Clarity and the Digital Approach

We have been talking about digital journey. Old uncertain approaches won’t deliver; you need absolute clarity about digital’s demands, customer’s digital vision, strong leadership and unparalleled agility. If there is one theme I hear consistently it’s that consumers expect the brands they engage with to provide a flawless digital experience in their interactions. That’s applicable to all type of industry, be it retail, information technology or some other and all has their own way of defining digital experience.

I have witnessed quite a few stores in my locality as relevant reference points. One was going out of business (Toys”R”Us) and another was heading towards transformation (Target) with new consumer experience. The reasons for going out of business could be different but mostly, companies born before the digital age must substantially transform in order to remain relevant and which starts from digitally transform small business processes which are key consumer experience.

We know this from experience, on average, resources don’t move between business units in large organizations. And this holds doubly true for digital approach, which demands special attention. Project Managers in many organizations lack clarity on what “digital” means for approach. They underestimate the degree to which digital is disrupting their businesses, accounts and projects. They also overlook the speed with which digital ecosystems are blurring industry boundaries and shifting the competitive balance. What’s more, responding to digital by building new businesses and shifting resources away from old ones can be threatening to individual project managers and executives, who may therefore be slow to embrace the needed change.

You should fight resistance to change. You should understand your customer’s vision for a digital journey through programmatic efforts. You should envisage a strong digital approach by inspecting outcomes as you go. And you should fight impossibility of knowing- a constant challenge given the simultaneous need to digitize your core and innovate with new business processes.

1. Resistance to change

Many project managers and senior executives aren’t fully fluent in what digital is, much less up to speed on the ways it can change how their businesses operate or the competitive context. That’s challenging. Project managers who aren’t acquainted with digital are much more likely to fall prey to the “shiny object” syndrome: investing in cool digital technologies without a clear understanding of how they will generate value in their own accounts/projects. They also are more likely to make fragmented, overlapping, or sub-scale digital investments; to pursue initiatives in the wrong order; or to skip foundational moves that would enable more advanced ones to pan out. Finally, this lack of grounding slows down the rate at which a business deploys new digital technologies. In an era of powerful first-mover advantages, winners routinely lead the pack in leveraging cutting-edge digital technologies at scale to pull further ahead. Having only a remedial understanding of trends and technologies has become dangerous.

Improve your technology skills –

For inspiration on how to raise your accounts collective technology skills, consider the experience of a global IT firm that knew it had to digitize but didn’t think its leadership team had the expertise to drive the needed changes. The company created a digital training portal to help educate its leadership about relevant digital trends and technologies. Training leaders also brought in external experts on a few topics the company lacked sufficient internal expertise to address.

Supplementing the training effort was an organization-wide assessment of digital capabilities and an evaluation of the company’s culture. This provided a fact base, which everyone could understand, about what the organization needed to build over the course of the digital transformation. This may helped project managers and executives to get ready on new technology skills.

2. Understand customer’s vision on digital journey

Getting left behind by digital first movers can be dangerous to your projects/accounts future. But many of account heads or executives may perceive responding to digital-making the big bets, building new businesses, shifting resources away from old ones-as hazardous to their own future. If you want to make big digital moves, you must understand customer’s vision on digital journey and fight the fear that your top team and managers will inevitably experience.

Projects that succeed in creating a digital customer value proposition don’t get there by accident. They develop a clear vision of how they will meet their customers’ digital needs, set objectives against that vision, and execute – often over the course of multiple years. Often times, projects that are not succeeding simply haven’t painted a clear picture of what they want – or need – to be when they digitally “grow up.”

Design a programmatic effort –

You need to design a programmatic effort with the same rigor you would insist on to redesign key processes across your accounts or projects. This typically involves making a clear case that executives can’t hide from the changes digital is bringing and that encouraging and accelerating change – rather than chasing it – can create more value. Then you need to give executives the tools and support network they must have to succeed as leaders of that journey. Two important points where entire focus should go –

First, be on top of technology trends, which includes keeping apprised of relevant emerging technology and shifts in consumer behavior as it pertains to technology.

Second, establish processes designed to generate portfolios of potential ideas for the future state of the customer journey. These processes should allow your account to create business hypotheses and vet and test them via customer research. In turn, new ideas can be aligned to the vision for how the customer of the future should interact with the brand or business processes, iterating along the way as more learnings come in

3. Strong digital approach

Pursuing an aggressive digital approach involves leaps into the unknown: simultaneously, you are likely to be moving into new areas and fixing existing businesses with new technologies. What’s more, in many digital projects, the premium of being a first mover makes it necessary not only to shift direction but also to do so faster than your peers. The combination of ambiguity and the need for speed sometimes gives rise to guesswork and moves that are hasty or poorly thought out-and to anxiety about whether a move isn’t going to work or just needs more time hence strong digital approach with multistage to vet outcomes

Inspect outcomes as you go –

One way to battle guesswork is to anchor your approach decisions to a thesis about the business outcomes that different digital investments will produce. This is more about thinking that draws fast, ground-level lessons from the data to determine whether your business logic is correct. Put another way, it means figuring out if there is sufficient value to make it worthwhile to invest something-as part of a process of learning even more. This approach increases the odds of successful implementation: a well-articulated view of the outcomes means that you can track how well the approach is working.

4. Fighting – Impossibility of knowing

Most companies including mine, we know are trying, and struggling, to do two things at once: to reinvent the core by digitizing and automating some of its key elements, for example, and to create innovative new digital businesses. The challenge is acute because of the dizzying pace of digital change and the uncertainty surrounding the adoption of new technology. Even if the technology for autonomous vehicles pans out, for instance, when will the majority of people really begin to use them? Given the impossibility of knowing, it’s easy to wind up with an unfocused hodgepodge of digital initiatives.

Experimentation rethinking

Real success in digital is rarely about providing the exact same products and services, just through a digital pipe. Netflix shifted from DVDs to streaming. Uber created the world’s largest car service without buying any vehicles or hiring any drivers. Companies that successfully “cross the chasm” to digital effectiveness often discover they need to provide for free what they used to charge for, sell as a subscription what used to be “a la carte,” and re-think how they derive revenue from the value that they create. Those that do so flexibly can often find that the adoption of a digital strategy or approach offers more scale, revenue and profit than the legacy approach, but it takes experimentation, an assumption of risk, and – to be blunt – some failure along the way.

Today’s leaders need to step up by persuading their organizations, accounts and projects that digital approach may be tougher than other approaches but are potentially more rewarding – and well worth the bolder bets and cultural reforms required, first, to survive and, ultimately, to thrive. Your best digital opponents – the ones you really need to worry about – aren’t taking small steps. Neither can you. This doesn’t mean that a digital approach must be designed or put to work with any less confidence than approaches were in the past, though. Approach has always required closing gaps in knowledge about complex markets, inspiring leadership team to go beyond their fears and reluctance to act.

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