Digital Transformation
Business Transformation

How to plan and lead digital transformation projects in 5 steps

This article outlines the questions you need to answer, the steps you should follow, and the areas you should understand in order to embark on a successful digital transformation.

Robert Mitson
Robert Mitson
Staircase of a modern building

Digital transformation projects can fundamentally change the way organisations create value. The adoption of technology, the growing reliance on digital systems, and the burgeoning ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ each present significant benefits to the way that we conduct business. From predictive analytics, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, to software that enhances collaboration, organisations are leveraging technology to create, capture, and deliver value in new and innovative ways.

For many organisations, however, the challenges of digital transformation are still being grappled with, and leaders are struggling to navigate the minefield of how best to lead transformational projects. A recent survey published by The Wall Street Journal found that digital transformation risk was the number one concern amongst CEOs and senior executives in 2019.1 This is understandable: Transformations of any kind are rarely straightforward, especially not the digital ones. Data shows that organisations who embark on a digital business strategy have a success rate of less than 30%.2 The outlook isn’t any brighter when taking a closer look, as the same research reveals that even tech-savvy organisations such as media and telecommunications have a success rate of below 26% with respect to digital transformation projects.


The 5 steps of a successful transformation project

Whilst understanding the full scope of digital transformation can seem arcane, understanding the necessary steps to successfully implement a digital business strategy in your own organisation will be vital in securing your company’s future. A successful digital transformation project can be broken down into the following five steps:

  1. Strategy - being clear on what you hope to achieve
  2. Culture - ensuring that you nurture a culture that promotes transformation
  3. Leadership - making sure you have the right people leading your project
  4. Communication - being clear and transparent throughout, and
  5. Technology - selecting the best technology and using it to its full potential.

This article outlines the questions you need to answer, the steps you should follow, and the areas you should understand in order to embark on a successful digital transformation.


1. Strategy - be clear on what you hope to achieve

Before embarking on a transformation project, it is important that leaders understand what it is that they want to achieve through their digital transformation strategy. Having clarity on the objectives of your transformation and being able to communicate these effectively is key in selling the changes into your organisation. Consider this process like making a motion picture, and therefore you must begin with writing the script. What characters are involved? What scenarios are they going to be put through? And what will the ultimate outcome be?

To help you navigate this preliminary phase of your digital transformation project, there are a number of important questions that you must ask and answer:

What do you hope to achieve with your transformation project and how does it align with your overall business strategy?

Before you can effectively lead a digital transformation project, you have to be absolutely clear on your rationale for doing it at all. Start by asking yourself ‘what is digital transformation?’ and consider what it means in the context of your organisation. Digital transformation projects will represent a significant investment in terms of time and money, and in order for you to be successful in leading it, you must clearly define the intended benefits, and ensure these connect and align with your overall business strategy.

How strong is your current business strategy?

In reviewing the intended benefits of digital transformation against your overall business strategy, you will be able to determine the strength of your strategy and can highlight any weaknesses and inconsistencies. Is your business strategy fit for purpose? Is it guiding you towards a prosperous future, or does it risk you being left behind? You will want to address these issues before investing in a digital transformation, to ensure you do not stray from your course.

How well is your business strategy understood by those you foresee being involved in the transformation?

A key component for success in your digital transformation project is ensuring that your team remains unified behind a common vision. Before you can transform your organisation, it is vital that your employees understand the strategy that they are working to and the goals that you hope to achieve as a collective. These goals will need to be distilled into the context of the transformation, to guarantee that your people understand and embrace the need for change.

What are the potential objections and fears regarding a digital transformation?

A digital transformation will be a dramatic shift in the way your organisation operates, and will have a marked impact on the culture of your company as a whole. Change can bring anxiety and fear to the fore, and can also bring about objections and dissent. You want to clearly map out all of the possible fears and objections that may arise as a result of your transformation project and consider how you will tackle objections and alleviate fears. In order to do this effectively, you must first address your own concerns. This will enable you to lead by example, demonstrating that the changes to your organisation aren’t to be feared.

Who should lead your digital transformation?

Before launching a digital transformation, it is important to ask yourself this question. You will likely have a gut feeling as to who should lead your digital transformation project, however, this is an important task and is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Your digital transformation lead will require a broad set of skills to ensure that the project runs smoothly and is successful. We will explore this in more detail later in this article.


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2. Culture - establish and sustain a transformation culture

Culture is a pivotal, and often overlooked, factor of transformational projects. According to Boston Consulting Group, organisations who focus on culture as a component of their digital business strategy were more than five times more likely to be successful in achieving it.3 In order to embed new working practices and foster innovation and collaboration, it is imperative that you create and sustain a culture of transformation, where employees are engaged and contribute fully to the transformation process. This includes allowing your people to experiment, make mistakes, learn, and develop, so that new ideas can be generated and fresh approaches can be trialled. You want your teams to be outward looking, focussing on value to customers, as opposed to being company-centric.

