The moment of truth: How important is project management to the digital transformation?

Dr. Eric Schott describes, how project management can reduce the gap between the digital claim and real implementation capacity.

Conversion, further development or realignment of existing processes: new digitization technologies make "digital transformation" a core competence.

2016 is the year in which the “digital transformation” will lead to concrete projects. This view is also shared by market researchers and analysts. From a recent study: “Digitalization moves from an innovative trend to a core competency.” And that is a view that is also shared by Campana & Schott.

In any case, all affected companies will have to complete a large number of projects to implement the digital transformation, with the objective of converting, enhancing or fundamentally revising their processes with hitherto unknown capabilities, which are fuelled by the massive use of new digitisation technologies. But even if IT is the engine of digital transformation, the navigation nevertheless comes from the business divisions that are close to the customer. And in the end it is these divisions that drive the digital transformation.

But at the beginning of 2016, a visible discrepancy still exists between digital requirements and the actual ability to implement. The main question in this regard: which concrete projects are required, and how must they be planned and managed? Campana & Schott has been managing such projects for some time. Usually, these projects require top management to play a strong role - hence there is no lack of visibility or budgets. But the most critical success factor is the right project management. What are some of the concrete features that we have noticed in past projects, and what are our concrete recommendations?

  • Project management does not have to be comprehensive. A focus on the key project management deliverables (scope, schedule, project status, risks, benefit planning) is sufficient.
  • At the core of project planning is the definition of so-called waves or release sequences, starting with the question: What do we want to deliver at what point in time? The cycles between the waves must be kept short (1-3 months).
  • The contents of the waves are defined in agile planning processes and are synchronised through milestones.
  • The planning of the agile implementation steps, together with the ability to manage dependencies (between several digital transformation projects) and an analysis of alternative scenarios recommend the use of project management tools such as Microsoft Project.
  • It is overseen by scope management, which ensures that changes to the scope (what results is the project supposed to deliver in which phase?) can be identified early on, managed accordingly and depicted in the project planning process. Changes to the business case or business model play a key role in changes to scope.
  • Speed and the delivery of results are always at the forefront - fast results count, while iterations and extensions come later on.
  • Another factor that must be considered for project planning purposes: when and how does the customer become involved? Fixed dates for the first tests, customer presentations, feedback loops form the framework in this context.
  • Vendors and external partners (software suppliers, consulting partners, other service providers) are integrated into project planning. If required, sub-plans of vendors are automatically integrated into overall planning.
  • Planning must also include the early integration of the post-go-live process (what happens after the end of the project?). At that point, the date for the planned set-up and transfer to the new organisational structures, along with the design of the “operation in the new line”, should be clarified.
  • Governance and management of the program is performed in a business-oriented style and no longer organisation-focused: Management activities are determined by the units or persons that in the end are responsible for the planned benefits (whereby benefits refer to increased revenues, higher customer retention, brand loyalty etc.).
  • If project planning is outsourced to an external partner, it is very important to adhere to a division of labour between management and delivery: Overall project planning and management activities should never be performed by the vendor or software manufacturer, but rather by a neutral and independent third party.

And what is the essential part of all these experiences? Notwithstanding the dynamic growth of the digital transformation - consistent project planning and management are the key to success.