As more organizations look to undergo a digital transformation, it is critical to first slow down in order to better understand how it will impact your organization's successful digital transformation — from start to finish.
Digital solutions provide an extraordinary leg up in gaining efficiency and grounding your team. They yield time savings, and in turn, add to product and service quality, by automating mundane and tedious tasks, error-proofing and simplifying complex processes, and performing data processing at speeds far greater than ever before possible.
With these benefits, it’s exciting and seems like a no-brainer to move as quickly as possible into the digital frontier as it’s clear a digital-first workforce is here to stay.
Teams are increasingly identifying opportunities in their day-to-day operations for digital tools and technology to become more productive, adaptable, and agile, and they want them to be designed, developed, and implemented yesterday.
The first step is to lay out the requirements for these solutions to ensure the digital foundation of your team is properly established. Often, teams can’t articulate the requirements because they don’t yet have a defined process, or it’s much bigger than the piece they are responsible for performing. It’s important to take a pause before this transformation and do something that may seem counterintuitive — slow down for the sake of ensuring the digital transformation can be just that: foundationally transformative.
How technology transformation can help if done at the right pace
The following are two examples of why it’s important to intentionally slow down and pause so you can define the requirements:
- Organizations don’t apply digitization efforts effectively because leaders aren’t deliberate in identifying the way they intend their teams to use it. How often have we all experienced the excitement of getting a new software suite, only to quickly become bogged down and overwhelmed by the fact that it offers so much functionality that our team isn’t even sure how to use it for the work they perform? Without taking the time upfront to define processes and coach teammates on the importance of using features consistently, you’ll be forced to think through this in the moment, adding to teammates’ time and frustration, and you might not take advantage of all the capabilities the suite offers.
- Organizations believe that adopting digital transformation can solve all our problems for us. Sometimes there are more complex issues that must be addressed before you can apply an additional layer of technology. If these issues are not first addressed, the new technology will only serve as a temporary band-aid, or worse, can further complicate things. There is likely a bottleneck in the form of some sort of process delay that could be caused by information gaps, a high defect rate and layers of rework, or misaligned parties. Sometimes, the effect of an issue (such as errors in data quality) is the result of a root cause issue (unclear roles and responsibilities made worse by recent employee turnover).
Change in Behaviors, Not Just Technology
An organization that demonstrated the benefit of slowing down before advancing to a technological solution was when a leadership team sought opportunities to automate activities in a process to complete the day-to-day workflow more quickly. In an attempt to capture requirements, the leaders of several different departments described their needs and began to piece together the end-to-end process being performed.
Discussion uncovered many ways in which frontline work was being held up, often related to a lack of information for those who needed to make decisions. Root cause analysis uncovered several contributing factors; one of which was the lack of governance around a defined process. As the baton moved back and forth from one department to the next, there was no one taking accountability for the standards that should be consistently enforced along the way. The result is a haphazard set of activities and guidelines inconsistently followed and executed, which in turn caused confusion, duplicative effort, and delays. The other root causes had to do with siloes across the agency and a lack of integration between this and other key workstreams. This created information gaps and further perpetuated their inability to execute quickly and effectively.
While opportunities to use automation were identified, leaders also identified complementary behavior improvement opportunities which involved breaking down barriers between each department, a shift in roles and responsibilities, and greater control over and availability of critical information for the users who need it. In slowing down to articulate the requirements, people across departments had the opportunity to come together, understand the upstream and downstream effects of their work, and identify opportunities to improve efficiency. They are now acting as one team to implement an optimized sequence of activities and decision-making, some of which are supported by automation. The impact that will cascade through the team before the digital transformation was implemented was the shift in the team’s mindset of embracing a continuous process improvement approach. The team gained an appreciation for a collaborative, solution-development approach to drive efficiency.
The takeaway for leaders applies to this situation and rings true for many teams: don’t shy away from enhancing the work your organization performs with digital tools and technology. But before you do, slow down and think about the requirements at hand, which will drive the way in which the tools should be applied. Get your stakeholders aligned and prepared to drive change that realizes efficiency improvements by adopting a collaborative, process improvement mindset. Involve them in mapping out and measuring their workstreams. Look for areas where they struggle to complete work in a timely manner and deep dive into these steps to get to the root cause — ask “why” a problem persists until you can’t ask it anymore. Brainstorm solutions to these problems that range in difficulty and benefit.
Leaders must support their teams’ efforts to make these improvements by applying digitization where it makes sense and not rushing the process. Monitor their progress and the result to make sure the intended benefits are realized. Finally, and most importantly, continue to empower the team to revisit their work and assess additional improvement opportunities.