How to ensure that your digital transformation process performs at a pace that keeps up with developments in the market?

Published on Wednesday, March 10th 2021


In previous blogs we talked about playing billiards. Although it’s a wonderful game to play with friends, we should stop using this approach in our industry. We just can’t predict the outcome of new initiatives; we fail 98% of the time. This corresponds directly with the fault ratio of the IT production of approximately 70%, globally.

IT production related to those new initiatives rarely gives the outcome foreseen. Instead we have met many scope creeps, huge budget overflow, and business cases that did not seem to work out. Also, users can be unhappy with how the new IT solution supports them, or even refuse to use it. New initiatives are mostly presented and implemented as ‘revolutions’ and may have unforeseen dependencies which often have a negative impact on results.

As history taught us: revolutions rarely last and in the long run have less impact than evolutions. When we look at the going concern we see a more evolutionary way of working; there IT actually is doing a pretty good job. They seem to have a better overview and more insight and are working with low dependencies. We should learn from this more often. How can we do so? Let’s move on to cycling.

The need to start ‘cycling’!

The Dutch do an awful lot of cycling and they usually start off in an excellent mood. They know there’s a more than reasonable chance of getting from A to B without too much suffering. It works almost every time. Once in a blue moon they fall over, usually on a racing bicycle while negotiating a sharp bend, because the tyres are so narrow. Bikers constantly adjust to the circumstances; sometimes they pedal faster to climb a hill, or they swerve to avoid puddles. Some lift their feet off the pedals to keep them dry. Oh, and they get a flat tyre sometimes, which they then have to fix. An interesting thing about cycling is that next to the fact that it is very effective, we do not have a clue why a bicycle stays upright.

Now let's make the comparison with how organisations perform. What do managers do when they see a puddle in the road? They start by jumping off the bike. They put it away, locked of course, because they want to avoid all possible risks. Then they measure the puddle: how long, wide and deep is it? Obviously, a neat report is written, with a footnote: ‘Thank God we didn’t just ride into that!’ Then they grab their bike, ride though the puddle anyway - because it’s only a couple of inches deep, of course - and cycle on home. You get there a lot later, but at least you did a solid risk analysis!

Anyone with two arms, two legs and a proper sense of balance can learn to ride a bike. It looks anything but complicated. All children first learning to ride a bike, when they’re about four years old, can do it in a matter of hours. The most important tip their father or mother can give them is: ‘Don’t steer too much!’ Do you remember your own parents shouting it? Once you’ve learned to ride a bike, you won’t easily forget. Everything in your body has mastered the motions of cycling. Every nerve, every muscle, every capillary in your body knows what to do to stay upright and get you to your destination. Maybe you could even have learned it faster if your parents had not said anything.

Look ahead and adjust

Back to the 70% fail ratio globally. Knowing that 98% of the time we cannot predict the outcome of new initiatives, we see that we do succeed 28% of the time, which you can also interpret as positive news. But I actually think for those 28% we are not playing billiards, but using another skill: cycling maybe?

When we think about new initiatives, first we should start ‘cycling’ and stay upright to make our organisation stronger. This means doing it intrinsically based on tacit knowledge and while being in a state of flow. At the same time we should ensure that transience is managed, so you don’t experience ‘old’ problems in the foreseeable future. It means that you are willing to constantly make steps forward in bringing together technology, people and organization in all its dimensions. Also you want the digital transformation process to perform at a pace that keeps up with the developments in the market, so that you are at least as successful as your competitors, or even the best.