In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, digital transformation consulting firms are redefining success by empowering businesses to navigate complex challenges and unlock their full potential. The problem? Too many digital transformation projects fail!
Table of Contents:
- The Troubling Reality of Digital Transformation Failure
- Team Size Impact on UX Success
- Design Emphasis: Unlocking Product Potential
- Digital Transformation Success: User-Centric Approaches
- Semiconductor Product Theory: Consulting Strategy
- Small Teams Drive Transformative User Experiences
The Troubling Reality of Digital Transformation Failure
They are over budget, deliver a bad user experience, have poor adoption, and they don’t generate the promised Return On Investment (ROI). Managers hire big consulting firms to help them figure out what ’solution’ to build. It's expensive, frustrating, and often the result is underwhelming, if not completely underwater. We need to change how we view these projects. They are products, and our end users are our customers. If they aren’t satisfied, or delighted, and don’t habitually use it, then the product is useless, the business doesn’t get the ROI it was promised, and we have failed as digital product developers. Over time, this will also be seen in the lack of retention of customers.
End-User Experience: Key to Success
As do many others, I believe putting the end-user experience first is the most effective way to deliver real results. I also believe that small teams that offer design-focused, human-centered solutions to satisfy the boundary conditions set forth by business needs are in short supply these days. Managers still hire big firms to develop transformational products that consistently miss the mark. Managers and product owners feel lost without good options, and many expensive projects fail. I'd imagine one of the reasons you found this article is that you're trying to learn more about whether software consulting is worth it. Hopefully, I'll be able to help answer that here.
Team Size Impact on UX Success
If you google “why IT projects fail” you get a lot of lists. Few of them ever mention team size, and sometimes mention things that we deem irrelevant such as "because your software consultants need to code" (we've found this is not the case). This is important to understand, as the "Ringelmann effect" illustrates.
With modern tools, we’re able to do so much with a small team of professionals, and it actually gets harder to nail the nuance of UX as the team size increases. In addition to communication complexities, individual team member contribution goes down as team size increases. “Is Your Team Too Big? Too Small? What's the Right Number?” Knowledge at Wharton, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/podcast/knowledge-at-wharton-podcast/is-your-team-too-big-too-small-whats-the-right-number-2/.
In this article, I will explore team size and its relation to delivering a delightful experience. We should strive for and invest in creating delightful experiences because they lead to habitual use, which leads to ROI. If you are paying for a digital transformation project and not producing ROI, this is a problem and must be considered when making business decisions.
UX Design: Boosting ROI and Reducing Risk
If we use user experience (UX) design the right way, then we de-risk the project, lower cost, and increase ROI. Again, I believe the best way to do this is to utilize a small team of pros, not a huge bloated consulting firm. So if business-centered projects are underwhelming and cost too much, then the antidote is user-centered (read: ‘obsessed’) projects with small teams that deliver the right things.
Imagine an organization of 10,000 people who have a problem they hate. These people will find time-sucking workarounds to avoid that problem. The business ROI for a project that fixes that problem relies on the company adopting the solution and abandoning its workarounds. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to produce a product that takes something hard and makes it easy, makes your company money, and gets delivered on time?
Small Teams, Big Innovations in UX
To build products with great UX, corporations need a relatively small team of pros that think disruptively and communicate nuance fully. Small teams of real problem-solvers, that can solve, design, and build performant and scalable technology, are the future.
Many successful projects were built by small teams of innovators that all understand their individual contributions, not 300 consultants. The Gmail team was tiny, with around two dozen people when it launched publicly. McCracken, Harry. “How Gmail Happened: The Inside Story of Its Launch 10 Years Ago Today.” Time, Time, 1 Apr. 2014, https://time.com/43263/gmail-10th-anniversary/.
Small teams can do big things, and the importance of good team communication cannot be overstated!
Design Emphasis: Unlocking Product Potential
Building ‘software’ is not building ‘product’. The ’software’ part is often the ‘easy’ part. It still has to work and be secure. Doing that well is complex and takes highly skilled people. Knowing what problem needs to be solved for your users, and figuring out what a delightful solution looks like, is the really hard part. You can’t just hire a software company and expect a product to pop out of the other side. These things require intentional strategy. It takes an intense focus on design. Similar to hiring an architect to design your home before you hire a builder.
