A staggering 70% of all digital transformation initiatives fail, according to recent research by the Boston Consulting Group. Comparable studies come to similar conclusions. Mc Kinsey, for example, points out that in more traditional industries, such as automotive, infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals, digital transformations are even more challenging and success rates fall as low as somewhere between 4 and 11 percent.
This high number of failed IT projects is not to be attributed to technological limitations. Rather, digital initiatives fail primarily because of the human dimension; for instance due to missing approval or lack of support from specific departments or top management, disagreements between IT and business, or often changing and unclear project objectives.
To address and minimize these project risks we, at Avenga, created a Digital Excellence Sprint. Our VP of Technology, Roland Guelle, explains what it is all about, how the new solution approach was developed and how companies’ IT projects benefit from it.
Avenga Magazine: Hi Roland. You initiated the development of the Digital Excellent Sprint, didn’t you? How and when did it come into being?
Roland Guelle: The idea was born in mid-2020 and by the end of the year the Digital Excellence Sprint had already become a part of our offering portfolio.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Avenga consists of a mature team of proficient digital consultants and specialists in UX prototyping, solution engineering, and architecture assessment. The extent to which we provide these services within an IT project naturally depends on the type of project and our assignment. Sometimes only separate elements, features or enhancements are asked for, sometimes there is a need for the complete package. Following the wheel metaphor, you could say that the spokes, center disc, bore, lug holes, etc., already existed. We have just put the individual separate parts together so that customers can receive an off-the-shelf solution that makes complex IT projects roll quickly and safely towards their destination.
The result and, above all, the feedback from our business partners definitely calls for a question: Why didn’t we do this earlier?
Avenga Magazine: So, let’s ask exactly this question. Why wasn’t the Digital Excellence Sprint developed much earlier? Was there a specific reason to create it now?
Roland Guelle: IT projects are getting bigger and more complex. This means that more and more systems are affected, and the number of stakeholders involved is also increasing. At some point conventional methods and requirements, as well as functional specifications, are no longer sufficient. In addition, it is well-known that at times, communication between the IT and business departments can be pretty arduous and ambiguous, and misinterpretations tend to happen.
Last year, one of the partners asked us to help with a proposal for a large digitization project. Initially, we planned to create a regular PowerPoint presentation for their management to explain what we suggested to do and how much this would be.
However, right at the beginning of the process, it became apparent that the complexity of the project could not be adequately demonstrated in a presentation. The risk that the inevitable abstraction of the problem could lead to misunderstandings was quite apparent. So, we came up with an idea to present the solution in the form of a prototype and at the same time check its feasibility and functionality in its interaction with the overall architecture.
Looking back, it sounds completely logical to compare the vision directly to the technical feasibility; i.e., the limitations and challenges posed by the existing software and IT. In practice, however, this comparison is often neglected, for example, when a business considers a solution without consulting IT first.
Avenga Magazine: Does the Digital Excellence Sprint always make sense? And are there any alternatives?
Roland Guelle: The Digital Excellence Sprint makes sense for every complex IT project in which the requirements and the implementation framework are unclear. But, of course, there are alternatives; they always exist.
In our case, one would have been to get started right away without much fussing around. However, the more complex the project is, the more likely unpleasant surprises are to surface along the way.
Another option is an extensive analysis of the status quo coupled with long-term planning. Experience shows though, that if there is too much theory then practice often falls by the wayside. So, often the teams don’t get to the implementation phase because they get bogged down in the details and the daily operations’ routines keep getting in the way.
Either way, the Digital Excellence Sprint saves a considerable amount of time for organizations that are starting a project. The solution, presented during our first Digital Excellence Sprint, for example, went live at the beginning of this year. Such a high speed implementation would never have been possible without the preparatory work being done.
Avenga Magazine: Avenga has only been offering the Digital Excellence Sprint for a short time. How is it different from traditional approaches or those of other IT service providers?
Roland Guelle: Prototyping is not new. However, it is often carried out either outside the existing IT – inside an ivory tower, so to speak. There, you have all the freedom you need to come up with something beautiful – only to realize at some later point that it can’t be implemented at all. Or the prototype has a purely technical character, based on the motto of “It’s doable, so let’s do it.” However, this still leaves one crucial question unanswered: What should the end result look like, so that it best fulfills its intended purpose?
