they are, along with explanations of why they are important.
1. Why do anything different from the way we are doing it now?
Seems like a very basic question, but it’s very powerful nevertheless. Not every endeavor will require some disruptive transformation. Do the results outweigh the cost and effort of the transformation? And assuming this transformation does take place, will the variables as to why it was done still be relevant?
2. What business or technology issues are you trying to solve?
This question brings it back to the basics of “why” the transformation is taking place. There are two elements: the why and the how. Many companies approach transformation by starting with the “how” — focusing on how it will be done. I call this “solution-based transformation.” Think of it as a solution in search for a problem. It should be the other way around. It goes back to the questions “What is your strategic intent?” and “Why is the transformation necessary?”
3. What business units are affected by this?
Most transformations affect more than one line of business. How will your transformation impact others? If others are impacted by (or can impact) your transformation, then you need to manage that relationship (enter the business relationship manager). Subrarta Mukherjee’s article “Can Transformation Ruin Relationships?” discusses useful tips on how to survive a transformation initiative.
4. Is there enough ‘pain,’ ‘need’ or ‘benefit’ in the business process to warrant the transformation effort?
This question has to do with understanding the “change” aspect of the transformation. Change is hard, and the stakeholders might not want to change. So understanding the pain associated with the way they are doing things now and the pleasure they will get once the transformation takes place is important. For more on pain points and trigger events, see my article “What Is Driving Your Organizational Change?”
In any transformation effort, it is imperative to articulate the benefits or value to be achieved. Another follow-up question to ask is “How do you define success?” Remember that this value has to be in in the eyes of the stakeholder. If they don’t see the value, you will have a hard time getting the transformation effort off the ground.
5. Which transformation efforts have to be implemented by a deadline? Why?
Not all transformation activities happen at the same pace. So it is critical that we understand the “project management” aspect of transformation. What needs to happen first? What can happen last? Keep in mind that the priority of these projects can easily change due to both internal and external factors.
6. What other initiatives can also piggyback on a transformation initiative?
It is possible that various transformation efforts can be happening at the same time. So why not take advantage of the this? It is inefficient to have two or three transformations happening at the same time, affecting the same stakeholders and achieving similar results. This could lead to a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of resources.
7. Do you have the budget for development, hardware and software, training, support, and change of scope?
Transformations can not only be disruptive; they can also be a strain on your resources! Companies need to consider the fixed and ongoing costs associated with transformation efforts. I’ve seen many transformation efforts fall flat because they did not anticipate the strain on resources. As stated in “Most Important Lessons for IT Transformation Success,” many organizations underestimate the sheer time and cost necessary to achieve a successful transformation. That article further states: “There needs to be an honest assessment of all the costs and resources needed to get it done, as well as contingency plans that take all challenges and accommodations into account.”
Any transformation is a journey, and the steps you take should not be in haste. By asking these seven key questions, you will be ahead of the game and on the right path.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Are there any other questions you might ask before a transformation initiative? Are there any questions you wish you could have asked before starting down the road to transformation?