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Blog January 23, 2018

Why You Should Be Approaching Digital Strategy Transformation Iteratively

Brian Bischoff

I was recently reflecting on the type of projects that we typically do for digital strategy engagements and realized that they are, for the most part, not very iterative. When I spoke at Philly Tech Week a little over a year ago about digital strategy, I asked a question: "How many people have done a digital strategy?" Almost everybody raised their hand. I then asked, "How many people revisited that in the last year?" Only maybe a third of them had. That's a problem.

Right now, digital strategy projects typically last two to three months. It's rather structured, starting with a phased process and culminating with a roadmap. The roadmap reflects on the strategy and outlines how to move the strategy forward. It's typically a one to two, or even three-year plan.

The problem is that once a strategy is defined, it's often difficult translating that into actionable next steps: taking that strategy and seeing the desired benefits come to fruition. A common statement I hear is, "Now that I have a strategy, what do I do with it? How do I go forward?"

One way is to change your approach to the duration of a digital strategy project. Rather than thinking of it as a 2 to 3 month initiative, adopt an agile mindset and make it more iterative. Treating your strategy as an iterative process will allow you to continue to refine the strategy as you gain insights from initiatives early on in your roadmap. The learnings and data analytics allow you to say, "Okay, well, here's really how that impacts our business" to a point where now you can take those and decide the places where your strategy should adjust.

It's a more agile approach to strategy.

Now this may sound a little intimidating, but if your organization has adopted an agile product development framework, then you'll find moving your strategy to an agile process certainly aligns. And if you haven't adopted an agile framework, then introducing an agile strategic planning process will help create future projects and inform the way you iterate on the outcomes of that strategy.

A strong digital strategy is a constantly evolving project. The roadmap shouldn't be hard and fast, especially in the sphere of technology where changes happen pretty quickly.

We shouldn't look three to five years out and paint a hard picture because the market and technology landscapes are changing so rapidly. It's hard to paint what it's going to look like five years from now, not even knowing what innovations will occur in the market. The goal is to make strategy more iterative so that you are flexible to change. You should have a vision for three to five years out, but the leave the details minimal.

Once you start going through the process developing your goals and roadmap, you should keep your eye on your initial findings and ask yourself, "How can we act on this now?" As you continue to move forward with the rest of the strategy, identify or refine your next tranche of initiatives. Start the process as soon as possible so that three months from now you may get some feedback from customers that lets you adjust course as necessary. That will allow you to continuously refine your strategy.

The faster you can identify your main goals, get some sort of near-term focus aligning to a longer-term direction, and have some quick wins, the more effective your strategy will be. Ideally, you will never really have a full-blown digital strategy; it will be constantly evolving, keeping your customers, stakeholders, and employees continuously engaged in realizing your long term.