Entry by Shannon Taylor, Vice President, Keymind
Discussions about digital transformation often focus on the tools or software as the keys to success. But if you’re approaching it correctly, you’ll see that the implementation of these tools is not the first step in the process, and it’s just one part of truly successful digital transformation. To define the transformation, an organization must employ continuous process improvement. And while the concept of continuous process improvement may not sound groundbreaking, very few organizations understand how to leverage it into the planning and execution of the transformation, and most importantly – how to measure their success.
How do you approach digital transformation as process improvement? Here are some questions you need to ask:
How do we do things now? (Define Processes) Many organizations begin envisioning tomorrow without understanding what they’re doing today. In order to implement any sort of transformation, digital or otherwise, you need to understand exactly what you’re transforming, and why. There are many process frameworks available to guide these kinds of efforts, but even something as simple as documenting “Standard Operating Procedures” or creating checklists for how staff accomplish their main tasks is a valid starting point. Keep in mind that this is more than just an obligatory requirements gathering exercise. The outcome will not only reveal what your organization is doing, but will also identify redundancies, obstacles, and most importantly – the pain points to overcome, and areas to improve to meet your organization’s goals.
What problem are we solving? (Identify Improvement / Change) Once you understand how you do the work today, you can start to look at places to implement changes or transformation. Is there a process that is taking too many resources to complete? Are there manual processes in place that can be automated? Are there bottlenecks that are slowing things down? Find problem areas in your organization where changes to the process will be welcomed.
What can we measure? (Define Metrics) You know that you’re going to implement changes, but how are you going to know whether or not the changes are working? After defining your processes, you need to identify ways to quantify how things are done today. Some questions that can help include: How long does it take to complete the process today? How many hours are spent to complete the process? How many people need to be involved in completing the process? How many approvals are required to complete the process?
How will we measure success? (Goals) In order to move your organization forward, you need to know where you’re heading. Your organization’s goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (or SMART). Many organizations have general goals around improving productivity, which is the reason they’re looking to digital transformation. But, what exactly does it mean to improve productivity? You need to define that for your organization before moving forward. The most effective way to do this is to take a “problem” process along with the current measurements and define goals that would show improvement for your organization.
What fits our needs? (Implement Improvement) You’ve identified the area within your organization that you want to tackle and have baseline measures of how your organization works right now. So, what process or tool could you implement to meet your goals? At this point in the process improvement journey, you can finally take a look at potential digital solutions. Analyze available options that meet your goals and have flexibility built in for future process improvements in your organization. Prioritize criteria to rank the importance of the required functionality. And, keep in mind that this isn’t the final step in your journey, so expect future changes and adjustments.
Did it work? What’s next? (Measure and Monitor) You identified your problem, proposed a solution to meet your goals, and implemented a new tool. So, how are you doing? Did you meet your goal? If not, try to identify the reason. Was the tool not the right fit? Or, did the tool fix part of the problem, but there’s still an area that needs to be addressed? Do you think the tool would work, but people aren’t using it correctly? Based on the information you capture, you can iterate through additional changes over time, continuing to define changes and improvements over time. Remember, this is continuous process improvement, there is no end state. Digital transformation is an ongoing journey because technology is constantly changing. It’s also good to remember that a change or tool you implement may be the wrong one. Since you’re constantly monitoring your processes and measuring the effectiveness of them, you can be confident that you will identify errors and be able to resolve them with future improvements.
Who is on my team? (Culture) Organizational culture is key to process improvement. This sentiment is echoed in discussions about successful digital transformation efforts and the emphasis on the need for a culture of innovation. I like to look at this as a culture of evolution. Evolution points to the continuous process improvement focus of digital transformation. At every level of the organization, the culture needs to look towards constant evolution – how can we do this better and smarter?
Digital transformation cannot solely be driven from one area of the organization. True digital transformation needs to be authorized and energized by leadership, managed and supported by mid-level management, and integrated and implemented by the staff at all levels. Staff need to know that reporting concerns about processes or tools in place are welcomed, since the organization is always trying to gather information on how to improve. However, it is also important to ensure that everyone is trying to support the digital transformation efforts, attempting to use new processes and tools before providing input on concerns or challenges. Overall, the culture needs to be supportive, engaged, and willing to experiment with new processes and tools to support a common goal.
If you approach digital transformation as implementing a tool to make your team more productive, chances are you’re going to miss the mark. Unless you know where to implement change, how to measure success or failure, and how to continue to improve over time, your organization won’t be able to fully realize a true digital transformation.