Transformations by their very nature incur risks and rewards when truly transformative, however, the role data plays is increasingly critical – both the data we know exists in organisational silos and the ‘unknowable’ data that can be leveraged to land a successful transformation.

Transformations are by nature high risk and deliver major change to organisations. These days, most transformations have very strong digital underpinnings, so the role of data has become critically important and presents some unique challenges.

Making the most of data in transformation programs is, in part, about recognising the pivotal role it places in understanding why a business is transforming and the benefits it aims to realise.  For Transformation teams, considerable effort is spent using data to understand the business need for change, the scope of the project, develop the business case, and accurately define what a transformation might entail for the SteerCo and stakeholders.  Ultimately, data plays three important roles:

  • Understanding the transformation using data
  • Managing the transformation by leveraging data, and
  • Landing the transformation well with the help of data.

As transformations are generally holistic in nature with broad-reaching change impacts and effects across the business, transformation teams will gather data from many sources and stakeholders, which typically sit within platforms and data silos.

However, what is also important is to understand that while transformation teams may start out with access to a lot of data from within the organisation, there will be gaps along the way – simply because some data doesn’t exist yet.

Building the ‘big picture’ of organisational data

This may sound familiar: To get operational data, transformation teams speak to the operations teams. To get product data, it may be the product or marketing teams. To get sales data, it will be the sales team.

Combing the various sources of data to form a big picture of the business to understand the change and plan for the impacts is common practice, but the process will also expose the obvious challenges that all transformation professionals will face: identifying and engaging a broad set of stakeholders, getting access and the willingness to share ‘my data’ and then looking for consistencies.

There are some lesser-known challenges in data silos, particularly around the personalisation, biases, and current state nature of data, for example:

  • Personalisation occurs because the data owner only collects data that is relevant to the decision they make and the function they perform
  • Bias occurs because data owners consciously or unconsciously prioritise elements that are more important than others and in extreme cases do not share or capture data that may present an undesirable picture.
  • The current state nature of data refers to the fact that we often only have access to data we create in the current ways of working and may lack relevance to the future state.

Careful consideration of these factors is important when defining and planning a transformation initiative and when drawing meaning from the data.

Failing to appreciate these factors or simply bringing data silos together doesn’t guarantee that transformation teams will have the full picture, which can undermine a transformation from the very beginning.

The data we don’t have – and how it can benefit transformation

Sometimes, it is the data that teams do not have that speaks the most.

Here’s a great example: Mathematician Abraham Ward played a pivotal role in reducing the losses of RAF planes during World War II by attempting to identify where to place additional protective armour. By capturing data of bullet holes of returning planes, he proposed placing more armour where the planes didn’t have bullet holes. Why? Because he surmised that the planes that were hit in those locations were the ones that did not return from their missions and were lost.

How can this translate to data in transformation? It’s the idea of the data you do not have and how it can be an important element to the story of the transformation.   This is important when making decisions, particularly when managing the delivery of a transformation program that is developing new products, services or capabilities and new data might be created and collected.

The program may need to establish new data creation and collection methods that will help manage and guide a transformation to success, for example, lead indicators that provide early indications that the transformation is having the desired effects. Another example might be the need to perform additional exploratory data gathering and analysis to investigate unintended consequences or opportunities that arise on a transformation journey.

Understanding data – and the gaps – optimises transformation for success

Understanding the role that data plays and the gaps that will be revealed is important for stakeholders to take into consideration. Not only does it increase the chances of landing a transformation successfully with the desired effects, it hints to a stronger engagement with the change management journey throughout the lifecycle of the program.

Change management has traditionally focused on communication and training in the implementation phase, however working with data more closely throughout the project will allow for a far more intimate understanding of the change impacts to stakeholders and improves change planning by using a more adaptive and learning approach.

A transformation program is not book-ended by data with a business case at one end and a measured benefit at the other. Transformations by their very nature incur risks and rewards when truly innovative.

However, when transformation is underpinned by data throughout the lifecycle from initiation based on what can be known and what cannot be, data can be leveraged to learn and adapt from success and failure throughout each phase of the transformation.

Jon Pascoe leads the Quay Project Delivery Practice and has more than 20 years’ extensive experience in delivering transformation programs. To find out more about how Quay Consulting can support transformation in your organisation,  please contact us.

We believe that quality thought leadership is worth sharing and encourage you to share with your colleagues. If you’re interested in republishing our content, here’s what’s okay and what’s not okay.

About Quay

Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...