Making technological transformation projects succeed in the built environment industry

How to make technological transformation projects succeed


  • Rob Toon

29 June 2020

For the last three years of my built environment career I have been involved with digital transformation in one form or another, and I have seen first-hand what works, and more to the point, what doesn't. As an industry, we are poor at sharing our successes, let alone where we have failed, so I want to share some of  my experiences in the hope that it improves your chance of succeeding in whatever transformation project you undertake.

"Communicate differently and communicate a lot"

1.    Don't underestimate the power of leadership. I have seen good, bad and a lack of leadership when it comes to transformation. In my experience there are three mistakes that leaders generally make when they are managing a transformation project. They either don't understand their teams and their abilities, they concentrate too heavily on processes and pre-conceived philosophies, or they invest too much in new systems without focusing on the impact on organisational culture and their people. My biggest point about leadership, however, is around the experiences of decision-makers. A lot of the time, those in positions of authority aren't as digitally literate as you may hope. Therefore, having empathy is key when explaining to leaders how their business needs to change. How would it feel to be told you need to embrace a technology that you don't fully understand?

2.    For successful technology transformation, don't focus on technology. I know this sounds odd but it's a mistake made time and time again; organisations fall into the trap of buying a product without truly understanding why they need it and how it will be used. Organisations generally know what they want the technology to do, however, so they start with this and buy a product based on its purported functionality, not how easily it can be used by those expected to work with it or, more importantly, if it will improve how employees deliver projects and do their jobs. This again comes down to empathy. How will decisions made during the transformation project affect those you are asking to change?

3.    Put employee engagement first. At my previous company I helped run a transformation project where staff were asked to consider what innovation meant to them in a simple, approachable way. We asked them what they are proud of and what they would like to do, which then enabled us to gain a baseline of where the business stood in terms of innovation and technology, while also engaging employees with the work we were doing. Simple, yet effective. In the past I've seen and been involved with transformation projects that don't have this approach and instead look mainly at the bottom line. Ultimately, projects that don't adequately engage with staff and instead are obsessed by return  on investment may succeed for a short period but fail to stick  and truly transform the organisation.

4.    You must change perceptions if we are truly going to transform. If you are trying to do something new then you are going to bring something alien to the organisation, which will  make everyday procedure difficult or even uncomfortable for a while. This needs to be tackled head on and the way you do that  is by playing on the fact that things are developing by bringing  a new way of leading to the project.

We take ourselves too seriously in the built environment and bringing some fun to the transformation project will go  a long way to making the changes stick.

Rob Toon is founder at This is Change  hello@thisischange.co.uk

Related competencies include: Business planning, Leadership

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