Posted: Dec 24, 2019 8 min. read

The digital transformation trap

Compromising human experience with agility and speed

The early years of computer programming had a singular focus on the underlying data and processes being automated with a naive disregard for the human working with the application. As the audience for the computer applications outgrew the back-office personnel to include everyday users, the discipline of human-centred design has become critical to elevate the effectiveness of technology investments. Many enterprises that embark on the journey of digital transformation begin by leveraging principles of design thinking to define the change and drive adoption.

However, as these efforts scale across the organization, so does the unhealthy obsession to provide “more-with-less” at speed. This has resulted in misplaced commitments for well-intended but ill-implemented practices. These rituals are deteriorating the very human experience they are attempting to improve. Here are the five specific traps that plague large enterprises in pursuit of digital transformation.

 

Trap #1: User experience is mainly about making things look pretty

Unfortunately, popular interest in design often halts at the superficial aspects of aesthetics, whether one is marvelling at the creation of an artist, an architect, or a digital product designer. On the contrary, digital transformation efforts are mainly about changing human behaviour for effective outcomes aided with a digital toolkit. This effort is critically dependent on an intimate and deep understanding of who the user is. Her mental models of working with a digital interface in the context of the problem define the blueprints of the digital product experience. The outcome of a design process has far-reaching consequences than screens that are nice to look at. A well-crafted experience has the potential to influence a buying decision for the user. In the context of products targeted for employees, an experience required for effectiveness and performance can have cascading benefits in saving operational costs.

On the contrary, the initial euphoria about design for a digital transformation program is often hastily replaced by the urgency to provide convenience, leading to strained budgets and bandwidth needed to craft the intended experience. The resulting outcome, whether a redesign of a website or a savvy looking mobile app, is good for time-to-market and costs but fails to bring the intended change in the day of the life of the user.

 A long-term sustainable digital transformation is dependent on leaders who may not work in design but make room for teams to incorporate design in the transformation efforts.

 

Trap #2: Turn everything agile to provide at speed

Agile was originally intended as a software development methodology to overcome the limitations of a linear approach to building applications. However, it spread like a wildfire with an intent to end all troubles that are borne out of managing ambiguity in user needs and technical risks in a traditional waterfall approach. In theory, an iterative methodology that allows for progress using known inputs and creates windows of opportunity to course correct when new information is available is conducive to manage inherent risks in a transformation program.

In reality, agile has become the rug underneath which transformation programs hide the delayed decisions that are critical for the business and technology scaffolding needed to support the implementation.

This lack of planning shoves design and engineering teams on false starts in most sprints. The low-quality outcomes at the end of the sprint pile upon already compromised solutions. Corrective measures are often interpreted as “loss of velocity” in agile execution leaving no room for recovery. Tactically speaking, large scale transformation efforts require critical planning activities that are linear, such as establishing a design language or technology architecture, that later provides the foundation for agility and scale. Efforts that undercut planning to take a plunge for agile implementation are harder to recover as time ticks by.

 

Trap #3: Count story points to track progress, count defects to track quality

There are multiple metrics that can help measure the effectiveness of business operations enabled by digital transformation. If you are revamping a website for commerce, tracking the number of orders per day, percentage of visits that lead to a sale, and average spend per order will help you track the effectiveness of the effort. If you are creating an experience for your customers for online self-service, measuring the drop/increase in the number of calls to the customer service centre will be one of the indicators of achievements. When implementing the underlying technology, many programs do not factor these achievements metrics in measuring the progress or prioritizing features for launch.

Instead, it is easy for teams to fall in the trap of tracking progress by counting story points or the number of defects. These metrics do a good job of sizing and measuring the movement of work, however, they are agnostic of the underlying impact on user experience and business operations. As a result, a team of engineers may provide the story points as planned in a given sprint, but the “contributing value” of the body of work towards meeting the business metrics could easily fall short. Worst, many programs do not even define the business metrics until after completion of the technology implementation. A test plan that effectively measures and closes all “critical” and “high” priority defects may be rendered useless if the team has not invested in performing periodic usability tests with real users to assess the design and engineering outcomes.

A clear definition of business metrics at the onset of the program serves as a “true north” for the cross-functional teams to prioritize decisions and measure meaningful progress.

 

Trap #4: Digital transformation is all about delivering the technology

Advances in technology have offered multiple alternatives to enable the same user experience with varying trade-offs. The planning phase of any digital transformation program involves navigating these choices against the needs of the initiative. Unfortunately, many organizations assess these circumstances only with the lens of the enterprise technology architecture and not giving much thought for what these choices mean for the users who need to adopt the technology. Many organizations that understand the need to transform often try to force it by pushing for top-down compliance to processes and systems.

Organizations that evolve effectively invest time, money, and resources in introspecting their people, their habits, and the underlying drivers for their actions.

Those businesses that focus on an inside-out transformation by inspiring their employees’ to embrace change achieve the expected value in the longer run. They create an environment to build the desires, actions, and habits needed for the effective adoption of the digital transformation. Others see millions of dollars of investments in technology solutions go down the drain because of a lack of effort to empathize with end-users.

 

Trap #5: Digital transformation is a destination

The legacy notion for building custom or enabling package enterprise software includes heavy investments in the implementation phase of the program, followed by minimal oversight to keep lights on as users start adopting the application. The rapid shifting forces in business priorities, technology landscape, and user behaviors in the digital age renders this approach a complete misfit for modern transformation programs. A sustainable long-term foundation requires careful consideration for the current circumstances of your organization as well as a point of view for what the future may hold.

Unfortunately, digital transformation programs are often viewed as a destination rather than a journey by executives driving the effort. This results in choices and investments that enable short-term achievements but shackles the program from evolving meaningfully once the business operations kick in. As against this, programs that invest in a cross-functional team of design and engineering talent that tap into user behavior and feedback to incrementally inform the program roadmap experience increased adoption, effective change management, and a higher return on the initial investment.

 Programs where the experience and engineering investments are scaled back after the initial launch often find it hard to stay relevant as user habits and technology landscape evolves.

Summary

To conclude, launching the latest technology-enabled solutions is only a piece of the puzzle for an organization in pursuit of digital transformation. Long term sustainable efforts begin with the end in the mind for transforming the human experience. When that focus is diluted, the traps open up like minefields to derail the program. Shared values that drive behaviors across teams to do the appropriate thing for the user can go a long way in enabling achievements.

About the author

Rohit Malekar is a senior manager in Deloitte Digital’s Bengaluru Studio in India. He leads design and engineering teams to provide large-scale digital transformation programs led by human-centred design. He has 15 years of experience in applying the disciplines of user experience, visual design, systems engineering, and data analytics in retail, insurance, and healthcare industries.