Digitalization is the economic megatrend of our time. Four of the five most valuable companies in the world (Apple, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Facebook) are integral to the digital economy; the fifth is Microsoft. Digitalization projects and programs are being initiated everywhere, with high levels of dedicated resources and top management attention. In fact, many companies globally are recognizing the need for the new role of Chief Digital Officer to drive digital innovation.
However, in digitalization, maximum activity does not guarantee maximum success. The temptation to produce quickly visible results is great, leading many digitalization project managers to design concepts not from the customer’s perspective, but rather with a focus on technology. In keeping with the saying “no one missed the iPhone before it was invented”, technically new working solutions are developed in a vacuum, whether or not they solve a customer problem or fill a customer need. The reality, however, is that the market success rate of supply-driven innovation is low.
In our experience supporting dozens of digitalization approaches, we have found that project success is more likely if the following three maxims are followed:
· Focus on customer benefit
The digital economy offers useful concepts such as customer experience management and customer journey mapping. Online pioneers such as Amazon, PayPal, Airbnb and Netflix have set high standards of focusing on customer experience that other vendors now expect. In this environment, with its new approaches and instruments, it is imperative to design innovation from a customer or user perspective.
· Evaluate the business case
Tangible customer benefit is a compelling prerequisite to successful digitization approaches, but it alone is not sufficient. If customers receive added value but will not pay for it, or if achieving network effects requires more paying customers than feasible, the business case is unrealistic. A business concept should only be pursued and realized as long as convincing facts and credible assumptions promise sufficient potential profit.
· Monitor realization systematically
Digitalization projects can be implemented successfully by adopting agile and/or hybrid methods, which offer new, flexible possibilities for project management in IT but also outside IT. These approaches often provide fast and good results but are resource intensive. This makes it all the more important to monitor progress systematically and continuously align resources with project progress. The agile approach offers excellent and proven tools for estimating expenses, such as planning poker, and for tracking resource consumption, such as burndown analysis.
If you follow these three maxims, your digitalization project is more likely to succeed. Even if more time and resources have to be invested in careful project setup rather than in beginning project work directly, the investment will pay off.
Agile methods already contain the realization that some errors will not be avoidable. It is important, however, that these errors are analyzed and learned from them in order to improve future projects. The triad of targeted customer focus, sustainable business case and systematically controlled implementation is one such learning experience that should be used purposefully.