Eighty Percent of Digital Transformations Fail

If you are leading a digital business transformation or a software project, you may have seen the stats that 80% of software transformation fail. This has been the case for over 20 years. Teams, busy doing what they have always done, might not see a new way of looking at things.

Recognizing How We Can Fall Into the Same Old Perspective

Back in the day when I was a scientist, I remember finding what Abraham Kaplan, a professor of philosophy, urged scientists to do fascinating. He wanted them to look carefully at the methods they were using for their research. His point was just because certain methods happen to be handy, or one has been trained to look at a problem from a certain perspective, doesn't necessarily mean that method or perspective will produce the best outcomes.

Sometimes teams formulate problems and solutions by using techniques they are especially skilled in. And in fact, in 1966, in Abraham Maslow's The Psychology of Science, he stated, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The point is, as with anything, including digital business transformation, there can be an over-reliance on the familiar or the habit of using the same perspective.

The Danger of the Comfort Zone

How does this apply to software development and implementation? José M. Gilgado observed that often software developers and implementers "Tend to use the same tools and ways of thinking they have always used to do a completely new and different project with new constraints." Why? The “comfort zone”  –  a state where we don't want to change anything to avoid risk. The issue with using the same perspective every time? We see the problem from only our point of view and end up with limited results.

Increasing Diversity is Not Just the Right Thing to Do, or the Nice Thing, But Produces the Best Business Outcome

The solution to avoiding the digital and business transformation failure chasm? Increase the diversity of perspectives – otherwise we can fall into group-think. Supporting this idea is the research from complexity theory professor Scott E. Page at the University of Michigan. In his book, The Difference, he discusses how we code or see the world is our "perspective." Dr. Page’s research found the power of diverse perspectives creates better groups, firms, and business outcomes. The bottom-line? Encouraging and working with diverse teams creates the best outcomes for businesses.

Innovation Can be Simply Seeing Something From a New Perspective

For example, do you know how pins came to be manufactured? Adam Smith ran one of the first brush factories. Someone saw the bristles could be cut off and made into pins. Most people would have looked at a brush factory and seen just that — a brush factory. But the first pin factory was imagined by seeing a diverse perspective; seeing the world a little differently provided the seeds of innovation for a whole new product.

Staying Out Of the Digital Business Transformation Failure Chasm

So, what does your team need to stay out of the software implementation failure chasm? Engage and partner with a new set of diverse senior advisors and specialists who are dedicated to your success, who use unrivaled expertise, processes and methods to make your business more agile. Make sure they are the kind of people who thrive on guiding your team to learn the key principles to create and sustain change by embracing diverse perspectives.

And you'll want to choose the most powerful technology platform to be the basis to fuel your transformation for today and far into the future. With all of that, and a collaborative team culture you can:

  • Align key leaders around a digital transformation strategy
  • Implement the right framework to move forward into the future
  • Create the agility needed in today’s digital environment and
  • Adopt new technologies faster to keep pace with change and ahead of your competitors.

Diverse Perspectives Drive The Ability to Explore the Art of the Possible

Often outside and diverse points of view are just what is required to steer you clear of the failure chasm. And instead of group-think, having an these outside and diverse perspectives is the key to an immersive engagement based on an approach that combines people, expertise, culture, AND technology. You'll want to find yourself working with people who are uniquely able to help a business realize their visions and co-create the future by exploring the art of the possible.

Spark Agility Throughout the Organization

How to think differently? One of the best ways to spark agility is with outcomes-based thinking (OBT). This begins with defining a desired outcome, no matter how bold or provocative it seems currently. Why is it so powerful? It’s fundamentally different from problem solving, which looks at the current state and attempts to improve it. It encourages the team to see a future perspective that is way beyond what might typically be conceived.

You’ll also want to consider inspiring your team with design-led thinking. This differs from solving a problem because your team becomes solution-focused and action-oriented towards creating a preferred future. And as the team creates these new futures, testing the new strategy is key. Why? Often teams get stuck in waterfall development process, meaning they pick a plan, go step-by-step and stick to the plan, only to realize they’ve wasted a year or more on something that isn't going to work.

Instead, what is more cost effective and produces better business outcomes is trying some experiments to see if something could even work. The ability to experiment is not something many organizations are comfortable with, but research shows teams who are able to allow experimentation to be part of their process are able to iterate and pivot faster by finding the obstacles sooner and solving the issues in the moment, instead of going down a path that leads to a dead-end and ultimately, digital transformation failures.

Building Your Digital Capabilities

To build your digital capabilities, you’ll want to ignite the entire culture's motivation in whole new ways, giving them a renewed sense of purpose and outlook on the future. This will create the feeling they have the dream job — and a reason for showing up other than a paycheck!

Along with inspiring the company culture, you’ll also want to explore improving your operating model, as well as perhaps shifting the revenue model to something you've never considered. By using experimentation, along with diverse perspectives, you’ll likely discover the innovation required to grow your company exponentially. And as you do this, you and your team can expand your competitive advantage. As the Blue Ocean authors would say, you'll create a new, uncontested market space, making the competition irrelevant and stimulate breakthrough ideas that transform business as usual.

Creating Sustainable Transformations

If you want to develop transformations that lead to sustainable change, it is also key to creating a customer-first culture. You’ll want to develop the muscle to manage the complex changes that come with innovation, as well as use diverse perspectives to continually innovate, iterate, pivot and grow.

How do you find such a group? Look at their DNA. Is it digital? Are they a natively global, mobile, social, cloud, community-oriented company? Are they trusted advisors who put the customer first and teach them to fish? Do they experiment, try new things, iterate and pivot quickly when it doesn't work and tweak things till they hum?

Do other companies desire to be like them? Do other companies wonder what technology they use to be so innovative? Are they curious about, "How is it they do what they do?" Why is their stock growing so fast? “Why are they so super customer-focused?

And as my friend and colleague Peter Coffee would say, "Do they create a sense of urgency, hope and glory? Or conviction, belief and desire in your team? Are they all about (and seriously about this, it's not just some words on a website or a brochure) connection, collaboration and innovation?

If you want to learn more about how one group guides business through digital and business transformations to enhance and grow revenue, here's more info on that! Here’s to your team’s success in digital business transformation and enhanced performance!

Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, VP, Program Executive, Innovation and Transformation Center, Salesforce