Overcoming digital difficulty #2: moving goalposts

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” said Arthur C. Clarke. These days magic can become reality within one or two business cycles – just look at driverless cars. This makes it hard to design & deliver digital transformation, as the external environment is moving so fast that plans can get out of date before you have started. This is the second post in a series building on 10 reasons why digital transformations are difficult. So how to deal with moving goalposts? Here are some approaches that seem to work:   

  • Take the long view. Paradoxically in a fast-moving environment, a focus on the long-term is critical. Every successful digital transformation is anchored by a few simple objectives (e.g., ‘create a 100% frictionless customer experience’) that will stand the test of time. Importantly these objectives should to be stress-tested under extreme scenarios. 
  • Triage requirements. Many digital transformations are dependent on changes to legacy IT systems, driving up costs and time to deliver. Like most things in business, IT requirements yield well to Pareto analysis. You only need to build 20% of what is requested to deliver 80% of the value. 
  • Compress governance cycles. Whilst the core objectives of a transformation should stay constant, the priorities may need to change every few months. Classic annual planning cycles break down in sectors moving at digital speed, leading many firms to move to accelerated (e.g., quarterly or even monthly) reprioritisation. 
  • Resequence plans. Classic transformation plans tend to focus on delivering bottom-line value first, building capability second. Digital plans work best when the two objectives are driven in parallel. That way, you have capability to fall back on even if the bottom-line value is no longer available (e.g., due to shifts in the market). 
  • Deliver faster. There is no getting away from it – the faster the environment changes, the faster you need to change the business. Most organisations have plans to become ‘agile’ but few have really embraced the tough choices that underlie agility, in particular a willingness to empower the front line to extraordinary levels. 

In summary then, deal with moving goalposts by accelerating delivery, but also by shaping goals that stand the test of time and by focusing on the requirements that really matter.

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