Digital transformation: 3 tips to prioritize goals and projects

Because digital transformation strategy involves so many moving parts, leaders may struggle to priotize the key issues and projects. Consider these tips to stay focused
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New potential projects likely cross your desk every day. Each project may promise a solid return on investment, but taking them on typically involves resolving other initiatives that haven’t been started, that have been started but will take time to complete, or that are stuck.

Here’s how to untangle the mess and make tangible progress toward your digital transformation.

1. Choose one overarching digital transformation goal

First, commit to one primary goal that can deliver substantial value to the organization. This value could be in the form of new markets, cost savings, or other areas. The biggest challenge is picking a goal for which you’re willing to sacrifice other goals.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

It’s tempting to believe that you can juggle multiple goals at once, but this rarely works in practice. Most of us feel that we’re capable of multitasking, but the research shows otherwise. Similarly, when we’re juggling multiple priorities, we may feel like we’re getting more done, but the reality may not support this.

No matter how thoughtfully you define your primary goal, it will often interfere with other aspects of your environment. These interferences can quickly create a long list of mid-sized projects that can pull your focus away from the primary goal.

Remember that not all of these projects must – or can – be done; you’ll need to sacrifice some to prioritize your primary goal.

2. Prioritize your mid-sized projects

Deciding which mid-sized projects to skip or work around isn’t easy. To determine which smaller projects will have the biggest impact on your primary goal, consider the following questions:

Will the project create a substantial amount of work in your primary goal?

Consider a scenario in which you’re implementing a secure Voice-over-IP (VoIP) solution to enable a workforce that’s now working from home. If you skipped over the mid-sized project to implement a more efficient VPN solution, you may need to redo the work on the VoIP system later. In such a case, completing the associated mid-sized projects is appropriate – and necessary.

If the mid-sized project fails, could it jeopardize your primary goal?

Consider an aging file server that works but for which maintenance is no longer available. You may be able to get the remote workers to VPN into the server and use the file system – but it’s probably easier to put the necessary files in a cloud-based synchronization solution, even if that means accepting another mid-sized project.

Can you leverage quid pro quo?

In politics, quid pro quo is a bad thing: It generally means that if you do a favor for someone, they’re expected to do one for you in return.

There are almost certainly people inside your organization whose help you’ll need to complete your goal, and these people may ask you to prioritize their own projects. This is another way that you may end up wrangling numerous mid-sized projects in the service of your one big goal.

Completing moderately difficult projects can help you gain support for your initiative when you most need it. Be careful, though – if you take on too many of these projects, you may find your efforts diluted, leaving you with a mess of conflicting priorities and tangled dependencies.

3. Find the quick wins

Before you start working on your primary goal, look for low-hanging fruit – things you can do quickly, easily, and without much investment that will start paying dividends immediately. Those dividends are measured in time – time that you’ll ultimately use to drive forward your goal. These include frequently repeated tasks and methods you already use to increase efficiency – for example, onboarding and offboarding.

Prioritizing for transformation is never easy. But if you commit to one primary goal, engage only in mid-level projects that support your goal, and find easy opportunities to boost efficiency, you will be on the path to success.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Robert Bogue, 17-year Microsoft MVP and 28-time author, has led change projects for three decades and changes the way people work as he changed the technology. He leverages his strength in technology and human systems to create change that is sustainable and transformative for organizations of all sizes and shapes.