Chapter 2

Fail 2: Setting unrealistic timelines, expectations, and scopes

When a timeline is blown in a digital transformation project, it is very often because of an overly ambitious and disproportionally front-loaded plan weighs down progress.

Experienced companies give themselves plenty of time not only to avoid exceeded deadlines, but to sidestep the knock-on effects that delays have on budgets, which, in worst case scenarios, lead to spending cutbacks in other areas of the business, cause projects to be stopped, create headcount freezes, deter other investments, and even result in missed opportunities in departments or processes that impact customer satisfaction or reputation.

The best ways to insulate against these types of problems is to consider time, purpose, and scale. The time aspect ultimately boils down to the question: Do you want the project done quickly, or do you want it done right? Even though, in an ideal world, all projects should be both, experience dictates that corners like quality and precision are often cut as deadlines start to loom. By taking this into account in the planning phase, companies can minimise the risk of ending up with a solution that doesn’t quite serve its purpose.

A clearly articulated purpose is – next to well-defined goals and realistic expectations – foundational to any digital transformation initiative and should not be rushed. Forming an understanding of why you are looking to make a change as well as its desired outcomes is a prerequisite for benchmarking the success of the project. This understanding needs to be shared by all stakeholders to promote a sense of ownership and accountability. Linking as many parts of the transformation project as possible to concrete key performance indicators (KPI’s) is best practice, as is managing expectations among senior executives and operational teams.

Since expectation management is easily the most slippery issue – based as it often is on subjective understandings of what technology can or should be able to do – it requires a great deal of attention in the planning phase of the digital transformation project. Working with a trusted third party to vet ideas and validate expectations is the best ways for companies to avoid under- or overselling the effects of the transformative initiative.

“When it comes to the scope of a digital transformation project, it is easy to slip into an ‘everything-now’ mentality.”

When it comes to the scope of a digital transformation project, it is easy to slip into an ‘everything-now’ mentality whereby monumental, all-encompassing plans are drawn up to effect change in one fell swoop. In fact, this is one of the most common reasons why projects stall. While the appeal of a big-bang, one-and-done approach is obvious, companies are more likely to garner success if they divide deliveries into smaller and more achievable projects.

Instead of formulating and then immediately executing enterprise-wide plans, experienced businesses spend time and effort to harmonise the pace of delivery, work out detailed budgets, and make sure employees possess the necessary knowledge and skills to operationalise the proposed transformative change.