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Digitalisation – watch out for ‘big bang’ myths

Or how agile thinking can help divide things down into bite-sized chunks and limit risks

If you look up the term ‘digitalisation’ on Google, you will get 5 million hits. A great many of this number will be offers to attend conferences or will claim to provide the perfect solution for your company. Digitalisation is all the rage.

But this is no passing fashion. Digitalisation has been a factor in the corporate world since the dawn of the IT age. What’s different today is how it has spread to every stratum in an organisation.

Technological advances have today opened up a way to maintain a steady flow of information between business units and administrative departments. Sometimes even customers will be included in this information flow.

This flow of information yields substantial benefits. The data are better quality and readily available. When used properly, these new types of flows will help companies rise above the competition, both now and later on.

As with all technological advances, those organisations that miss the boat are far less likely to survive in the medium to long term.

Though that message seems to be becoming received wisdom, many companies are reluctant to take the plunge or do not know how to get started.

The principle of agile project management – because what we are dealing with here are digitalisation projects – stems from the world of IT and emerged during the run-up to another apocalyptic event: the Y2K bug. At the time, companies were exasperated by the swelling costs and ever-longer timelines for IT projects. Two decades have since elapsed, methods have become more focused, technology has been upgraded, and a more balanced apportionment of project responsibilities is today seen as a prerequisite for success.

Agile management divvies up a project into small deliverables, each of which gradually brings you closer to the end goal and, most importantly, yields measurable results.

This is a far cry from conventional approaches in which we spend two or three years hammering out our goals with nothing tangible to show for it.

Unfortunately, the old methods are proving hard to kill off, meaning that many companies are likely to struggle in implementing digitalisation.

What can companies do to start on the right foot and reduce the risks of getting bogged down along the way? There are two keys:

  • Choose a business partner who knows how to work with agile methods

  • Be ready to free up time for your best elements, i.e. those who know your business inside out

But watch out: steer clear of companies that offer you a turnkey solution in which you’ll solely be required to take part in needs-assessment interviews and steering committee meetings.

To make a success of digitalisation, the content and the pace of deliverables must remain within your control. In agile thinking, this type of responsibility is delegated to the product owner.

And you especially need to be careful if your consultant offers to supply a product owner. This responsibility needs to be handled inside the company and entrusted to someone who both has experience of the business and can take a detached view of existing procedures.

How can we successfully implement a digitalisation project? Take it step by step while having the end goal constantly in mind. Agile methods are a clever way of meeting this challenge, which is common to all companies and institutions – provided that everyone takes responsibility where they need to.

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