There is no debating that the rubber hits the road with execution — getting stuff done. What is getting done, is just as important as getting it done, and this is where, IMO, transformation holds together or fails. If the execution team is not aligned or executing towards an outcome that is going to move the needle, then it is just a lot of heat and noise that will eventually lose steam and die on the vine. Worse still, wasted resources that could have been used on something else.
Whether pursuing digital transformation or business transformation, the root causes of failure are likely to be similar. Perhaps for any significant undertaking. There is significant literature that is easily searched for the many reasons given for transformation failure. I have listed some at this link: Transformation.
Common reasons cited include:
- Executive alignment and sponsorship
- Lack of urgency
- Not putting the “A” team on it — people with the capability and organizational authority to get stuff done
- Lack of empowerment
- No short-term wins
- Not integrating new approaches
- Overwhelming scope of change
- Poor change management
- Flexibility in the plan
- Resistance to change
- Lack of consensus on what transformation means
The list goes on. Transformation can be so large in scope that there are many potential failure points. That is one of the reasons I am biased towards inorganic transformation, the others revolve around the complexity of driving two models at once, the difficulty in getting people to do something different than what they have been told is good for 5,10,20 years, and of course the whole culture thing.
While some of the above issues listed fall fair-and-square in the execution bucket, I would say the most important failure points have to do with vision. They have to do with the amount of engagement the executive team has, the ownership the executive team has, and the mitigation of an execution team turning the vision of horse into a camel, not that there is anything wrong with camels, per se.
Transformation is hard, really hard. You need that northstar to come back to at every point. You need a reference as to whether the transformation is on track. Sure, any good transformation is going to have KPIs that do formal assessment of progress and “success”, but you have to be able to answer the big questions: is this making a significant, differentiated, and profitable difference to customer experience, operational excellence, solution leadership or whatever the organization’s value proposition/profitability that has been identified as the ultimate outcome of the transformation.
In networking, we’ve seen organizations pursue hardware to software transformations, as one example, both on the service provider side of the industry, and also on the vendor/supplier side. But what for? Software is not an outcome. To get to cheaper off the shelf solutions. OK, not exactly a riveting vision for suppliers, but even if it was, how?
Are there reasons why software can play a big part in new and important value propositions? Sure, but you have to focus on what the outcome is: customer experience, operations efficiency, ease of customization, replacing five panes of glass with one, optimizing routing on an application basis, etc.
If you have the right people on the job, the right culture, and sufficient executive ownership and engagement, then the vision is the key element that keeps everyone creatively, and ideally passionately, working towards a common view of the outcome that will deliver outsized results.
Don’t attempt transformation without clarity on what will be different in the after state, and why that difference will be meaningful. You can call this clarity many things. I call it vision.