Blog Banner

Getting digital back to basics part 2: acting with caution and optimism

Previously, we acknowledged the fatigue felt by digital buyers, practitioners, and experts after suffering a decade of more failure than success. Here, in our second piece, we argue for optimism after a rough hangover. Squinting at digital through lenses smeared in dead hype, the light of real value shines through and the steps to capture it become clear. Find part 1 here.

From Agile to Zoom, digital from 2011–2023 was fraught and absurdly complicated. Undoubtedly, the future of digital will still be fraught and complicated, especially if you try to emulate Big Tech.

It’s high time to do digital better. We’re finally ready for basics done well: focusing established technologies on business fundamentals, then implementing them in value-yielding pieces.For most businesses, the future of successful digital will be less complicated than today, but more difficult. Don’t let that dissuade you.

To become that far-sighted leader we referenced in part 1, you still need a willingness to move forward with digital initiatives, but you’ll need the discipline to do so more cautiously. We recommend you pass digital concepts through two deceptively-simple checklist-style filters:

  1. A test of its strategic viability
  2. A test of its implementation feasibility

Your future digital properties must amplify your customers’ and your business’s core capabilities and instead of self-disrupting. Going forward, the basics have to be there. Digital initiatives that pass both tests can make your business simpler and stronger.

How to test your digital strategy

After witnessing decades of waste, you know better than to follow the hype machine into the maw of the next fad. It’s time to focus on the fundamentals, and you’re ready to take action. Is your idea reasonable? Let’s check four avenues:

  1. Threat scan. What techs and behaviors have to combine to change demand for what you do today? If that happens, how will demand change? Does that change (positive or negative) add credence to your plan or reduce it? What would unlocked bottlenecks in your company and your industry look like?
  2. Pains and gains. A classic analysis still worth the squeeze: get your Post-it notes, make your value chain of all stakeholders affected by your digital idea, and describe what each gains and loses. If any one party loses too much, they will become an opponent. Strategically, will your idea build competitive advantage? Help you play catch-up? Do you have to drag the rest of the org with you unwillingly?
  3. Core applicability. Tie every proposed feature to a key audience benefit. Articulate specifically how the proposed system itself and each feature provides benefit to someone. This may require investigative research. Even if the idea’s great, this task won’t be easy, but you’ll finish with a list of rankable benefits (and even detriments) you can use to fence off coulds from shoulds.
  4. Unique value. If you asked a team to toil for 6 months building your thing, will the result be worth it in the end? Pretend you have your result in your hands right now. Answer what will it change? and is this different from something we could’ve acquired?

In a relatively short run, you can go from strategically broad to individually-specific to long-term, assessing the landscape, audiences, focus, and ultimate value of your next digital concept.

How to test your digital implementation plan

Your idea passes strategic muster. Can you build it without setting the place on fire? Look at four things:

  1. Size appropriately. Your organization’s stomach (or hunger) might be larger than its mouth. Here’s a good rule of thumb: can you build the key, unique, valuable, demanded features in a year? If not, stop and pare down your request until you can. It’s even better to target 3–6 months. Anecdotally, a typical business has a 6-week appetite for anything, so even a few months is really generous.
  2. Pay the internal price. Here’s our favorite test. Once you know how long your project will take (in hours or people x weeks), do some quick math. Is this project worth it at your internal price? 10x your internal price? At a premium firm’s price? At an outsourced price? If it’s not worth doing at your internal cost, your project’s probably both low-priority and low value. If it’s worth it at a premium firm’s price, it commands the business’s attention and deserves care. The ultimate gauge is whether or not your idea’s important enough that it’s worth doing with internal resources, but you’re not obligated to do so. In fact, we strongly recommend that when there’s a perceived gap, you fill it with external resources. If the gap feels filled afterward, you’ve got proof that you should hire. If it’s illegitimate, you didn’t sink the ship and force yourself into shameful layoffs.
  3. Second- and third-party funding burden. Who else does your concept rope in? The more cross-functional the effort, the more arduous the process, but all digital’s like that. Ideas cross the line from arduous to doomed when they need funding from other departments or organizations or when the funders, approvers, and implementers come from different places.
  4. Business integration. Again, pretend you’ve got your thing. It’s not done once it’s built, it’s done once you’re using it. How will you integrate it into everyday business operations? That’s the only way you’ll likely see it pay for itself.

By analyzing your idea against these standards, you’ll revalidate and recommunicate its internal viability and desirability and help ensure that it’s achievable. Note the absence of technical questions—quality implementation can’t fix poor strategy. That’s not meant to trivialize implementation, things can (and will) go haywire at any point, but inevitable challenges won’t become a conflagration if your digital idea passes our two tests first.

If you need to de-risk an upcoming product investment, through consulting can help you slice through the hype and identify what’s really going to work. When it’s go time, Next Mile will help you arrange and activate the right pieces and parties, streamline effort, and deliver with maximum effect.

We hope you’ll join us on our quest to mature digital.

Find additional insight at our blog or contact us for a monthly summary of new content.

If this speaks to a problem you’re facing, we'd love to see if we can help you further.