It’s 10 times less expensive to experiment and learn from users in the design phase than in the build phase. Buley, Leah. The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide. Rosenfeld Media, 2013.
Why anyone would ever run 10x more expensive experiments by jumping hastily into a build phase is beyond my comprehension, but it happens all the time, usually because of a huge lack of customer obsession.
Recently, Accenture and Hertz have been in the news due to an expensive, and frustrating project to rebuild the Hertz web platform and mobile app. They paid Accenture over $30M and were so disillusioned with the result that they are suing Accenture for delivering a product that doesn’t work. Nicastro, Dom. “10 Lessons from Hertz's $32m Web Design Lawsuit against Accenture.” CMSWire.com, CMSWire.com, 3 May 2019, https://www.cmswire.com/information-management/10-lessons-from-hertzs-32m-web-design-lawsuit-against-accenture/.
Championing Delightful, Functional Products
Great champions of projects within an organization care deeply about whether or not the end result actually works. It’s not good enough that the project was delivered on time and my career advances— it must do what it’s supposed to do. If a product doesn't fix a frustrating process or if people aren't delighted when they use it, then we should not build it.
To a savvy product champion, success means that you have built something that people need and love to use. How many times has your organization hired a big expensive consulting firm and had the result be something the customer actually loves to use? It doesn’t happen often, and I bet it would improve businesses' customer retention strategies if it did. Despite the poor performance of large agencies when it comes to building custom products, business owners still hire them.
Digital Transformation Success: User-Centric Approaches
Want to build a successful product with a small team? Here is how to do it. Again, when it comes to digital transformation and you're deciding which consulting firm to choose, it's all about the end-user!
Addressing End-User Needs for Success
Do you know why most products really fail? Because they don’t understand the real needs of the end-user. Your organization wants something out of it; to drive efficiency or reduce admin costs, perhaps. But the end-user wants you to take something that was hard, frustrating, and time-consuming (or all three) and fix it.
Designing a product around their needs means they will use the product a lot, and the by-product of a high adoption rate is success within your organizational ROI. Additionally, when you provide end-users with great tools, they are satisfied and loyal. They feel like the organization or brand cares about them because it provides great tools for them to use.
Solving Urgent Problems with Delightful Solutions
In the consumer product world (or anytime it’s not a mandatory rollout), if you don’t address a hair-on-fire pain point with a delightful solution, then nobody will buy your product. I’m part of a project team at Anthroware that is working for a large company in the healthcare industry. They have an organizational priority of creating more connections among their members.
After doing some user interviews to assist with this product research and development, we found that the members thought more connections were cool, but really they wanted an easy way to do two other things. Finding out the most important “job to be done” for the end-user and prioritizing that, drives them into the product, and then we can subtly and effectively carry out the organizational goal of creating more connections.
Driving Success with End-User Emphasis
The bottom line is the needs of the people that are going to be using the product are always the same as the needs of the organization. If you address their needs first, then they will habitually use it, need it, love it, and thank you for it. When users love a product, then the organization benefits which results in more sales, less time by employees spent on mundane tasks, etc.
Sometimes stakeholders have a tough time grasping user needs (we see this all the time from the data in our win-loss research programs). There are many ways to involve the project’s stakeholders in this UX process. It can be really fun, and everybody feels heard. Many studies suggest that involving executives in projects increases success statistics. Think about how powerful it would be to have an executive help you facilitate a UX interview. They’d see firsthand what people are dealing with, and the importance of UX and design work as it pertains to nailing the right set of experiences.
Nailing the experience is what really makes a significant difference with things like efficiency, throughput, happier end users/employees, etc. User focus also forces intense clarity for what you should be prioritizing and why. Knowing the top jobs to be done for your end-users allows you to prioritize with authority. This saves money in the long term and further aids in team alignment.