The advantage of the Digital Excellence Sprint, which we deliberately limit to two weeks, is that business and IT are brought together right at the start. The compact format ensures that the UX/product and the technology/existing infrastructure are thought of together at the onset and that there is a viable result at the end of the sprint. And not in the form of a presentation, but in the form of a clear prototype that you can touch and try out, and that doesn’t ignore existing solutions.
Avenga Magazine: Are there any other benefits that come with the Digital Excellence Sprint?
Roland Guelle: By bringing business and IT together at the stage of conceptualization, all stakeholders have the legitimate perception that they can share their needs, requirements and objections. They become active participants, which greatly increases acceptance of the project within the company. Besides, it doesn’t just allow for the demonstration of the solution’s basic feasibility after the sprint, but it also reflects the effort involved in the implementation along with the costs, so it can be estimated much more precisely. What should also be pointed out is that the Digital Excellence Sprint is a comparatively low investment for companies, both in terms of time and money. Nevertheless, it can protect against very expensive failures.
Avenga Magazine: Why the specific artificial limitation to two weeks?
Roland Guelle: The two weeks time frame is based upon experience. The concise format allows us and the customer to staff the Digital Excellence Sprint with top management representatives able to make important decisions on the spot. At the same time, it also offers the opportunity to involve the necessary departments, at least partially, which is often not possible under other circumstances. This way no one is isolated, neither team members nor management, and the most critical issues can be resolved quickly and easily.
In addition, the artificial limitation implies a result; similar to what we know from hackathons or other prototyping sessions. Finally, the customer can stay up to date with both the product requirements and the status of the IT infrastructure. At the end of the sprint, everyone involved in the project has a clear picture of where the journey is headed, what its goal is, and what stumbling blocks may be in the way.
Avenga Magazine: What are the prerequisites for a successful Digital Excellence Sprint?
Roland Guelle: Basically, it’s management recognizing that there is a need for action.
Avenga Magazine: What exactly happens during the Digital Excellence Sprint? Who takes part in it? What are the stages? Is every Digital Excellence Sprint the same?
Roland Guelle: The initial point is always pretty much the same: The customer is facing a challenge and is not sure about the best way to overcome it. The Digital Excellence Sprint varies as much as the issues differ.
What is certain, is the team setup on our side, the time span, and the outcome. After two weeks, there must be a prototype, a click dummy, which we present and the customer can try out. The process is always the same as well. We start with a workshop in which our goal is to understand the status quo and the challenges. During the sprint, we then work out what a solution might look like, which systems are affected, and how we can get the data we need.
Avenga Magazine: What was the most important thing that you learned working within the Digital Excellence Sprint? Are there any interesting insights from previous projects?
Roland Guelle: What comes across clearly during the Digital Excellence Sprint is the infinite number of ways you can solve a problem. Everyone has their own requirements, preferences, and ideas, due to their position and associated function, but also due to their personal history and accumulated experience. Ultimately, even architectural decision templates are filled in by people and thus have a subjective aspect. That’s why it shows time and again: The earlier you bring all the stakeholders together at one table, the better the chances are of being able to respond to and satisfy their various needs.
Another important finding is that the Digital Excellence Sprint often helps to identify problems at the earliest stage. As a consequence, they can usually be dealt with far cheaper and with less effort. On top of that costs can also be planned much better from the outset. During one of the projects, for instance, we noticed that an interface existed on paper, but it did not work for our business partner in the installed software version. Therefore, an additional license had to be purchased.
If this had been discovered at a later stage, the project would have been severely delayed, more likely by months, not just weeks.
Avenga Magazine: Are there any customers who have already benefited from the Digital Excellence Sprint?
Roland Guelle: The Digital Excellence Sprint is becoming very popular and has already kicked off several successful IT projects for a number of companies. These include larger organizations that are better known in the DACH region, but also some global players. Unfortunately, their names are under NDAs, so I can’t tell you too much. But, the portfolio of our clients benefiting from the Digital Excellence Sprint keeps growing.
Avenga Magazine: Roland, thank you very much for taking the time and, of course, for an interesting interview.