This article was contributed by Simon Chapman, Head of Solution Engineering at Scoro

The challenging market conditions of 2020 have placed significant strain on businesses of all shapes and sizes across all sectors. In particular, it has increased the pressure on businesses to adopt digitisation initiatives and adapt to the new ways we live and work. The move to digital presents opportunities, but there are important practical obstacles businesses need to know in order to navigate and make a success of digital transformation. 

The root of digital transformation challenges is often found in inadequate project management – making them all the more solvable. From the start of any project, there are three key steps businesses can take to achieve success. By clarifying deliverables, improving communications, and selecting robust project leaders, businesses can mitigate the common pitfalls of digitisation projects and deliver stronger outcomes.

  1. Set timely, measurable objectives from the outset

Starting at the end may seem unusual, but agreeing on tangible, realistic deliverables is where successful projects begin; as outlined in this Northeastern University guide. To monitor progress, teams must outline measurable KPIs that lead to concrete goals. Project leaders should decide what metrics determine success, such as the resulting income, employee utilisation, or time saved by a project. With  relevant and realistic KPIs in place, project leaders are better equipped to estimate timelines for deliverables, evaluate the demand for in-house resources, and ensure project objectives continuously reflect team capabilities. 

Too often, however, KPIs aren’t thoroughly reviewed, growing more opaque as external factors influence projects. This can impair the motivation of team members and cause reactive assessment of the work being done, as opposed to proactive analysis. Real-time dashboards are one way to gain a comprehensive overview of progress toward KPIs and help  project leaders keep their teams on track.

  1. Manage stakeholder expectations and avert scope creep 

The old proverb ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ rings true even in the context of digital transformation projects. Constantly changing objectives to meet stakeholder demand leads to obscure goals that derail success. To overcome this, project leaders should streamline the number of stakeholders involved and manage their expectations to smooth the road ahead and avoid scope creep. Ongoing changes to objectives are a key factor in project failure, but project leaders should manage change requests and clearly communicate realistic team capabilities. 

Whether these scope changes concern adaptations to aspects such as branding or the user experience, managers need to conduct an impact analysis and determine if these requests are achievable with the project’s dedicated resources, as well as in the agreed timeline. Scope creep can easily cause projects to run over budget, delay outcomes, and diminish the quality of deliverables. Taking agile software development as an example, one method to counteract scope creep is to work in sprints; by outlining ongoing deliverables and updating stakeholders throughout the project, teams can clarify agreed outcomes and ensure everyone is aligned on current objectives. The principle behind this way of working can be applied to many digitisation projects, to regularly give teams and stakeholders a clear view of progress.  

  1. Choose project leaders based on suitability, not availability

Last, but definitely not least, the success of digital transformation projects rests squarely on the shoulders of project leaders. Businesses undervaluing project management report that 67% more projects fail outright in comparison to companies that do, highlighting the importance of leadership for motivating teams, meeting expectations, and achieving success. But what makes an effective project leader? While some opt for availability or technical skill, the true value of a leader is suitability. Within teams, clear communication defines individual roles and responsibilities, guaranteeing everyone is progressing toward the same objectives. While, capable tracking of performance with established KPIs creates a strong sense of accountability that can drive a project forward. 

Beyond the team, project leaders should be adept at handling customer communications, being transparent when it comes to deliverables, timelines and budgets. A leader must keep hold of a project’s reins and direct it to an outcome that satisfies customers, as well as providing teams with the time and resources to produce high quality work. 

Digital transformation is a top priority now more than ever, with 91% of businesses involved in a digital initiative, which makes it critical to successfully plan, execute, and deliver these valuable projects. From the start, businesses can set themselves up for success by ensuring they have the right leaders overseeing projects, strong lines of communication, and clear, realistic goals. Altogether, these steps will safeguard digital transformation initiatives from failure and allow teams to improve not only project outcomes, but business outcomes as well.