The 4 D’s that Drive a Successful Digital Transformation

4 Ds of Digital Transformation

By Linsey Billings

I recently came across an article published by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, describing the 7 Decisions they believe matter most in a digital transformation. As a consultant who helps clients with their digital transformations, I found much of this information to be true. There are four key components that drive McKinsey’s questions and those are the topics I wanted to highlight in my blog post. These components, or objectives rather, include Discover, Design, Deliver, and De-Risk.


I will first begin with Discover as this is typically where most project implementations begin. Digital transformations do not arise out of a vacuum, but instead they come from businesses recognizing their pain points and taking an initiative to move away from their legacy systems that are impeding competitive growth. The discovery process begins with a comprehensive discussion around where the organization wants to go. This includes both realistic objectives and far reaching idealistic goals. Although setting expectations up front is detrimental to the success of the transformation itself and the satisfaction of the client, it is also important to draw visionary statements and allowing those to provide structure for long term goals. Once the overall objects are defined, it’s necessary to pinpoint the specific pain points that have collectively weighed down the agility of the organization’s performance.


The evolution from legacy, disparate systems to an advanced, well-integrated system will need a leader who will consistently champion the change and promote the value to everyone within the company. This individual needs to see the value of the digital solution and be able to effectively communicate to all users how the change will benefit them within their specific job duty and how it will grow the company as a whole. If your users do not perceive the value, it will cause poor user adoption rates and hamper the success of the implementation. It is also imperative to take a “trickle down” approach within the discover/design phase limiting the strategy/planning communication to only those key decision makers so as to eliminate unnecessary noise that can become a distraction to the main objective. If you bring in the VPs, Sales Managers, and Sales Reps into one strategy session, you will lose focus on what is most important to main objective.


Delivering the project into small interactive stages is crucial to keeping key stakeholders engaged throughout the transformation process. It is important to get their feedback on each specific area of the implementation and identify any areas of dissatisfaction early on. This will help to alleviate any conflicts later in the project phase when it is too late to adjust and make changes without disturbing other areas of the project and ultimately, altering the schedule and budget. In addition, instead of front loading all of the configuration pieces and then realizing that one piece isn’t working as well as expected or is now out of budget, it is best to start simple and then begin to build out the customizations and bring in the additional integration pieces. For example, a company may have just left Dreamforce and is really drinking the kool-aid and wants to move forward with Salesforce Sales Cloud for their CRM, Kenandy for their backend office, and Pardot for their marketing automation. Although these are all great solutions that I would highly recommend to any customer, it is risky to implement these all at once without understanding how they will all relate to one another within the specific business case and without determining whether there was a better solution that would have fit the organization’s needs with possibly less cost and less management.


I included McKinsey’s “How to Decide During the Transformation” question under the De-risk heading because identifying risks upfront will help alleviate any unnecessary conflicts and keep the project on schedule and budget. Identifying risks can include the availability of the client over the course of the implementation, the areas in which user adoption will be weak, the data to be migrated is “dirty”, and also whether the key stakeholders are hesitant to make decisions. It is impossible to foresee all the problems that can arise within a digital transformation but taking the time to uncover potential risks and having a contingency plan will serve everyone better in the long run.

McKinsey notes in a previous article, “More than 70 percent of transformation programs fail.”
Although this is a startling statistic, I believe that the four D’s presented by McKinsey can greatly reduce this percentage. By completing a define/design phase where the client and consultant work together to uncover all current pain points and establish a long term vision, establishing the evangelist who will increase and sustain user adoption, breaking the implementation down into several iterative stages where feedback and acceptance can be provided before moving to the next stage, and identifying all foreseeable risks related to the project and its stakeholders, there is a great chance that the transformation will be a valuable solution for its users and and a catalyst for achieving the organization’s vision.

Click to read McKinsey & Company’s article “The seven decisions that matter in a digital transformation: A CEO’s guide to reinvention

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