A First-Time Project Manager's Guide to Digital Transformation

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: May 12, 2023

If you have been selected to be the project manager for your digital transformation or ERP implementation, chances are high that this is your first time leading such a project. So, what do you need to know and what do you need to do as a first-time project manager?

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Many organizations we work with have appointed internal project managers who may be talented and skilled in project management but lack experience in managing a digital transformation or ERP implementation. As a result, many first-time project managers face challenges and complexities specific to digital transformations that they were not prepared for. Digital transformations and ERP implementations differ significantly from other projects they may have managed.

Today, we want to address some of the key things you need to know and prepare for in order to be a successful first-time project manager in your digital transformation.

Gain Executive and Business Buy In

One of the first things you need to do as a first-time project manager, or any type of project manager for that matter, is to ensure that you have executive and business buy-in for the project. Specifically, you need to make sure that people not only support the project but also actively participate in it. This is particularly crucial if you are a project manager appointed by the IT department or if you work within the IT department and serve as the IT project manager for an implementation. In such cases, it is even more important to involve and leverage the business stakeholders and executives who are essential for project success.

There are a few ways to accomplish this. First, establish an executive steering committee consisting primarily of executives and business stakeholders. This committee should provide decision-making support, set parameters, and ensure governance for the project. Second, create a network of project core team members and subject matter experts who can offer the necessary business expertise and knowledge to drive project success.

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Understand Program Management vs Project Management

Another important aspect to recognize as a first-time project manager is that what you're handling is not just a project; it's actually a program. The technical project is just one component of the overall transformation. Your role entails managing not only the technology work stream but also organizational change management, business process improvement, architecture, data migration, integration, and overall governance. All of these aspects are crucial to the success of a digital transformation.

While we won't delve into all of these details in this article, we encourage you to watch another video from my YouTube channel, which you can find below. In this video, I discuss the difference between program and project management, as well as the various work streams that constitute a comprehensive program. This resource will provide you with valuable insights to ensure your success as a project manager.

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Focus on Change Management

The next crucial step, arguably the most important one for a first-time project manager, is to prioritize and heavily invest in organizational change management. It is essential to establish a robust change strategy and plan right from the beginning. If you have already started the project without one, I recommend pausing for a moment and ensuring its development. If you lack the expertise to do so, consider hiring a specialized company like Third Stage Consulting to assist you with change management and related matters.

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Understand the Art and Science of Project Management

The next important aspect to acknowledge, particularly as a first-time project manager with experience in project management outside of digital transformation, is to understand the distinction between the art and science of project management. While you may hold a PMP certification and possess proficiency in tools like Microsoft Project, managing Gantt charts, risk logs, and risk mitigation logs, it's crucial to recognize that project management encompasses both science and art.

The scientific aspects, such as following established processes and utilizing project management tools, are undoubtedly important. However, there is also an artistic side to project management, which involves considering nuances beyond the completion of tasks on time. It focuses on assessing whether tasks were executed correctly and to a high standard of quality. Sometimes, even if a deliverable appears complete on paper, it may lack thoroughness or effectiveness, rendering it incomplete in reality. This exemplifies the importance of the art side in digital transformation project management.

To excel as a project manager, it can be beneficial to engage the expertise of an independent third-party provider, such as Third Stage Consulting. Our project management professionals can serve as an extension of your team, helping you address the artistic aspects of project management. By doing so, they enhance your chances of success and ensure that you effectively navigate the art side of project management, complementing the skills you already possess.

Start with A Clear Digital Strategy

Now, the final recommendation I have for a first-time project manager is to establish a clear digital strategy and a comprehensive project plan. It is crucial to ensure that both the strategy and plan are realistic and thorough. As mentioned earlier, program management differs from project management, and as a project manager, you should operate at the program level.

The first step is to develop a robust program that aligns with your organization's goals and characteristics. It is highly unlikely that you will find a standard, one-size-fits-all plan from your vendor or system integrator. Instead, you will likely need to tailor the plans to suit your specific circumstances and reflect your organization's identity and aspirations.

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If you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, we would love to have a brainstorming session with you. Please contact me if you have any questions eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

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Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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