In this article, Stefan Haase, Whitecap Director and Tech Practice Lead, and Neil Henderson, a Whitecap Associate, outline how to mitigate risks of failure when implementing a tech strategy or a major tech initiative.

Whitecap has recently supported a number of organisations in developing tech strategies and helped them prepare for implementation. This has included identifying and aligning business and technology requirements, conducting market scans, completing solution options analyses, managing competitive vendor dialogue, and overseeing supplier evaluation and selection.

Armed with this experience, we know that the successful implementation of a new tech platform or programme for any scale of organisation in any business sector can be fraught with challenges.  Many potential issues will be known and understood at the ‘get go’ of a programme of work, but many unfold as the programme progresses along its journey towards its live date.

It is no secret that the majority of technology programmes over-run on cost and time and under-shoot on scope, thereby missing the expectations of the front-line business and customers.

In our experience across a wide range of market sectors – both private and public, and in large and smaller organisations – we have consistently seen this occur.  In our discussions at senior executive and board level we understand that the risks of these initiatives are high, including unexpected costs, customer impact and potential reputation risks.

Why do tech strategy projects go wrong?

Our insight tells us that from the perspective of experience, resourcing, structure, 3rd party engagement / contracting and culture, most organisations lack the know-how and experience and / or available resources to successfully navigate these challenges and may not have the foresight to course correct their approach. As a result, they often just end up firefighting, which of course increases costs, delays live date and restricts scope.

This is particularly the case in organisations trying to embed or transition to agile delivery – and organisations with significant ‘legacy’ often struggle and compromise to a point that they end up with the worst parts of agile and waterfall. As has often been said, bolting the front end of a BMW to the back end of a Merc will not get you from A to B in a successful and frictionless way.

Most organisations are used to new tech being dropped in one big all encompassing new system, so the expectation from the end user is this, and so when organisations switch to agile, or attempt to and functionality is released in smaller more frequent slices they can get frustrated and start making noises about the new tech not being as good as the old tech which did everything.  Users often have short memories about why the tech is being replaced, generally because its no longer any good or serviceable.  What agile needs is real careful thought on interim operating models as old world transitions to new world, there is inevitable operational pain in this.

We find this to apply to organisations of all sizes, whether they are new or established. Ultimately, it relates to what is being implemented rather than the environment it is being implemented in. If you are replacing something that already exists, then drip feeding functionality can be problematic if the messaging is not managed well. If you are implementing something new that doesn’t exist in an organisation’s ecosystem then drip feeding functionality is less of an issue.

What does successful tech strategy implementation look like?

Organisations we have worked with that run successful tech strategy projects use a structured and experienced based approach to systematically analyse the strategy and approach, map progress to date, and assess the plan and resources. They also identify issues and risks to identify areas where time and cost could be saved, where scope could be enhanced, and they seek smarter ways to work and deliver, to enable benefits to be realised earlier whilst also gaining colleague engagement to the approach and solutions being implemented. There is a real value add in being able to identify simpler and more cost-effective solutions to difficult and complex issues and solutions.

In terms of how Whitecap supports clients in respect of tech strategy, our recommended approach to mitigate risk typically includes:

  • Providing an independent view to help shape programme design and develop plans
  • Helping address wider issues impacting successful transformation outcomes, such as structure, culture, delivery approach
  • Supporting and engaging with BAU resources to help ensure they have the skills and knowledge to deliver better outcomes
  • Helping to de-code, simplify and resolve cultural and organisational complexities arising from digital transformation

Managing tech-enabled change is not easy and it comes with many challenges, but it’s an area Whitecap has proven we can add value in, and we consider there is a strong argument for engaging independent external resources to support these projects. Via our extensive experience in managing digital and technology suppliers, we have helped multiple organisations drive successful project delivery and realise meaningful business outcomes.

If you’d like to discuss this blog post or share your own perspective on the issues covered, please get in touch or comment via our social media channels on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Established in 2012, Whitecap Consulting is a regional strategy consultancy headquartered in Leeds, with offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle. We typically work with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. Also, we work with clients across a range of sectors including Financial Services, Technology, FinTech, Outsourcing, Consumer and Retail, Property, Healthcare, Higher Education, Manufacturing, Logistics and Professional Services, including Corporate Finance and PE.