Change Management: The Key to Successful Digital Transformations

July 30, 2018 James Davidson

Companies of all types and sizes are investing heavily the digitization of their business models. Driven by a the changing consumer expectations that B2C digital juggernauts like Uber, Netflix, and Amazon have created, many companies are investing in re-imagining their business. To achieve relevance in what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution — the convergence of offline and digital, mobile, AI, social and cloud — companies must be more customer focused, agile, lean and interactive.

The core ingredients in any digital transformation include:

  • Strategy (aligning vision, customer experience, processes and technology)
  • User-centered Design (mobile first and personalized)
  • Agility in Delivery (iterative and adaptable)
  • Integration of Software, Platforms, and Technology (choosing environments and products that harmonize)
  • Data, Analytics, and Insights (constant feedback loop)
  • Product Design Mindset in Execution (minimal viable product and fail-fast mentality)

Despite knowledge of the integral elements of a successful digital transformation, a recent study by Couchbase uncovered a nearly 90% failure rate by CIOs and technology leaders who have tried to execute digital transformation initiatives.

Researchers at McKinsey unpacked this trend in another way, ultimately highlighting the criticality of change management in driving successful outcomes. However, they’ve also found that most change management efforts fail because outdated models and change techniques are fundamentally misaligned with today’s dynamic business environment.

I have successfully applied the following change management approach both as a leader at a Fortune 500 company and as a consultant implementing large digital programs within Fortune 1000 companies. After you read this article, let’s talk about what has worked for you and what you’ll try next.

Invest in Change Management, Early and Often

A brief level-set on two foundational items. First, as my definition may differ from yours, let’s agree for this article to use the Prosci definition of change managementthe process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve a required business outcome.

Second, every organization that delivers digital programs has an implementation methodology. My company uses the “The 7Summits Way” (pictured below). For purposes of organization, I will be referencing this framework to talk about the application of change management techniques throughout the implementation lifecycle of a digital transformation initiative. I am confident that the elements can be pieced out and applied to any methodology your organization prefers.

7Summits WayPrepare

Change management should be at the center of your digital transformation vision and “art of the possible” thinking. To garner the necessary support, leaders are often laser-focused in this phase on business intelligence and securing funding and resources against their grand plan. What is frequently missed is laying the right foundation for driving change from the start. Key change management activities here should include:

  • Developing a digital transformation charter that articulates your business goals and the strategies to achieve these goals.
  • Identifying executive stakeholders and functional change agents. They will be key to removing roadblocks and creating advocacy, if brought in early.
  • Creating or aligning with a center of excellence (COE) to manage all digital transformation efforts and the governance structure.
  • Maintaining a change backlog to start tracking and mitigating risks (e.g. end user adoption, employee resistance, retirement of legacy processes, etc.).

Your change goals during the Prepare phase are to create visibility to your program, activate change advocates, and document your biggest and most immediate risks.

Define

The Define phase typically involves selecting desired business outcomes, uncovering audience value through journey mapping, defining requirements, designing the user experience and solution elements, and documenting your execution roadmap. These are all key inputs to your change plan. Additional change management activities during the Define phase should include:

  • Holding regular steering meetings with your COE stakeholders, impacted functional leaders and change agents to refine your vision and plan.
  • Conducting an organizational readiness assessment that covers: team structure and sponsorship, governance, adoption, measurement and communication.
  • Hosting change management workshops that take inputs from your strategy (vision, objectives, KPIs, requirements, research, personas) and uncover insights, strategies and tactics needed to drive your change across your project lifecycle. These typically fall into categories such as: steering, resistance management, training, coaching plans, user feedback and measurement, content strategy and communications.

Your change goal during the Define phase is to identify key tactics that will drive your intended change by your target audiences and in what order (pre launch, at launch, post launch) they will be most impactful.

Design

Design is the phase in which the digital transformation blueprint is finalized. Wireframes, interactive prototypes, proof of concepts, high fidelity designs, solution architecture charts, integration mapping, and data modelling help bring the vision to life for a broader set of stakeholders. From a change perspective, this phase is when the inputs from the previous phases are formed into a plan that will inform your Build phase. Key activities should include:

  • Solidifying change team role definitions, workstreams, and RACI
  • Resolving business process impacts identified during requirements gathering
  • Defining a measurement plan, including tangible KPIs
  • Developing a content strategy and plan
  • Designing a training plan that includes 1:1, 1:Many and self-based learning
  • Drafting a communication plan that builds excitement

Your change goal during the Design phase is to activate your change workstreams to create their tactical work plans and schedules.

Build and Verify

While highly differentiated from a development perspective, the Build and Verify stages can be grouped when considering impactful change management approaches. Build and Verify are where your digital transformation becomes real as developers execute against your product backlog. This is also where change management fortitude begins to flounder. Progress is easy to measure in terms of the development of working code, so the more intangible elements are often deprioritized. Typically, in digital transformations destined for failure, leaders entering the Verify phase begin to organize a change management workstream. Successful organizations, on the other hand, merge their project management tools, combining requirements and user stories with the previously defined change management plans and tasks. Having one project management environment inclusive of requirements and business tasks forces collaboration and discussion between change leads, project managers, and developers. Change management activities should be included in the same planning sessions, reviews, and daily stand-ups as development items. Key change activities at this point should include:

  • Sequencing change management tasks and deliverables
  • Importing sequenced and assigned change management tasks into a shared project management environment
  • Meeting regularly with product teams and developers to align change efforts with development realities
  • Performing iterative development and quality assurance of all deliverables
  • Holding feedback sessions to ensure your plan is relevant and resonating
  • Monitoring and addressing the change backlog
  • Executing pre-launch activities

Your change goal during the Build and Verify phases is to collaborate with your development team and end users by adapting and executing the change management plan.

Launch

It’s time to Launch! Congratulations! But the work is not over. The Launch phase is the most critical moment for any change management team. It’s time to drive the change and adoption of the digital tool. If change management has been properly integrated into the digital transformation initiative, your change team should have already completed most of the work. All of the Pre-Launch activities are completed, key stakeholders are trained, business processes have been created or adapted, and measurement plans are in place and awaiting user data. Key change management activities in the Launch phase include:

  • Executing the At Launch and Post Launch adoption tactics
  • Shifting from project management to program management governance model
  • Listening, measuring and sharing feedback with product owners
  • Monitoring and addressing the change backlog

Your change goal in the Launch phase is setting up your organization for sustaining change.

Conclusion

In sum, this article argues and attempts to solve for the facts that:

  • Digital transformation is a key to the survival of many companies
  • Digital transformations are tough and frequently fail
  • Digital transformations rely on successful change management to deliver results
  • Digital transformations are a new form of business challenge that require modernized change management approaches that are applied throughout the life of the project.

Over the course of my career I’ve seen too many transformation efforts fail because there was a lack of resources, attention, and awareness of the work required to effectively execute a change management plan. Companies that fail focus their time, attention, and budget exclusively on program design and development. I encourage organizations to give an equal amount of effort and resource to change management. At the end of the day, change management is about getting people to use the tools you create for them so you can achieve true business value. Integrating these efforts into your digital transformation initiatives from kickoff through to launch will not guarantee success, but will stack the deck in your favor.

This article was edited to appear on CMSWire on July 30, 2018. View that version of the article here.

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