Why You Need an Implementation Strategy for Digital Change

  • 2-Nov-2016

In an era of rapid digital change, many enterprises are replacing older technologies. Unfortunately, teams often leap straight to implementation as if succeeding were solely a matter of switching toolsets.

I can understand why teams rush to make the swap. Maybe the current system is a "burning platform" or no longer supported. Maybe you need to get current with modern standards like HTML5. Or simply the clamor of complaints about the current system has reached a crescendo.

But big digital change does not come from simply swapping out one product for another. This is largely for three reasons:

  1. Many of the current problems you're trying to escape aren’t technical, but center around process, information, or governance issues. Your approach must address these non-technical factors to succeed.
  2. Some of your problems may stem from how the incumbent technology was implemented and not just the underlying technical platform. You don’t want to repeat that.
  3. Even when the technology truly was the problem, you may need a structurally different approach to meet new opportunities.

To properly frame the digital change project, you need an implementation strategy that defines 1) the right scope with 2) the right vision that 3) is implementable. Let's go a bit deeper on each.

1) Breadth: The Right Scope

Many digital modernization projects start with a very tactical premise, but miss the opportunity to become strategic. This is particularly the case when you have several different systems serving the same function.

Consider this example. Let's say you have three different Web Content & Experience Management (WCM) platforms serving a total of a hundred websites around the globe. If one of those WCM tools needs to get replaced for some licensing reason, you may become tempted to distill the effort down to swapping out the tool for the twenty sites that it serves. As part of the process you will talk with stakeholders of those twenty sites to make sure that the new WCM package will address their concerns with the current system.

In going down this path of defining the requirements for the new WCM system, you may be leaving a lot of opportunities on the table by immediately restricting yourself to only consider the sites currently using the tool you are replacing. I don't counsel consolidation for its own sake, but the broader point here is that an implementation strategy should guide you even as early as the requirements phase for any new technology.

2) Depth: The Right Vision

Clearly, any implementation strategy should define a strong vision. The problem I see is that many such visions are more aspirational than practical, and therefore don't drive a specific roadmap.

One way to connect vision to priorities is to define ranges of how deeply that vision could potentially be achieved. In the example below, the customer's vision had three key elements: being nationally-ranked, more user-focused, and supporting an evolving website. The lighter color represented the current state and the darker one the suggested near-term state.

A chart like this along with other materials to differentiate different possible depths of support helps to clarify the vision:

  1. This breaks down the problem for teams to understand what they are agreeing to — rather than a blanket "user-focused" statement which everyone could nominally agree to but not fully understand
  2. Instead of defaulting to a binary decision about either doing something or not, teams can have a more nuanced discussion about the outcomes and effort levels to achieve them. Notably this discussion can happen early in the process, potentially even to drive decisions around the class of tools required before soliciting bids.
  3. As the implementation moves forward realities on the ground may force midstream trade-offs. By already defining a depth continuum implementation teams can ratchet effort forward and back in an organized way, rather than taking an emergency, ad hoc approach.

One way of helping to hone the vision is to consider scales of how deeply different aspects could be supported
One way of helping to hone the vision is to consider scales of how deeply different aspects could be supported

3) Practicality: The Vision Is Feasible

Most Real Story Group subscribers support complex environments, where change doesn't come with a finger snap. How can you confirm that the vision is possible?

In particular, you need to consider two things: a) what skills and resources will be needed to achieve the goals (technical and non-technical) and b) what is a reasonable trajectory moving forward.

You need to define a probable trajectory but also highlight the fact that you don't know the future either
You need to define a probable trajectory but also highlight the fact that you don't know the future either.

Notably the trajectory is not some highly-structured and detailed Gannt chart — that comes later, as part of an implementation plan — but instead is the notional path forward. Sometimes it makes sense to explicitly gray out the future over time to emphasize this to stakeholders, to keep the flexibility for responding to realities on the ground as the roll-out transpires.

When to Start an Implementation Strategy

Implementation strategies must be done early to be most effective. Ideally, you complete it before potential tool vendors and implementation partners get engaged. The implementation strategy can be used as a document that helps steers the subsequent steps in the change effort, including RFP development but also as a touchpoint to evaluate possible changes on an ongoing basis (especially the vision).

If you've already picked the technology, does that make it too late? Of course not: any implementation strategy is better than no strategy at all.

RSG Can Help

Developing and implementation strategy is not a matter of filling out a template, but of taking the opportunity to carefully frame a digital project. Real Story Group can work with you to develop an implementation strategy over approximately 6-8 weeks. Check in with us for more details.

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