Balancing Features and Experience for Maximum Impact
It’s easy to make an ROI look good on paper. A list of features is not the same as a list of experiences or top ‘jobs to be done’. If I told you about a meal, a perfect risotto made with homemade broth, stirred constantly for a perfectly creamy texture, with the addition of wild mushrooms and shallots, topped with a perfect bone-in pork chop and a peach chutney, you could picture a delicious plate, right?
What I just stated was actually a list of features. Ingredients. You got a sense that I was putting time into making the risotto, but what about the proportions? What if the whole dish had only one mushroom? What if there was a tiny piece of pork with a gallon of risotto? What if I didn’t plate it at all, but put it all in a blender and served you a rice and meat milkshake? The list of ingredients is the same in the milkshake, but that’s not the experience you were expecting. The preparation, portion, plating, amount of cook time, and even the atmosphere in which you are served, all impact the experience. If the experience is good, then you’ll keep coming back for my risotto.
It’s easy to communicate a list of ingredients to a big team, but it’s hard to get a big team to understand the nuance of the experience you’re after. Could you imagine a team of 300 cooking risotto? This same concept applies to digital transformation projects. Even if you're creating a software consulting agreement to outline everything, team size can still be a challenge.
Semiconductor Product Theory: Consulting Strategy
You need to obsess over the experience your user wants. A list of features is lazy and doesn’t tell the whole story. You have to deliver the harder, more nuanced thing. Once you know what’s important to your end users you can focus on how to prioritize the right experiences.
What you deliver has to be so good that your end-user will stop their current way of doing something and develop a new habit around the solution you’re presenting them instead. It’s very hard to change habits (we've seen this time and time again in our B2B competitive intelligence programs). In our playbook, we’ve dubbed this the “semiconductor product theory”:
Digital Habit Change: Outstanding User Experiences
Getting anyone to change habits is hard. Even if your solution is “better”, it may not be different enough or improved enough to warrant a behavioral change. With our clients, we should be keenly focused on finding one or two user experiences that are so much better, so amazing, that they stop what they are doing now to buy and use the product we’re making (check out our article on human-centered design examples for some additional real-world info on this).
Semiconductors can hold a charge (electrons) in different states (1 or 0) because there’s a gap of semi-conductive material between two pieces of conductive material. If enough energy is put into the electron, it can cross the gap and live on the other side. If it doesn’t have enough energy, then it can’t cross and ‘falls’ back to where it started. Ok, in reality, it's a little more complex than that, but bear with me.
In Figure 1, Scenario A shows a visual representation of something that doesn’t have enough ‘energy’ to change someone’s habit. End-users are a lot like semiconductors in that they won’t change or learn something new, or spend money on something unless they perceive that it’s going to be way better. Scenario B shows an experience that is so much better that people will stop doing it the way they are doing it now (current state), and buy a new product (improved state).
The experience you deliver has to cross that gap in order to change habits. Thinking as a digital anthropologist, you should look for the 1 or 2 things that bridge this experience gap for your business-level strategy. What’s ‘enough’ for a 1.0 version of your digital transformation product is equal to building the experiences needed to cross this gap.
Small Teams Drive Transformative User Experiences
If you want to deliver a truly delightful experience, then the entire team has to be aligned. The more people you add to a project, the harder it is for your product team to be obsessed with your end users. The larger the team, the more communication issues come up, the more time it takes to align the team, and the harder it is to breathe life into the fragile spark of a new product. It becomes easy to revert to the ‘list of ingredients’ instead of obsessing over the nuanced experience that invokes delight in our users. Small teams more effectively deliver nuance. If you're still unsure why this is the case, I'd suggest reading about what software consultants do (which is a lot!) in this article here.
In conclusion, end-users don’t care about driving bottom-line gains for your business, they care about the experience and whether or not the product takes something hard and makes it easy for them. If you fix their problems, then you’ll get the maximum business ROI. And if you want to be successful at delivering a nuanced user experience, hire a small, motivated team.
If you would like to learn more about this and specifically want to understand some key differences in consulting firms, you should check out your ultimate guide comparing software consulting firms. Hope this is helpful to you, and please reach out if you have questions about how to understand the differences between the many existing digital transformation consulting firms.