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Digital Transformation: 5 Mistakes Organizations Make When Building the Future


2020 has been a year of digital transformation.

If you weren’t investing in, or rethinking digital at your organization before, you are now. According to a report by Forrester, only 15% of companies were prioritizing digital transformation efforts before the pandemic. “2021 will be the year that every company doubles down on technology-fueled experiences, operations, products, and ecosystems.” This means corporate offices investing in remote technologies and processes. Retail businesses investing in e-commerce. Grocery stores and restaurants investing in online ordering and delivery. Government agencies focusing on things like virtual services, and so on.

Unfortunately, digital transformation isn’t as easy as spending money on a new software tool or hiring a team of developers. We have been partnering with changemakers in government agencies, non-profits, and enterprises for more than two decades. Here are a handful of mistakes organizations make in the process—many of which are easily avoidable.

Mistake #1: The organization purchases a solution before truly understanding their needs.

Many organizations looking to modernize believe a digital transformation is a software solution that magically solves multiple problems at once. 

At Anthro-Tech, we call this “The Silver Bullet” approach. In reality, technologies need to be customized or improved over time to really work well for organizations. Often it’s not only the software itself that needs changing but the people and processes designed to use and support it effectively.

For example, we recently worked with a client that wanted to transform the way the business sold physical goods online as well as in stores. Their original plan was to send out an RFP and gather proposals from several solution providers, looking for “The Silver Bullet.” They were trying to find (and/or build) a piece of technology based on assumptions about customers, and an incomplete picture of the process and organizational changes actually needed to make this significant change to the way they do business.

Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. Many organizations have purchased a solution that doesn’t work for customers, forces them to make awkward process changes, or requires expensive technology changes post-launch.

Silver bullets don’t exist. So if you find yourself shopping for technologies or solutions with a “Silver Bullet” mentality, pause and take a step back. Give yourself room for discovery and iteration to course-correct, and don’t expect magic to happen.

Mistake #2: The organization focuses too much on solving the technology part.

Buying a new piece of technology or hiring experts to help is usually the easy part. 

The hard part is managing the change. Most organizations fail to put any resources or processes in place to bring both end-users and stakeholders along—and instead assume the problem can be solved exclusively by technology. But the truth is, the technology needs to be adopted by people both outside and inside the organization to work. 

The first key to doing this effectively is ensuring everyone inside the organization is on the same page. This means leaders effectively communicating the vision for change, presenting a roadmap for how the organization is going to get there, and taking deliberate steps to tap into internal expertise and keep everyone informed along the way—whether that’s through written communication, or scheduled presentations and internal meetings. 

The second key is to maintain a close connection to your users. This is what’s known as human-centered design: making sure the people you’re designing for are directly involved from the beginning of the project, all the way to the end. Who are your users? What are they trying to get done? What are their pain points? How will you know whether they can use your solution easily and effectively?

You cannot build good solutions in a vacuum.

Mistake #3: The organization’s decision-makers don’t involve internal stakeholders and get buy-in before introducing a change.

Another mistake we’ve seen is making a unilateral decision without questioning how this change is going to reverberate throughout the company.

For example, one of our existing clients recently went through a website redesign. They did all the right things from a user-centered design perspective: researched their users, involved them in the structure of content, tested prototypes, etc. But throughout the project, they chose not to bring other departments inside the business along for the journey. As a result, when it came time to launch, the solution was right for the users but there was no internal buy-in. There were fights about what went live. Certain people felt like they were shut out of the process and didn’t have a voice—and now, the company is having to back-track.

Digital transformations are big moments of innovation for any company. When done correctly, you aren’t just incrementally improving one single process. You’re quite literally changing the way an entire business operates.

It’s important everyone feels on-board with this new future. 

Mistake #4: The organization assumes they know who their customers are—and lets insiders drive design decisions.

Letting company stakeholders and “insiders” drive all the decisions around design is a mistake.

This almost always stems from decision-makers who feel they “already understand their customers.” They talk to them every day. They sell to them. They respond to their customer service requests. And so, when it comes time to launch a new product or streamline a process, the thinking is there’s no new intelligence to be gained. “We already know everything.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. You know what happens when you assume. . . 

Very often, our insider knowledge can lead us to overlook opportunities for improvement and skim over risks in our designs or processes. The art of implementing change in any organization is understanding the nuances of how people actually behave. What is the precise moment a user experiences a problem? What do they need, when, how, and why? What small details trip them up or slow them down? What seemingly insignificant features could 10x their workflows? The way you find the answers to these questions isn’t by guessing or assuming. It’s by observing, listening, testing, and finding out what is working and what’s not, that we improve the customer experience and evolve our products. 

Digital transformation is not a quick fix to a problem you think you understand at a glance.

Mistake #5: The organization doesn’t have clear measures for success.

And finally, the most common mistake of all.

At the beginning of every project, it’s important to have success metrics clearly defined and stress-tested—because they are going to be your compass from beginning to end.

  • Are we trying to save money? 
  • Are we trying to increase customer adoption? 
  • Are we trying to reduce the amount of time it takes to do X, Y, or Z? 
  • Are we trying to make the lives of people inside the organization easier? 
  • Are we trying to reduce training?
  • Or is it all of the above? 
  • If there’s a conflict, which metrics are more important?

Very often, when I read project charters or plans, “success” means launching somethinginto the market on time and on budget. The organization can’t articulate why, or what specifically they want to happen as a result. As a wise man once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

All they know is launching a new project is important—and that’s a big problem.

Specialties: Designing usable products and services. Anthro-Tech is a user-centered design consultancy focused on government agencies, nonprofits and enterprises with a social-impact mission.

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