Digital Transformation Mistakes: Taking Too Big of a Bite at the Beginning

Written by Bart Nachimow

January 9, 2020

If you’ve kept your resolution going so far, congratulations! If you’ve been following our digital transformation mistake series, you’ll know that resolutions and digital transformations are surprisingly similar. As we discussed in our last article in the series, companies are just as likely to consider their transformation a success as a person’s resolution is to make it to February, and often the reason either fail is a lack of change management.

Are You Approaching the Digital Transformation Buffet Backwards?

So why are we now comparing digital transformation to an all-you-can-eat buffet? Well, because despite giving you great advice last month on why change management could be just as good for resolutions as it is for transformations, we’d rather help you succeed at the latter.

Have you ever gone to an all you can eat buffet and after gorging yourself, wondered, “how does this place stay in business? How can they offer crab legs, prime rib, or sushi and still make money?”

Simple. It’s all in psychology, facility design, and the way you eat. Pair this with knowing how to operate on miniscule margins, and that’s how they survive.

You’re Loading Your Plate with Too Much

Think of it this way: You probably bought a soda to start. Probably required. Maybe you started at the salad bar or grabbed some (in-season) vegetables, probably loaded up the rest of your plate with appetizers or bread. Plate one is full. You get back to your table and enjoy your food. You work your way up for plate two. You grab some food before thinking, “I totally forgot about [expensive item]. Oh well, I’ll get it on my next plate.”

Two plates in, you’re starting to feel full. But you came here for prime rib and that’s what you’re getting. So you head to the carving station and get some of the meat. By time you finish off that, you think, “I can’t eat another bite.” Congratulations, you were one of the buffet’s most profitable customers.

How? Simple. You loaded your plates in the order they wanted. By the time you made it to their expensive item, you were full. There’s a reason they have a carving station, and there’s a reason said station is in the back. You took way too much on and were full before you got to the items that cost them money.

Just like the way you approached the buffet, many companies fill their digital transformation plates with too much filler and not enough meat.

Stop Filling Your Digital Transformation with “Appetizers”

To succeed at digital transformation, you need to understand how a project can fail. Your job is to extract as much value as possible from the process, and to make this happen, you can’t take on too much too early. Your goal is to get to the meat of the project.

Paired with a comprehensive strategy and change management mentality, digital transformation success relies on focus, pacing, and value-mindedness. The cloud has made digital transformations easier and more accessible, but it’s incredibly easy to get caught up on bells and whistles. Like loading yourself up on appetizers and bread, it’s very easy to lose track of the value-driving tasks in your project.

Unfortunately, this is the first area that companies fail. Say you’re trying to build an app for your customers (the exact situation the example company in our ‘digital transformation mistakes’ whitepaper faced). The biggest mistake wouldn’t be to start with too little. Quite the opposite. The real problem would be starting too big. You loaded your plate up with too much bread.

Now, just as bread will take up stomach space cheaply, a bunch of unnecessary features took up your first year budget. Worse, there’s no looking back.

While a big strategy is an imperative for a successful digital transformation, the best approach is to start with a small-scale project. Go grab a little bit of meat.

The goal is to get people comfortable with the many changes in the business and grab an easy, early “win.” Get basic functionality down first and don’t run before you can crawl. Though the first year may feel slow, what it’s really doing is setting your second year up for bigger things.

Overcoming Your Challenges in Digital Transformation

With so many ways to ‘mess up’ a digital transformation project, know this: It’s worth the risk. Success in transformation is built on process, focus, and value-mindedness. If you want to do this, think like you’re trying to ‘beat the buffet’. A small bit of meat is worth a lot more to you than a lot of bread. Pair this with strong change management and a comprehensive strategy, and you will be on your way to a successful transformation.

In the coming months, we will continue to explore the mistakes you may make in this initiative, but if you want to see them all today, you can download our free digital transformation mistakes guide here.

Bonus: Don’t Forget Project Management

Buffets have carving stations for a reason—they control the portions. The person has one job: Carving a small portion of meat. They control the value you receive and the pace you receive it.

Like these people in charge of the carving station, a great partner, strategist, and project manager can make your project work well. They control the pace, and they serve the value. We will get deeper into the importance of the right partner in coming months.

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