When addressing the issue of culture, it is important to reward boldness rather than caution, as you want people to fail as quickly as possible, learn from it, and grow. Failure to create a transformational culture as a part of your digital transformation project can lead to a number of downsides:

  • First and foremost, a disengaged workforce will not be quick to adopt new processes and new technology, and adoption at all levels of your company will be key.
  • Secondly, misalignment between your teams will work against the goals and objectives of your strategy, which is dangerous at a time when you will be looking for success stories to communicate to the wider business as evidence of the benefits of the transformation project.

Organisations who focus on culture as a component of their digital business strategy are more than five times more likely to be successful in achieving it.

Boston Consulting Group

3. Leadership - choosing the right people to lead your transformational project

Who should lead your digital transformation? As previously mentioned, taking on the challenge of transformation leadership is no mean feat, and it requires people with both the technical and soft skills necessary to galvanise employees behind your vision. Organisations frequently choose to bring in outside consultants to lead transformational projects, and whilst outside support and expertise will be necessary, it should be supplemented with a team of ‘insiders’ who know the business and its objectives, and whom you can trust. Holding train the trainer sessions is an effective way of embedding change and ensuring that it is communicated in the language of your organisation.

Leaders should be careful when selecting transformation leads. Digital transformation projects require a cross-functional team, with a blend of technical expertise and emotional intelligence. In addition, executives need to be sure that their digital business strategy is being implemented by management who are unified rather than each pursuing separate agendas.

Emotional intelligence is frequently overlooked in the transformation process; emotionally intelligent transformation leads will be instrumental in:

  • achieving buy-in from your employees
  • quelling any concerns and alleviating fears
  • getting employees excited about the opportunities that exist in your newly transformed organisation


4. Communication - the key to alignment in a digital transformation project

Communication is a vital component in order for you to lead the way for digital transformation in your organisation. Without buy-in from employees, leaders will find it impossible to realise the benefits of a digital transformation project. Therefore, clear communication should be a top priority throughout the transformation process. In order to communicate effectively throughout your digital transformation, the following techniques are worth considering:

  • Regular email updates on the progress of the project
  • Creating an internal blog to share updates and insights
  • Maintaining forums for discussion on tools such as Slack and Teams
  • Using polls and surveys to encourage feedback
  • Reviewing analytics and data to track adoption and highlight areas for improvement

Not only will this enable you to make the goals of the transformation project clear, it will also allow you to build transparency into the way that you lead the digital transformation as a whole. This transparency will be hugely valuable, as, once transformed, your organisation should value delegation and transparency over control and hierarchy.


5. Technology - Choose tools that will support the transformation process

By 2022, it is estimated that organisations will spend nearly $2 trillion USD on digital transformation projects, with much of this investment going towards the technology itself. When leading a digital transformation, executives seek to:

  • increase efficiency 
  • reduce costs 
  • and find new ways to create, capture and deliver value to their customers

It therefore goes without saying that companies need to be highly selective when choosing the digital tools for their transformation projects. As leaders research, evaluate and budget for the technology that their organisation will require for an effective transformation, it is essential that they do the following:

Determine the intended use of the technology

This should link clearly to the overall strategy of both the business and the digital transformation. It is very important that digital transformation leads fully understand the scope of the products they are evaluating. Do not be afraid to ask seemingly ‘stupid’ questions during this process, as a full understanding is crucial before making any decisions.

Assess the capabilities of employees

With a huge number of different platforms and pieces of software available, it is easy to get lost in a sea of features, interfaces and solutions. When selecting tools, it is important to assess the capabilities of your employees and ensure that your chosen solution is user-friendly, offers solid support, and allows individuals to use the tool to its full potential. Regardless of their level of familiarity with technology.


Make the most of your transformation projects

Whilst it’s clear there are no quick fixes in implementing a digital transformation, there are a number of simple steps that you can follow to ensure that your transformational project gets off to the best start possible. By preparing thoroughly, cultivating a transformation culture, ensuring the right people are involved, and choosing technology that suits your needs and your people, you will be able to successfully lead the way in your digital transformation project.

We are pleased to be helping digital transformation leads all around the world to ensure that they deliver successful projects. Our meeting management software enhances collaboration and enables executives to lead the way for digital transformation.

Do you want to read more about Digital Transformation?

'The role of Culture in Digital Transformation', WSJ, 2019.

'The people power of transformations', McKinsey, 2017.

'How to drive a digital transformation: culture is key', BCG, 2018.

Robert Mitson
Robert Mitson
About the author
Robert is passionate about shaping and communicating value, and in his work as English Content Specialist he creates insight to help leaders across Europe to make every meeting count.