Doesn’t sound very helpful, right? But really, in our line of work we see companies trying their hardest to fail at digital transformation every single day. Or so it seems. Naturally, no one wants to fail at digital transformation, but judging from companies’ actions one could start to wonder if they do want to fail.

So, what could be the reasons why we see these patterns? We believe there are several misconceptions surrounding digital transformation which set companies on the wrong path from the start. We could begin from, what the **** is digital transformation? Or more specifically from the word “Transformation”.

First, ‘transformation’ is not equal to ‘change’. Since c-level executives and other senior management sometimes might have a bit of a problem believing young, startup consultants running around consulting in their t-shirts, I will quote Harvard Business Review.

In an article called “We still don’t know the difference between change and transformation”, they define change as follows.

“means implementing finite initiatives, […] The focus is on executing a well-defined shift in the way things work”

Transformation on the other hand is quite different per the HBR article.

“The overall goal of transformation is […] to reinvent the organization and discover a new or revised business model based on a vision for the future. It’s much more unpredictable, iterative, and experimental. It entails much higher risk.”

Because of this mix up, companies end up in a situation where they severely underestimate complexity of digital transformation. In other words, digital transformation is just freaking hard. And honestly, I for one can’t blame the companies for making that mistake.

So, what do we think digital transformation is?

If you ask ten people what digital transformation is, you probably end up with ten different definitions.

Our definition of digital transformation is “a comprehensive plan for how to transform from your company at the core and redefining your core business through digital”.

Another thing that we are very convinced about and always tell our clients is “Digital transformation is not about technology – it is about strategy and new ways of thinking”. With that we try to tell our customers that the technology is just an enabler. The magic happens when you unlearn everything you take for granted, apply the new set of rules technological advances have brought to the table and redesign the way to do business.

The top tips for making sure transformation fails

#1 Try bottom-up transformation

Transformation must be led from the top, it is something the CEO, the senior management team and even the board need to stand united behind. There is no other way. The transformation journey will be so bumpy, filled with uncertainty and surprises that there is no other way that you will survive and get the proper funding. So if you want to fail, do it bottom up!

#2 Don’t bother setting a shared vision

From the start the company needs to understand that this is no technical project or IT undertaking. This is about the core of the business and it will require intense attention from business people. You cannot transform the way you do business by pushing the initiative to IT. So if you want to fail, hand it over to IT and “let them handle it”.

#3 Work in silos and functional teams

Successful transformation requires cross functional teams. Since digital transformation happens at the cross roads of technology and business you will need a cross functional team leading the transformation. And people will run in to regulatory issues, or at least people will say the magic words “due to regulation”. So make sure you have your most curious and adventurous lawyer hooked up to the team as well. But if you fail, make sure to push it into some silo or just one functional department and “let them handle it”.

#4 Don’t put your A-team on it

Transformation isn’t a walk in the park. Far from it. You will need the best of your people onboard if you want to pull through. Since we’re dealing with a mix of technology, business, and changing how people are supposed to do their work and see your products, you will need some hard-core communicators and bridge builders who can get people on board and excited. But, then again, if you want to fail, just assign some bodies to it and “let them handle it”.

#5 Do everything in-house

Transformation is a lot about changing ways of working so brining in external experts will increase the odds of thinking fresh and building truly new and improved ways of doing business. On the other hand, to fail, don’t bring in external experts. What are consultants good for anyways?