If it were easy, someone else would do it ...
If it were easy, someone else would do it ...

The Digital Imperative: Run to the Toughest Problems

Summary: The best time to address the toughest challenges for your Digital Transformation is now - right away!

Hey, let’s start the Next Big Project!

Well, I don’t know … with every Big Project*, you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen; something Bad** …

* You know what I mean by “Big Project” – one of those highly visible, big budget affairs that will end up changing a lot of people’s jobs, and take a huge chunk of people’s time to get done. Specifically – things like new product launches, ERP implementations, eCommerce web sites, mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, reorganizations …

** You know what I mean by “Bad” – let’s face it, we’re all too busy focused on our current priorities to take on Yet Another Project. The last time someone tried this, it ended in tears, cursing, and big write-offs. And the wrong people ended up leaving the company – not the ones that screwed up, but the ones that got fed up and left.

Might as well not change a thing – the company is running well, the customers don’t want us to change, the product is doing great against the competition …

The Unspoken Truth

Fortunately, that conversation rarely happens out loud – but unfortunately, it’s going on in a lot of people’s minds as the next big initiative in your Digital Transformation is contemplated. We know we can’t stay on the same path indefinitely – the company runs well now, but can we scale up as demand increases? As products change? Our customers are asking for innovation, and the competition is not standing still.

We know this to be true. We wish that it weren’t …

… I have my job down to a science now, I have control over my time, the systems are stable, I can get home for dinner on time … I have other problems to worry about.

Let’s not mess this up – I just got that Issue all set …

Ah, but now we are drilling to the heart of the matter – the 800-lb Gorilla in the room, that no one wants to acknowledge but everyone knows is there.

Spotlight on the 800-lb Gorillas

I’m talking about those critical, repeating Issues that have torpedoed business changes, process improvements, and all manner of tech silver bullets. Everyone knows about them, but no one wants to bring them up. Alternatively – everyone knows about them, they are openly talked about – but no one has been able to change them, and frankly we cannot imagine a world without them. You don’t understand, it’s how things work here … we’re unique …

For example …

  • We have complicated and convoluted pricing agreements for as long as I can remember. You’ll never get the customers to accept a simplified discount structure – it’s never been done before, it’s what they expect. So everything we do with pricing (approvals, changes, new contracts – and any eCommerce application) has to support this complexity.
  • We can eliminate SKUs, simplify BOMs, and change material handling processes – but all of our processes rely on a “smart part number” that streamlines internal operations. If we change (to system-generated part numbers), there is a ton of re-training that we have to do.
  • We have complete ERP data, everything we need to know to make and ship the products. But the marketing data (everything required to catalog, present, educate, and sell via eCommerce) is kept in a million different places – and no one owns the process.
  • It takes a lot of time to add new item numbers into the system – unless someone personally expedites through all the steps. But we’ve never been able to automate the workflow and streamline, because no one owns the overall process. And no one wants to own the process, because it is a tedious, thankless task.
  • The only person who knows how that process works is McGee – who has never documented everything, and whose training method is Follow Me Around. And frankly, McGee is afraid of sharing the knowledge because he fears forced retirement or obsolescence (if someone else can do his job).

Run (Sprint!) To the Toughest Problems

Every company has a couple of these 800-lb gorillas blocking the path to their digital future. They are real – and quite important and valid!

Don’t jump to the conclusion that these issues are frivolous, outdated thinking, or just wrong. These are things about the company, the product, the channel, the people, that arise precisely because every organization is wonderful, fascinating, different – unique. These are real, tough challenges, that have cleverly developed their own solutions – which have reached a point where they no longer scale, or are not flexible enough to accommodate the customers, markets, etc.

There is no easy way to fix these things – a fact as predictable as it is difficult to address. And so, the best time to address them is right away. Don’t wait until you are 3 months into your digital transformation to start talking about the tough stuff. You knew these things were out there before you started the journey – it’s why you delayed starting the Big Project for the past few years.

So when starting the Next Big Project, try sprinting at these Big Problems as fast as possible. Make an outlandish statement …

  • … Let’s do the ERP implementation in three months …
  • … Let’s do the eCommerce implementation in three weeks …
  • … Let’s cut 50% of our SKU’s this month
  • … Let’s announce flat-rate pricing this week

Immediately, people will point out the reasons why such timelines are Impossible, for a number of wonderfully specific reasons.

Fantastic – let’s work on those issues first!

Force the tough conversations, question conventional wisdom, bite the bullet on the tough stuff – and do it before the expensive consultants start charging, and the fancy technology starts collecting dust.

# 3 August, 2015

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.