How To Spot A Failing Digital Transformation Project

10 October 2018
Rachel Wood

How do you know your digital transformation project is – or is not – going to plan?

According to a number of surveys, 9 out of 10 digital transformation projects fail in some way, with over half being quite serious failures. At Cloud Technology Solutions, we know if our projects are going to plan if we have understood and observed the following:

Purpose and Customers Needs

It’s crucial to identify what it is the customer wants to achieve through digital transformation and why, what’s important to them and what their success criteria are. Understanding this and knowing that your product/service is a good fit for the business already puts the project in a good starting position for success.

Business Case and Statements of Work

Both the Business Case and Statement of Work are essential for securing buy-in from senior management and all those involved with the project. Both the business case and statement of work need to be clear and concise and must be in-line with business strategy and priorities. Clearly defining what it is we are doing, and what we are not doing, ensures a robust project kick off with the best chance of everything going to plan.

Success and Leadership

If the reason for the project is well founded, it is simpler to define the success criteria and will be closely linked to the purpose. It’s also important to look at success throughout the implementation itself, such as user and business readiness and satisfaction, engagement and training. We know a project is going to plan if this success is measured throughout the project lifecycle, maintaining leadership, support and accountability.   

On-time, On-budget, On-schedule

If we understand the business purpose and needs, we have a strong business case, a detailed set of objectives and good leadership, we know the project will start off well. The project then needs to run in-line with the schedule, remain on budget and within the agreed timescales.

How do you spot the warning signs early enough to avoid disaster?

Communication

Some of our projects are huge, with some taking nearly a year from start to finish. To that end, it is vital that we identify issues early to avoid failure in our delivery.

Lack of communication is one of the biggest problems in most projects and it is important to ensure that communication with all stakeholders is clear, regular and accurate. If members of the project aren’t talking, there’s an increased chance of miscommunication or mismatch of expectations.

Project Interest

The projects we deliver, such as Google G Suite implementation, represent big cultural changes for any business. There therefore needs to be a high level of interest from all stakeholders to ensure the change management element is driven forward and is successful. If there’s a lack of interest and management support at the start of the project this will likely feed through to all staff and undermine “buy in”.

Velocity

There needs to be a number of deliverables at frequent intervals, especially on the bigger projects that last six months or longer. This not only makes tracking the project easier but drives a feeling of success too. This approach goes hand in hand with our resource planning and timeline where each week we will have deliverables against the bigger plan. A classic warning sign of a project in trouble is when things just aren’t moving!

Poorly defined objectives

All members of the project team must understand why they are doing what they’re doing and what they are hoping to achieve. If this isn’t clear from the beginning, the project will be at risk. Objectives should always be clear, concise and detailed to avoid failure or mismatch of expectations.

How do you save the project – and maybe even your job?

This depends on the problem you have to solve…

Scope Creep

Sometimes projects grow beyond original goals and need to be constantly re-assessed. If this happens, it’s important to firstly figure out what you need to do to bring it back into scope, and if you can’t, ensure a change control is in place and that everyone is onboard. Look at where previous similar projects failed and look at the lessons learnt.

At CTS, our approach is to collaborate with the customer. Scope change is not inevitable, but it happens regularly enough that both the supplier and customer will need to adapt to it once it is recognised, understanding the impact that it has on the project.

Budget

This is something that needs to be regularly monitored. Budgets generally only change due to changes in scope or the original assumptions. If budgets change there may have been scope change and that needs to be agreed with the customer to ensure there is mutual understanding of the impact that this has on the project. The earlier this is detected and raised with stakeholders, and even your manager, the better.

Behind Schedule

Assess why the project is behind. Maybe project members are off sick, unplanned leave, a complicated task that took longer to complete? It’s important to devise a plan that doesn’t involve having to assign additional resource to the problem. Prioritise the needs and scale back on objectives. Working harder and faster also introduces mistakes, potentially putting the project further behind. This can be avoided by working out how to be flexible when working towards key milestones. Good project management software is useful for alerts and scheduling and for helping you keep the project on track.

Communication (again!)

Changes in scope, timescales, budget and outcomes must be understood by all participants in the project. Keeping clear, open, non-adversarial communications flowing has to be the primary focus of the project manager. In our experience, our customers can tolerate changes to project timelines, budgets and outcomes, if the causes are reasonable.  What they cannot tolerate, is poor communication.

Are the risks in IT projects the same as they always were (or even worse)?

Our projects have changed. Technology is no longer an “outcome” of a project. The technology no longer fails. The outcomes now are more focused on greater efficiencies and savings. These can only be achieved by staff in our customer organisations, who need to change the way in which they interact with technology.  

For instance, in two recent projects, we implemented the exact same technology in two different organisations. One organisation has reported a 50 per cent saving in staff travel costs as a result of adopting the collaboration tools. The other organisation has made negligible savings as the organisational change was not supported internally to the same extent.  

The risks to our projects now are greater than ever before as most of our success criteria are based on wholesale organisational change, not simply the delivery of some tech.

With the growth of new technologies – AI, robotics, machine learning – will successful IT implementation become even harder to achieve in the future?

Emerging tech like AI, robotics and machine learning are advancing very quickly and I don’t think there’s been much attention to the impact on the digital implementation projects that we see today.

The idea behind these new technologies is that they can improve the speed, quality, and cost of a project or process and maybe even replace human resource in certain areas in the future. That represents a significant challenge to staff, which could see such tech development as a threat. Success of these type of projects requires the impacted staff to recognise and embrace the changes. The power of AI and machine learning can only be harnessed if staff recognise that their role is changing and therefore start to use the data and output from the technology to inform organisational and strategic changes.

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