How to make technological transformation projects succeed

For the last three years of my career in the built environment, I have been involved with transformation in one form or another. I have seen first-hand what works, and more to the point, what doesn’t work.

As an industry, we are poor at sharing our successes, let alone where we failed. I want to share some of my experiences with you in the hope that it improves your chance of succeeding in whatever transformation project you’re involved with. 

Don’t underestimate the power of leadership. 

I have seen the good and bad of transformation leadership.

In my experience, there are three mistakes that leaders generally make when they are managing a transformation project.

  1. They don’t understand their teams and the abilities they have 
  2. They concentrate too much on processes and pre-conceived philosophies
  3. They invest too much in new systems without focussing on the impact to organisational culture

My biggest point about leadership is around the experiences of decision-makers. A lot of the time, those in positions of authority aren’t as experienced in digital as you may hope. 

Having empathy is key when explaining to leaders how their business needs to change. How would it feel to be told you need to embrace a technology that you don’t fully understand?

For successful technology transformation, don’t focus on technology

I know this sounds odd but it’s a mistake made time and time again. Organisations fall into the trap of buying a product without truly understanding why they need it and how it will be used. 

Organisations generally know what they want the technology to do, so they start with this. They buy a product based on its functionality and not how easily it can be used or if it will improve how employees deliver projects and do their jobs. 

This again comes down to empathy. How will decisions made during the transformation project affect those you are asking to change?

Put employee engagement first

I helped run a transformation project where we asked staff what innovation meant to them in a simple, approachable way. 

We asked them what they are proud of and what they would like to do. This enabled us to gain a baseline of where the business was in terms of innovation and technology, while also engaging employees with the work we were doing. 

Simple, yet effective. 

In the past I’ve seen, and been involved with, transformation projects that don’t have this approach and instead look at the bottom line. Projects that don’t adequately engage with staff and instead are obsessed by return on investment may succeed for a short period but fail to stick and truly transform the organisation as intended.

You must change perceptions if we are truly going to transform

If you are trying to do something new then you are going to bring something alien to the organisation. This could make everyday procedure difficult or even uncomfortable for a while. 

This needs to be tackled head-on. The way you do that is by playing on the fact that things are developing by bringing a new way of leading to the project. 

Bring a brand identity to what you’re doing, something that is a little contrasting to the organisation. Communicate differently and communicate a lot. Report your wins, losses, progress and what you do on a daily basis. More than anything, have fun with it. 

We take ourselves too seriously in the built environment and bringing some fun to the transformation project will go a long way to making the changes stick.