Successfully Navigating Transformational Change in Digital Technology: Part Two

With the pace of change so rapid, companies are increasingly asking how they can leverage digital to their advantage, by identifying which solutions to invest in and, most difficult of all, successfully embed it within their organisation to achieve the benefits envisaged.

In the first article of our two-part series, we explored the importance of strategy and structure to guide an organisation’s digital solutions, as well as how leadership should create a culture of continuous improvement focused around Agile methodologies and cross-functional ways of working. However, saying you are using Agile and employing its principles isn’t enough to deliver the change. True change comes from ‘becoming’ agile - embedding an Agile approach through change management, communications and measurement of success. 

A different mindset to Change Management 

How would you define your organisation’s approach to change management when facing long-term digital technology, or other change transformations? Do you adopt the style of a marathon runner or a sprinter, or neither? Marathon runners have the stamina and qualities to think strategically across a prolonged period of time, remain consistent and persist when fatigued. On the other hand, sprinters have a more tactical mentality, concentrate all their energy into short sharp bursts of energy and make instantaneous decisions in critical seconds.

The majority of organisations employ a marathon runner or rapid Usain Bolt style sprinter approach. The result of these two approaches is that many organisations quickly become resistant to change – as evidenced by the well-known 70% rate of transformation projects that don’t reach their stated goals. These traditional approaches position change as an individual initiative, often isolated from the bigger picture within the organisation, or place the blame on organisational culture and people. In addition, the energy given to the change is often misaligned – higher at the start or end, lagging in the middle. By viewing the transformation as a distinct, static piece of work through a classic waterfall approach it often results in change fatigue as many stakeholders are faced with multiple change initiatives at any one time. In our view, to create sustainable, long-term transformations, whether technology-orientated or not, it requires a different approach and mindset. 

$1.3 trillion put into transformation initiatives but 70% wasted (i.e. $900 billion)

Agile Change Management

Diagram 1 - The sprinter, marathon and ‘agile’ mindset

The most successful transformation approaches require a different approach – the mindset of an interval runner – someone who can exert a high amount of energy across multiple short sharp sprints to help them reach their goal. It doesn’t follow a waterfall methodology with a clear start, middle and end. Instead, this iterative Agile approach (as shown in diagram 2 below) looks to embed digital technology solutions through a real-time way of working, a ‘good enough’ mindset, and an innovative use of what is available at the time to achieve the engagement need.

Diagram 2 – Agile change management project journey

In addition to embedding a change lead in the Agile delivery team, Agile change management requires a change in mindset in how and when change initiatives and communications are shared with target audiences. Moving away from 100% finalised project plans, stakeholder matrix and comms strategies, change leads should create ‘minimal viable’ products of their own to ensure change starts from the get-go. At a Teir 1 UK telco, Moorhouse established a change team and embedded a set of Agile change principles across the internal change projects and programmes. Two of the initiatives introduced were an Agile sprint cycles and the prioritisation of change ‘packages’ driven by the operating business units. The creation of the new organisational change approach and capabilities has to-date supported delivery of c.£500m of in-year cost savings, further improvement of key strategic ‘value model’ performance indicators as well as enhanced the organisations’ capability to manage change systematically and sustainably, with a strong focus on communication and employee engagement.

The shift in mindset to agile also encompasses how communications plans are developed and actioned. Instead of seeing a communication plan as a set document, they should be living plans that are constantly reviewed, refined and improved to ensure they use the channels available at the time, meets the needs of the audiences and best promote the minimal viable products being released. While it is imperative to understand what inspires, concerns and excites employees about the transformation and what it will change, teams don’t need to know this for every audience before they can get started. Instead, it is better to identify what messages are required for key target audiences and create a compelling change vision and story that starts to engage internal stakeholders. From this point, it becomes easier to flex the change story, personalise the messaging and bring in new comms channels when new audiences are better understood, quick wins need to be celebrated and the new stages of the agile development are reached.

Measurement, analysis and feedback are key to agile product development and the use of Agile change management approaches. Change leads in Agile teams need to continually use qualitative and quantitative methods and data at each stage of the product development and change management cycle to evaluate how well the product and change initiatives are landing with target audiences. This doesn’t mean that surveys and topic guides should be 100% perfect. They should be focused on getting instant feedback, include key questions and aim for specific sub-sets of employees. By keeping a real-time mindset, it ensures a continuous approach to gaining insight that can be immediately integrated into the next development cycle.

Diagram 3 – Research and measurement sprints

Sustainable transformation

Digital technology transformations are key to the success of companies as the pace of change in business and customers’ expectations shows no sign of slowing down. Although companies are open to using digital technology to add a competitive advantage, the transformations required aren’t easy to deliver and embed. They require clarity, direction, confidence and a willingness to view the process as one of continuous refinement. Without an innovative mindset and Agile approach to technology development coupled with an iterative change management made up of individual sprint phases, organisations run the risk that their time, money and effort will result in digital solution and technology that takes years to develop and embed before being replaced with another new solution that fails to meet customers’ needs. 

The insights discussed over our two-part series highlight three key steps an organisation can employ to be successful in large-scale digital technology change management:

1. Strategic clarity - Clarity around the organisation’s vision, purpose and values will help to guide and structure the technology strategy and roadmap

2. Cross-functional Agile teams - Leadership should give cross-functional Agile teams the structure, remit and autonomy to develop digital technology solutions

3. Agile change management - Employ a real-time ‘interval runner’ mindset and iterative approach to change management and the development of change initiatives

In summary, for digital technology transformations to last and add value the whole organisation has to think strategically, create the structures to support Agile teams and shift to an iterative, agile change management mindset to design, develop and realise the benefits of the digital technology solutions. If companies fail to successfully design, deliver and embed their digital transformations, it makes it near impossible to keep up with the fast pace of change and ultimately they run the risk of falling short and failing - making digital technology transformation vital to the success of any organisation’s future.

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Avarina Wilson Dyer Gough Senior Consultant