7 Do’s and Don’ts for Digital Transformation

With a technology career spanning over 30 years, I’ve risen through the ranks at well-known companies like DHL, Apple, McKinsey & Company, and MineralTree that have blazed trails across the digital business landscape. During the last three decades, I have partnered with various teams on countless projects to improve business operations. More recently, digital transformation has become a top business priority for enterprises around the globe, prompting an uptick in digital transformation projects.

Today’s blog distills my digital transformation experience down into 7 crucial lessons to ensure a successful project go-live. These tips can make or break a project, which is why I’ve also included a list of project red flags to avoid. Keep reading to learn 7 tried and true best practices to achieve your digital transformation, and realize sustained value and success for your organization.

7 Do’s and Don’ts for Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is the use of digital technology by firms to increase efficiency, innovation, and value. Although digital transformation projects have been on the rise over the last decade, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of B2B payments seemingly overnight. As many firms worked remotely for the first time ever, most teams were forced to adapt their manual, paper-based work processes. Subsequently, many digital transformation efforts followed.

Unfortunately not every digital transformation project is a success. Digital transformation’s impact is incredibly powerful, but the stakes have never been higher. With digital transformation initiatives topping the list of business priorities, executives are pressed to find qualified, trusted digital transformation project leaders that can bring promising results to their organization. Individuals who can achieve successful projects are highly rewarded and regarded. Meanwhile, those who overpromise and underdeliver can quickly jeopardize their careers.

In order to ensure you fall into the former category, check out the following list of digital transformation do’s and don’ts. By following these best practices and avoiding common red flags, you can ensure success for your digital transformation project.

1. Do: Start Small to Deliver Value Early and Often

Digital Transformation projects are often high risk and high reward. Buy-in from upper management is the first key to success. Although this is a straightforward step, it can prove challenging without a thoughtful approach.

In order to secure buy-in, make sure to start with a digital transformation project that delivers high value and ROI early—unlocking value along the way in small demonstrative increments that are easily quantifiable. Achieving these quick and early wins not only validates the approach and demonstrates your ability to deliver successful projects, but also earns trust from management and reduces their levels of perceived risk. This step is crucial for getting management to understand and appreciate the power and potential of digital transformation in your organization. It also creates a flywheel effect, building momentum over time and increasing the number of digital transformation advocates across upper management.


2. Don’t: Underestimate a Project

Every project can greatly affect teams across your entire organization; don’t take this lightly. Do your best to resist the allure of the bright and shiny new piece of technology until you have taken the time to:

  • fully understand how it will impact existing workflows
  • create a list of user groups that will need to be involved
  • identify a list of potential costs and roadblocks that could threaten the project

It’s common for technology projects to run over time and budget due to poor planning. Inaccurate calculations of the costs and length of a project come with disastrous results for both the organization and the project sponsors. To avoid ruin, make sure to carefully design a project plan that accounts for project risks and provides potential workarounds.

Digital Transformation is more than just software, every implementation must consider the people whose work is changing. Use the above points to also compile a detailed change management plan. By creating (and following) a thoughtful change management approach, firms are more likely to get buy-in from team members. This ensures higher adoption rates, which can ultimately make or break a project’s success.


3. Don’t: Operate in a Vacuum

Make sure to involve all impacted business functions from the start of the project. This will significantly increase the project’s odds of success, by preventing roadblocks and pauses that can stem from internal miscommunication or lack of alignment across teams.

Furthermore, if a functional business unit isn’t involved from the onset, they may feel digital transformation changes are being forced upon them. This can create internal friction and diminish internal adoption rates for the new project.


4. Don’t: Always Make it Your Idea

Many leaders recognize great opportunities and can sometimes completely repackage the ideas as their own creation. Resist the urge to take credit for the ideas of fellow team members or peers in other departments, as it can demoralize and demotivate them.

Remember that every project takes a village, you can’t complete a successful project alone. Rather than alienating your peers, celebrate other team members as the hero and push their projects forward – they’ll repay the favor down the line.


5. Do: Secure Your Champion

Make sure to clearly identify a project champion, someone who will reliably advocate for this business initiative. This should be someone who can identify and assemble a strong, capable team that can execute the project effectively.

Once you have identified a project team, create a hierarchical list of project roles to map out the chain of command and each person’s respective responsibilities. Doing so reduces the likelihood of “too many cooks in the kitchen,” minimizing internal disagreements.


6. Do: Balance Your Digital Transformation Portfolio

When tackling digital transformation, having a portfolio of projects that consist of innovative products is important. That said, teams must also incorporate projects that improve existing internal processes and operations into their transformation portfolio. This healthy balance ensures a lasting impact by providing immediate and sustained ROI and benefits.


7. Do: Celebrate Little Wins

As we’ve mentioned above, digital transformation is not just about software. In order to ensure sustained success, you must get deep buy-in from your internal team. Celebrating their wins is an important step in this process. No matter if you complete a small or enterprise-wide digital transformation, make sure to celebrate each project upon its completion. This acknowledgment helps boost morale and invigorate the team to tackle their next project.

After celebrating your win, make sure to reflect on important project details that may affect your next digital transformation project. Pay close attention to your internal initiatives and document any areas where teams can optimize their processes moving forward – that way your team improves its methods with every single digital transformation initiative (and will have more to celebrate with each project go-live!)

John Keast

John helps C-Level leaders tackle their digital transformation efforts to achieve quick and sustained long-term business value. Before MineralTree, he served as COO at Inspyrus, which MineralTree acquired in 2020. Previously John has served in C-Level roles at DHL Worldwide Express, Apple Computer, PG&E Corporation, E2Open, and VEGAS.com. His work focuses on the intersection of digital transformation, operations, and technology. These unique experiences have given him invaluable insight into the steps needed to achieve successful back-office digitization.