Tiffany St James: How to prioritise digital transformation projects

Tiffany St James is one of the UK’s most experienced digital transformation specialists, the founder of  Transmute  and former Head of Public Participation for the UK Government. She is also NDA’s monthly columnist.

Last month’s column looked at setting strategy, this month we look at how do you start to identify and prioritise digital projects — what do you tackle first?

Imagine you’re in the driving seat of a new digital transformation programme in a large organisation, perhaps you are new in post, perhaps it’s now part of your new responsibilities. EVERY part of the business will want their service transformed first. If you don’t have a clear approach and process, you are going to get labelled ‘Computer Says No’. Navigating corporate politics on this is sensitive and could make or break your new role or project.

There is no ‘red button’. There is no single defining answer I can give you to start ‘this bit’ first.

However, having had to do this in for several large public and private sector organisations there is a process that you can follow and make your own. Here goes:

Find all the digital projects that exist

This is a standard internal discovery or research piece and there are a couple of approaches to it.

Internally, there may already be people whose role it is to manage technology or IT projects or liaise with business units. You absolutely need to engage people who consider this already part of their role. There may be project lists available, or a range of information that exists qualitatively that you need to feed into your universe of digital projects that you need to capture.

You may choose to set up an online survey or a series of qualitative interviews with team heads. Your process will depend on your time, people resources, budget to outsource or speed of delivery. Qualitative interviews will give you more depth ensure you capture the detail in the same format.

Running the qualitative interviews yourself, rather than outsourcing, will give you a first hand depth of knowledge and start to build the relationships you need with all parts of the business. Get through the qualitative interviews within a 3-4 weeks on the outside.

Make a new best friend of all senior stakeholders.

Do not be subject to Corporate Peacocking. Just because one area of the business is exceptionally proud of what they have put in place, or the process by which they have done so, does not mean that this should take up a special proportion of your time for the team to demo.

In the research for your universe of projects it’s worth starting to capture the criteria that you’ll need to filter on later. Understand:

  • What is the problem that the project is trying to solve?
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • Is the project yet in process, or planned?
  • Is it an idea or a well-formed project?
  • Do the team have budget?
  • Who are the key stakeholders involved?

Add projects that should exist

Once you have your universe of projects – and there may be a significant number — remember that’s not it. That’s just all the projects that have been considered by the business to date. YOU are the specialist.

Revisit the strategy, check out the business objectives or strategic imperatives, consider what else should be undertaken to deliver those?

Have a quick review of your direct competition, look out wider at your industry, consider what is best in class not related to your industry that could also help you to deliver the company business objectives. The best answers may not exist within your industry.

Add projects that you believe should be part of the project universe.

Rules for setting prioritisation criteria

Next, is the tricky bit. You need to decide which criteria to apply and what ranking they have. There is no one solutions as it will entirely depend on your business objectives and the focus and ethos of your business.

For example, are you a customer-centric business or, say, more sales driven? Does global market domination matter more to the business than product excellence? All of these factors will steer the order and the ranking of your prioritisation criteria.

Some business-as-usual factors may also come into play, for example, does an internal tool, licence, platform need replacing due to obsolescence, end of contract, or fitness for service delivery?

One of the ways in which you get the ranking in the right order is to pick two criteria and say to yourself you can have this, but not this, which would you choose if you had to? They both may be important, but it will give you the ranking order.

Here below are the most common prioritisation criteria for you.

  • Is there a clear problem that the solution is trying to solve?
  • Does it deliver against the business objectives?
  • Is there a high chance of early, demonstrable success?
  • Are the team/service owners ready for the change?

Depending on your business or organisational ethos, you may also want to include

  • Will it save costs?
  • Will it drive revenue?
  • Does it have tangible user or customer benefit?
  • Does it demonstrate our thought leadership?
  • Is it supportive of our product roadmap?
  • Is it building a solid foundation for future growth?
  • Is it impactful?
  • Does this positive impact the highest number of customers?
  • Does this positively impact the highest revenue product/service/customer group?

Once you have your criteria and rank its up to you how you apply this. Whether you develop a score or scorecard or have your digital project team assess each case in situe to determine your digital transformation pipeline is dependent upon your team, resources and timeframe.

Next month we’ll look at digital programme governance — how to manage your new pipeline and later we’ll look at optimal team design.

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