These days, it’s all the rage.

Its origins were simple and cheap, but today’s version is difficult to do well and expensive.

Everyone’s trying to do it, but few are doing it exceptionally well.

If you work in the technology space, you probably read the first few lines of this post and thought, “digital transformation.”

But if you live in Texas, there is a good chance you read the start of this post and thought, “Texas barbecue!”

At Sense Corp, we help organizations define, plan for, and execute their digital transformation journeys. We work with clients to ensure alignment not just on the “what” of transformation, but also the “how.” The unfortunate reality is that 70% of digital transformations fail, and it’s our job to not let our clients become part of that statistic.

So, what do BBQ and transformation projects have in common? Delivering successful digital transformation is a lot like smoking the perfect brisket. Let’s dig in.

1. A lot of the hard work and big decisions happen before you get going

If you talk to Austin’s Aaron Franklin (Franklin BBQ), Lexington’s Tootsie Tomanetz (Snow’s), or any experienced pitmaster, they’ll tell you great brisket starts with high-quality meat, the right wood, and a proven approach. These are all critical decisions you have to make before ever lighting the fire.

In the same way, successful digital transformation requires the right tools and technologies, the right mix of resources and talent, and a clear vision and roadmap.

Choosing the Right Technologies means not just selecting individual tools and technologies that meet your requirements, but also developing a holistic enterprise technology strategy that accounts for the integration and interplay between and across systems. Much of the value in digital transformation is tied up in the cross-system integration and the goldmine of data produced by your systems. As such, it’s critical to choose technologies that are robust enough to handle your current needs, promising enough to grow with you, and agile enough to integrate with the rest of your technology footprint.

Building a Great Team is way easier said than done. In my experience, successful digital transformation teams typically have a cross-section of functional subject matter experts from the business, gifted technologists, and at least a few folks from within or outside your business who have a knack for disruption and challenging the status quo. The very best teams are comprised not just of good resources, but of cream-of-the-crop “go-to” folks from each key area. In other words, if you didn’t have to fight for the resources to be dedicated to the project, you probably didn’t request the right people.

Developing a Winning Plan is the number one most important and most frequently overlooked step in setting up your digital transformation for success. Many organizations are so hungry for change and so eager to get started that they jump right past the planning phase. But the truth of the matter is that investing six to eight weeks in planning for a two to three year effort is a no-brainer move to chart the right course, ensure alignment on vision, gain stakeholder engagement, and de-risk your transformation journey.

2. It’s a mix of art and science

If you’ve ever smoked a brisket – or watched someone do it – you know there’s no such thing as “set it and forget it.” Sure you have a basic plan and set of guidelines (your “roadmap”): how you should trim the meat, what seasonings you will apply, the temperature at which you want to cook the meat, and roughly how long it should take. But along the way, lots can happen that require you to make some on the fly adjustments: the meat doesn’t seem to be cooking evenly, it starts to rain, the fire is dying out earlier than expected or even worse the fire gets too hot and catches your meat on fire.

The same is true in digital transformation. No matter how well you plan your journey, there will be some external factors and surprises that force you to improvise. What if your lead technology architect leaves to pursue a new gig right as you start your journey? What if your core technology investment gets purchased by a different enterprise software company? What if user acceptance testing for your new digital platform is slated to take place in the middle of a pandemic? These things happen, and they often happen at the worst possible time.

It’s the job of a transformation leader to adjust and play the hand you’ve been dealt. Just like the pitmaster making dozens of small decisions to produce a great brisket, great digital transformation leaders have good instincts and know how to adapt with shifting organizational priorities and changing industry dynamics.

3. Simplicity is your friend

When speaking at conferences or working with clients, I’m often asked the questions, “Why are the stats so bad? Why do so many Transformation projects fail?” While there are dozens of reasons projects fail, the one that I see most frequently is over-complicating the project. You see, most transformation projects start with a simple vision or set of objectives, whether focused on cost-cutting, the development of new capabilities, or the modernization of an organization’s tech stack. But more often than not, those simple visions get hijacked into convoluted technology exercises. Put another way, the noise and complexity of transformation often results in the project managing you instead of the other way around.

So how do you avoid that fate? K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid! For all the glory and fanfare surrounding some of the best barbecue joints in Texas, most of them put just two seasonings on their brisket: salt and pepper. Simple ingredients cooked perfectly yield a much better product than a 50-step process with 25 ingredients. The lesson is simple: focus on simple objectives and simple outcomes. Be relentlessly skeptical of efforts to expand your scope or over-complicate your approach. Whether you’re smoking a great brisket or delivering game-changing transformation for your organization, simplicity is king.

4. You have to be comfortable with fire(s)

You can’t create great smoke without a well-built (and well-maintained) fire. As any barbecue enthusiast will tell you, starting and sustaining a good fire requires skill, patience, and attention to detail. But even the best pitmaster will experience flare-ups during the cooking process. Identifying and managing those flare-ups is critical in order to keep the temperature constant and deliver that perfectly smoked brisket.

Managing a transformation project is very similar. Any given day will bring its own set of “fires” – technology challenges, interpersonal conflict and challenging team dynamics, vendor issues, missed deadlines, etc. Effectively identifying and managing those “flare-ups” is essential to delivering your transformation vision. But in another sense, the “fires” are an indicator that you have the right energy powering your transformation. Flare-ups are a sign that you’ve built a strong fire, but they must be managed effectively to deliver the good stuff.

5. It takes patience…and commitment to defeat the “stall”

If you know anything about smoking a brisket, you’re familiar with the “stall” – a phenomenon in which the internal temperature of the brisket suddenly stops rising during the cooking process. The stall can last more than four hours and usually occurs around 150°F (well shy of the ideal temperature of 200°F). For the barbecue novice, this can be one of the most puzzling and frustrating parts of the process. But there is no shortcut or way around the stall – you just have to patiently and persistently power through it and wait for the temperature to continue rising.

In transformation projects, we often see a similar phenomenon in which team members, stakeholders, and end users experience “transformation fatigue” mid-way through multiyear transformation journeys. Early on in projects, folks are excited and engaged about the promise of transformation. And in the late stages of the journey, people see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” It’s the middle phase – the “stall” – that can be very frustrating and where organizations and individuals are most likely to give up. But in the same way that you have to stick with it to produce a great brisket, you have to “keep on keeping on” to deliver your transformation vision. Perseverance and commitment to your original vision – particularly during this challenging part of the project – may make or break your transformation journey.

CEO Keat Wilkins grilling at the Sense Corp Annual BBQ Competition.

So what can we learn from this?

Digital Transformation – like great brisket – is a journey, not a destination. You can’t get there without a great plan, but you also have to be willing to adjust on the fly and realize that there’s as much art to the process as there is science. It requires patience and persistence, and it’s impossible to do it perfectly every single time. But with a good approach, the right tools, and a positive attitude, you can beat the odds and deliver an extraordinary experience.

If you’d like to talk to one of our transformation experts about your own digital transformation journey – or you need some BBQ pointers – please reach out. We’re happy to help.

Sense Corp is a leading professional services firm transforming organizations for the digital era. We help clients solve their toughest challenges by bridging the gap between what is and what’s possible. To learn more about the services we offer, contact us.

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