Why is it that the words “digital transformation” and “failure” are so often tied together in the same sentence? Why did McKinsey come out with a report that said 70% of digital transformation projects are bound to fail? A recent Forbes article put the number at 84%. Digital transformation can be an exhausting, seemingly never-ending process and as some have written, fatigue from continuous change can be a central factor.
That’s where a great Project Manager comes in.
Jessica Ryder runs the Project Management Office here at Pixel Health, having worked as a Project Manager for nearly two decades. She says the role has changed a lot in 20 years and digital transformation projects have been a catalyst for that change.
“Human beings by nature do not readily accept change so they need somebody to tell them that this new Digital Transformation thing is exciting and it’s great, and it’s going to be good for them. It’s almost like there’s a marketing aspect to project management. You must be able to oversee the day-to-day schedule and watch the budget, but you also must know how to encourage your team.”
Ryder says that as a Project Manager, she coaches her staff to look at digital transformation as a strategic imperative, not just a tactical project. She says PMs are becoming much more adept at marketing and messaging. “We’re coaching CTOs all the time about championing a project in words people can understand. Don’t use “IT speak” but answer simple questions like why are we doing this and what impact will it have on the end-user. Digital transformation projects fail more often than not because people don’t understand why they’re being asked to change the way they work.”
She says great Project Managers are agents of culture change and in this age of digital transformation must possess an expanding set of skills to be successful. Here is her top five.
- It begins and ends with leading the internal project team, vendors, contractors, stakeholders, and customers to stay on the same page and keep moving in the same direction. A clear and open communications process is critical for success.
- Risk, Cost, and Task Management. These basic tenants of project management will never change but the cost of failure is greater today. Because Digital Transformation is likely to occur over a longer timeline, anticipating risk, runaway budgets, and project schedules will be more fluid and require top-notch leadership skills and tools to manage.
- What’s the old expression; a project manager is an organizational leader dedicated to the imposition of order upon chaos, even if chaos is perfectly happy with the status quo? It’s often helpful in Digital Transformation projects to break them into achievable milestones or shorter sprint-like initiatives. Achieve measurable results in the short term, and long-term success is more likely to follow.
- Hand in glove with organization is the necessity for documentation (and communicating that documentation to stakeholders). Good PMs don’t look at documentation as “CYA,” but as a key communication and motivational tool.
- It may not be what you signed up for but project management in the age of Digital Transformation is a lot of cheerleading without the pom-poms. Winning is contagious but no one will know unless you shout it from the fifty-yard line. Future Digital Transformation projects will benefit from the positive publicity.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the success or failure of a Digital Transformation effort will, in the end, probably come down to:
- The original goals and commitment by senior company leadership
- The divide between the digital capabilities supporting the effort and the capabilities available to support scaling it
Can a great project management effort make a difference? Probably more than you think.