And other challenges  (and how YOU can avoid this!)

This is a story about how one digital project failed, but it’s an all too common story.   As digital moves from something only marketing cares about to something integrated into the fabric of a company, digital projects get harder.  Here is why they fail and what can be done.

After months of work and years of category experience I presented a plan to senior management.  It was one of my best and the manager said “That’s a game changer – let’s go!”

He was right. It was a game changer and destined for success.

Given such a strong start you’d expect to be reading about this now in CMO magazine, so what happened?

Well the first thing that didn’t happen was the steering committee assigned to this project never had a meeting. It was impossible to get the group together so we were advised to go ahead and work through this without the guidance (or engagement) of senior management.

The regular meetings we set up with more focussed management also fell to the bottom of their priorities and in the entire 4 month period we only had two meetings with the full team. No one ever had the time.

Between meetings we continued with the work with no context from the client.   We’d arrive at meetings and no one would have the context, nor the time to look at it strategically, to pull it all together.

The IT department was involved, but only “sort of”.   Many of today’s IT departments don’t do much more than look after the servers.   I may sound harsh and be exaggerating but despite the declared focus on digital, agility and innovation, most IT departments never got the message and are just not equipped to contribute.   Even when they have the expertise, they don’t have permission or autonomy.

So, back to my game-changer. The marketing people got involved.  By this stage the project was a combination of marketing and technology.  It was pretty complicated and no one had the time or the experience to really come to grips with the innovation.  So they outsourced this component to software vendors, who promise “all this comes out of a box and you don’t need to worry!”

By now, the project that was due to be nearly finished and it’s not even started. To say the loss of momentum and motivation had an adverse impact is an understatement.

What were the key issues?

  • Innovation is difficult and non-linear but everyone wants to live the fairy tale that it’s not.
  • Innovation takes time and it can’t be done if it’s part of a crazy schedule and not prioritised by all the stakeholders.
  • Innovation takes a team and that needs a culture that aligns everyone’s priorities.
  • Innovation takes time and sometime it’s boring and takes real dedication and commitment to see it through the less glamorous parts of the journey.
  • Innovation is a way of working, not just a thing you do.

How would the 6 rules of digital innovation have helped ensure a better outcome?

  • A framework for innovation would have enabled a broad group of people to actually talk through the issues rather than ignore the issues.
  • We would have taken the time at the beginning to unite the team around shared values and common purpose. Values align leadership – no exception.
  • We would have built a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the innovation.
  • We would have checked that the culture would ensure an involved and engaged senior management team.

When innovation succeeds it’s because of the effort and alignment of a team.  When it fails it’s the teams failure.  Failure costs the same as success, you just don’t have any upside if it does not succeed!

So how do you give these projects every chance to succeed?

  • Create a framework for change and know your “why”.
  • Empower and align teams by engaging them in shared values, purpose and vision(s).
  • Set clear milestones and decide what to measure and how you will measure it.
  • Give people the time it takes to practice, experiment, reflect and make the adjustments along the way.
  • Trust that when people are aligned and engaged, they will be extraordinarily creative and productive.
  • Take responsibility for your role in the success of the project. Model the behaviours you seek in your team.
  • Foster and encourage a culture where creativity and innovation can flourish.