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Adapt Quickly During Disruptive Times: Lean Digital Transformation

If these past three months have taught us anything, it’s that every organization needs to know how to act rapidly to adopt digital change. If your organization had not begun a large-scale digital transformation effort before the current health crisis, how can you adapt and transform digitally in short order? Lean digital transformation can help you adapt quickly during disruptive times.

Digital transformation efforts for large organizations are typically marathons, not 100-yard dashes. They require looking at every aspect of how your organization delivers services to key constituents, manages work and information internally, customer needs and behaviors, and your current ecosystem of digital products. 

Lean digital transformation uses the principles of lean management and agile methodologies to help your organization quickly apply a digital solution that helps you continue to improve the delivery of your mission. Let’s look at how three of these principles, when applied across your organization, can help you move quickly and nimbly to adopt digital change.

Ask and listen to uncover opportunities

The first step in any lean digital transformation is to identify where opportunities exist to address your most pressing challenges. Today, most organizations are seeing normal operating procedures unavoidably disrupted, revenue streams threatened or reduced, and service delivery to constituents strained. Project leaders, department directors, and staff need to keep  their ears to the ground, listen to each other, and ask their constituents and beneficiaries “What’s hardest for you right now? What’s the most pressing challenge, if we could improve even slightly, that would make a difference?”

Large-scale digital transformation strategy takes a comprehensive approach to this listening – organization-wide interviews and surveys of leadership, of customers, of staff, of members. We use what we learn to craft long-term plans (typically two to five years) that are designed to systematically improve the entire organization through digital over that time. Lean digital transformation, in contrast, looks for challenges that rapid digital interventions can directly address in the near term.

One Forum One client, a large international association whose revenue depends heavily on hundreds of events and member convenings a year has seen that revenue threatened in the face of stay at home orders and the pandemic. Out of necessity, they pivoted to adopt virtual events, but they also asked their teams, “where else can we find ways to experiment to create new revenue streams?”. Books, and one handbook, in particular, are extremely popular with their membership — dog-eared and marked-up copies likely sitting on the desks of thousands of professionals. The publications and communications team saw an opportunity to create a digital version of the handbook adding value for their membership and introducing a new revenue source.

Ideate potential solutions

Once you’ve identified key areas where digital adoption can help remove blockers or issues, then we like the lean “design sprint” approach to quickly identifying solutions. This can be a five-day to two-week process focused on five steps that develop a solution to a particular problem:

  1. Mapping out the problem
  2. Brainstorming possible solutions
  3. Selecting the strongest idea and creating a testable solution
  4. Creating a high-fidelity prototype
  5. Testing your prototype with real users and gathering feedback, including user reactions, to see if your solution is viable

Design sprints are typically used for rapid product development, but we think the format can work well even if you’re not necessarily designing a digital product. You may be looking for ways to streamline a process, address a challenge brought on by some externality or disruptor (hello COVID19!), or work through a company pain point. In these cases, the solution you brainstorm may not be just a digital product, and your prototype doesn’t have to be a software or online prototype, it could be an agreed-upon new way of working, creation of a new team or task force, and any digital tools or changes to existing digital systems that could support it.

Measure and iterate

At the core of lean principles is rapidly adjusting to feedback. Once you have landed on a solution that your rapid design sprint based testing indicates could be a viable one, you need to get it into the hands of users,  measure its performance, and plan to iterate based upon what you learn.

For our association client that’s developing the first digital version of the handbook for members, we’re not over-investing in a long list of features that we think members will love, we’re starting with a modest investment to make the core product available – focusing on ease of use and some required integration with the association management software (AMS) to make purchasing as simple as possible. Once launched, we’ll not only assess members’ behaviors with an e-handbook, we’ll also ask them directly what can make the product more useful.

Digital transformation can be daunting and feel overwhelmingly hard to execute upon, especially for large organizations that have operated for years or decades in mostly non-digital modes. It’s made even more challenging by the current conditions, which are making rapid change a necessity, not a glacial evolution. These lean digital transformation principles can be a great way to unblock your teams.

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