What is the Best Digital Transformation Methodology?

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: December 26, 2021

When embarking on a digital transformation, there is a variety of different implementation methodologies to choose from. In fact, these methodologies can oftentimes conflict with one another, and it can be difficult to know which methodology or methodologies to use.

Today, I will cover these questions:

  1. What are some of those major methodologies?
  2. How do they conflict with one another?
  3. How to decide the right fit for an organization?

Implementation methodologies are a critical part of any sort of digital transformation. They’re a key part of making sure that the implementation goes in a repeatable way or being able to scale across the business. They ensure the project has a chance to be on time, on budget, and ultimately deliver value.

Agile

One of the most common methodologies used in digital transformations today is the concept of agile methodology. In simple terms, agile is an approach that is focused on not taking the time upfront to define the business processes and the design of the software itself. The software and technology need to be identified as quickly as possible, even if it’s just to a limited number of people just to get some feedback.

This can run a bit counter to the traditional waterfall methodology, which is historically what software development and implementation consultants would use, which is more focused on having very clearly defined linear, sequential phases in a project, beginning with design and continuing through build, test, and then go-live.

Agile on the other hand is more focused on rapid deployment of technology and passing to end-users as fast as possible, even if it's imperfect. Then learning from feedback to improve technology throughout the organization. While agile can be a great way to speed things up, it also runs in contradiction to what a lot of organizations are trying to accomplish.

Many companies use digital transformations to create a standard business operating model or transition to a common platform to operate and run their business in different functions throughout the globe and throughout the organization. Oftentimes agile will run counter to that and inherently create conflict between the need to rapidly deploy technology and the need to have common standard business processes.

Agile is just one example of a methodology that can be used, and to be honest, it might be best to use it selectively to ensure the other goals and objectives are accomplished within a digital transformation.

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Lean Six Sigma

Another common methodology that's used not only in digital transformations but operationally for a lot of organizations throughout the world is Lean Six Sigma. This methodology focuses on clearly defined business processes, continuous improvement, measurement of those business processes, and reducing waste while increasing efficiency and effectiveness throughout an organization.

The two major components of Lean Six Sigma can sometimes be contradictory to other methodologies that are used in a digital transformation. The first is, having clear business process mapping or business process management. This is very similar to Agile as it focuses on not spending too much time defining business processes upfront in terms of end-to-end company-wide business processes, but just deploying technology as quickly as possible.

On the contrary, Lean Six Sigma and its business process management tend to focus on the opposite. This methodology emphasizes measurement and metrics to ensure optimization of operations efficiency and the functioning results of an organization. Lean Six Sigma is just one more methodology that should be considered when planning a digital transformation.

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Change Management / ADKAR

Change management is critical to any digital transformation. If you've watched any of my videos or worked with me in the past, you know that our organization and team focus very heavily on change management ensuring that we properly address the human factor of transformation. That's the key thing that's going to determine whether the project succeeds or fails.

When evaluating different change methodologies like Prosci, ADKAR methodology, or Kotter's methodology, oftentimes the findings reveal those approaches aren't aligned with other types of goals or other methodologies are being used. Now, going back to the Agile approach, oftentimes this practice is focused on the quick deployment of technology, whereas change management would suggest that there needs to be an upfront determining potential impacts on the organization.

In the end, there is a very subtle difference, but an important variance in the understanding tradeoffs and tensions between these two methodologies.  Regardless, there needs to be some sort of solid and very effective change management methodology to build from.

Customer Expirence

Customer experience is another methodology that's often used for digital transformations. A customer experience-focused digital transformation really concentrates on the customer journey.

A few questions that should be considered during the customer journey are:

  1. What is the customer's perspective when interacting with the organization?
  2. What does that customer journey look like?

When the focus is the customer journey perspective, try to optimize and maximize the customer journey in alignment with the business strategy. Sometimes that might suggest not being as efficient and prioritizing the customer over potential operational competencies.

This is contrary to Lean Six Sigma, which might suggest driving efficiencies and be as lean as possible. On the other hand, customer experience might suggest that it's okay not to be fully efficient. There might be times where the time is spent more on money and on inefficient processes in the name of ensuring the maximization of the customer experience.

There needs to be a deciding factor at the end of all of this. If operational efficiency this the main business objective, Lean Six Sigma would likely be the best choice. Or is maximizing the customer experience framework the main priority?

Customer experience is one more quiver in the toolbox. It's important to understand the benefits of using that deployment approach, but also recognizing where the deficiencies or the conflicts might be with other methodologies that are being considered.

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Software Vendor Methodologies

In addition to some of the general frameworks I've talked about like the change management methodologies, Lean Six Sigma, and Agile, it’s time to shift focus to software vendors themselves.

What are the methodologies they are using? They all have their own little unique nuances in terms of how they recommend deploying their technology. Oftentimes these vendor methodologies are focused on the quick deployment of their technologies at a fast pace, and it is as low of a cost as possible.

It makes sense why a software vendor would want to make sure that their customers can deploy the technologies as quickly and for as low a cost as possible, just to increase the success rate and to ensure that they have good case studies to support sales.

There are also deficiencies that need to be recognized as part of those vendor methodologies. A variety of steps are often missing, and they rarely focus on change management. They also don't have a Lean Six Sigma-centered approach which can cause long-term problems.

If those two things are important and they're not baked into the vendor methodology, I’m not suggesting abandoning that software completely. However, there needs to be flexibility within vendor methodology in order to ensure a successful and complete implementation plan.

In the end, probably the simplest way to think about this is to view the vendor implementation methodologies as a starting point. It's not the only way to deploy technology and one size does not fit all but, it is a start.

These vendor methodologies oftentimes focus on acceleration to speed up the implementation. Contrary to popular belief, faster is not always better. Sometimes in the quest to have a fast and cheap implementation, it may cost more time, resources, and money later. It is important to recognize the best pace and approach to achieve maximum value.

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PMBOK

Another methodology worth considering that you may be familiar with is PMBOK. Which is also known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge and is produced by the Project Management Institute. For a lot of people that are project management certified or PMI certified, they use the PMBOK methodologies to deploy their technologies.

Now, again, PMBOK is great, it adds a lot of great structure, foundation, and repeatable processes to the project management approach. However, it may or may not run counter with some of the other methodologies we've discussed. Since it can be such a powerful addition to implementation, it's important to recognize that there might be pieces of PMBOK that are important to the organization.

Choosing the Best Methodology

As you may have picked up on so far, there's no one size fits all answer to what sort of methodology might make the most sense for an organization. It's important to look at goals, objectives, and what is it that needs to be accomplished with this digital transformation.

Also, it is imperative to understand the company culture and how to incorporate that into the future of the organization. And ultimately which pieces of these methodologies might work together.

Do not forget, it is vital to identify potential conflicts or tensions between these different methodologies. That should be part of project governance and figuring out when to have a conflict between different schools of thought and different methodologies, frameworks, toolsets, and what is that decision process going to look like.

Resources

If you want to know more about methodologies and best practices for how to make your digital transformation more successful, I highly suggest you download the 2021 Digital Transformation Report which contains a number of software reviews, top 10 rankings, and best practices for digital transformations.

I hope you find this information useful. If you have any questions regarding the methodologies I covered in this blog, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. I am happy to be an informal sounding board as you move through your digital transformation journey.

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Author:
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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