How’s the Health of Your Digital Transformation Program?

By: Arnaud Rousseau


We all know health metrics (blood test, EKG, etc.) play a very important role in identifying potential health risks, and that identifying those risks often results in mitigating them. If your bloodwork shows high cholesterol, your doctor tells you to eat foods without saturated fats and to exercise more.

But though your doctor gives you this advice, it’s up to you whether to take it or not. You know that not taking those actions will most likely result in developing a problematic health condition in the near/mid/long term. You will have to make a decision that could potentially have life-impacting consequences.

Just like metrics can help you steer your lifestyle toward healthier living, they can also tell you important things about the overall health of your digital transformation program.

How Program-Healthy Are You?

In my years of working in various digital transformation programs, I always find that project health metrics are just the visible part of an underlying iceberg. We need metrics—for sure—to track improvement or deterioration, to take data-driven actions based on signals, to communicate using the same language with our teammates. But many, many times, metrics are lagging indicators of underlying endemic conditions. 

Understanding and managing those conditions, in other words spotting the early symptoms of issues, is key to keeping your program healthy. It allows you to be proactive in taking actions and, after a treatment plan is in place, tracking resolution using metrics. The sooner you take this “program health check,” the better you will be able to protect your program from down-the-road ailments. 

Here are five symptoms that could mean it’s time for a reality check to get program health back to optimal.

1. You’re Talking about Problems, Not Solutions

Your meetings with your transformation partners should be about finding solutions to problems, not so much about the problems themselves. And yet…you’ve wasted many a meeting doing just that.

This is indicative of a larger problem about leadership culture. Get to the bottom of why everyone’s fixated on the problems and move them toward driving solutions. 

2. No One Knows Why They’re Doing This

Everything was going well. The kickoff was a success, program sponsors are on board, and you’re on a year-long journey to drive transformational change for the company.

But once the excitement of kickoff has died down, you’re hearing a lot of water-cooler conversations around, “why are we doing this?”

There may have been such a hullabaloo around the launch that the messaging of the goal of the transformation got lost. And even if the message is clear, a major transformation requires individuals to shift greatly in how they operate, and any resistance to change can easily manifest in confusion about the ultimate goals.

Be empathetic to the upheaval it will create and communicate the why, both at the business and personal level.

3. You’re Not on the Same Playing Field

You’ve created a solid work plan after successfully completing your complex digital transformation program. You expect a degree of slippage from that plan, but you notice that not everyone has the same definition of completion or accountability…which should make you wonder if your work plan is reliable as the single source of truth.

Poorly planned work or schedules are often the outcomes of a lack of control mechanisms and/or lack of firm alignment on the definitions of what good looks like or what done means. Are your resources on the same playing field as you? If not, start by defining what completion or accountability looks like so you’re all working with the same tools and operating from the same set of facts.

4. There’s a Team Cohesion Breakdown 

We all know that having highly effective teams is critical for a successful digital transformation program. And you’ve built up momentum during the early phases so your team members know each other so well they work seamlessly as one unit. But today Jane had to take vacation days for a family engagement and tomorrow Joe is out sick for a couple of weeks. Two key leads are now out and the rest of the team is trying to “power through” in their absence with an impaired dynamic without their key players. 

This can have many consequences on the overall program because velocity, accuracy, and overall effectiveness of their output are no longer in line with the plan you put together based on the characteristics of the team you had last week. 

Whereas before when we were all not working remotely so much, you could take the pulse of the team during a program dinner or by simply swinging by someone’s desk, it’s harder to keep everyone connected with so much going on in a virtual setting. But you need to find ways to do so, more so than ever, because it’s imperative to have a pulse on the cohesiveness of your teams.

5. Confusion is Eating Up Your Status Meetings

The team keeps having repeated discussions about what constitutes the boundaries of the objective (organizational, systems, geographic, data, etc.), what the process for doing or deciding things should be, or what should be addressed by whom. You thought you’d addressed all this months ago, but confusion and the repeated need for reconfirmation of established facts are eating up your status meetings. 

You thought your scope management plan was well accepted, and that exclusions or assumptions were clearly documented, that you have good RACIs and a clear governance framework, all well documented in your official playbooks. But are you sure that your program resources are reading program playbooks, or have agreed and embraced their roles and responsibilities?

Make sure the objectives, rules of engagement, and boundaries are clearly explained, that people have affirmatively communicated back that they understand and agree to what is being asked of them, and that you are continuously promoting the culture of individual accountability, finding solutions, making decisions, and driving outcomes. 

These types of symptoms will likely eventually bubble up to the surface during your digital transformational program as metrics about late deliverables, missed milestones, or poor quality work products. But these are lagging indicators that point out problems that began weeks or months before. 

To catch them before they materialize on your program dashboards, you should be proactively performing regular program health checkups and working to address the symptoms. Ignoring them…well, it’s kind of like not listening to your doctor: usually, serious symptoms don’t go away on their own, so unless you want to bury your head in the sand, you’ll want to do something to make sure your program stays healthy and you don’t end up in emergency remediation.