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Digital transformation: A voyage of discovery

Insight Published on 09 February 2021

Digital transformation is an evolution that is sweeping across the world, revolutionising how, where and how we work in all industries and sectors. 

There are teams of people in different types and size of organisations diligently working on major digital transformation projects which involve implementing new software solutions and systems.

Yet despite the very best intentions and the blood, sweat and tears of all involved, not to mention the huge financial investment, many of these projects are, unfortunately, doomed to fail.

Why digital transformation fails

Due to their scale and complexity, digital transformation projects are likely to massively overrun, budgets will be blown and ultimately, they will not meet the needs of the users or deliver the intended business outcomes.

Relationships between the Board and Project Sponsors will become fraught and technology suppliers who, should be partners, will soon become the foe. In short, what originally started out as an exciting initiative to transform and innovate will turn into a stressful and costly nightmare for everyone involved.

Maybe this was not the opening you were expecting from a technology company whose line of business is digital transformation?

The truth is the reasons why IT projects fail is a well-documented area. Factors include poor requirements definition, lack of communication and transparency, resistance to change, scope creep, users don’t like the system, poor budgeting. I could go on...

The good news is that it doesn’t always have to be this way! For every IT project that ends in tears, there are lots of unsung success stories. We believe that the best way to ensure the success of any digital project, and to get the best return on investment in technology, is to help the project get off to the best possible start with a Discovery phase.

Discovery is often one of the most overlooked and underrated phases of a digital project – yet is probably the most important.

So, what is a Discovery phase and how does it help?

The purpose of Discovery is to have a short but intense period of research, investigation, analysis, and planning to help clarify what the project goals are. Depending on the scope and complexity of a project, a Discovery phase can last from anywhere between one week to two months.

It should include all key stakeholders involved in a project from the sponsors to the various end users. They collaborate with a team of business analysts, UX designers, solution architects and infrastructure specialists – the exact makeup of the team will differ from project to project.

Through a series of workshops and other primary and secondary research methods, the Discovery team will explore the problem by understanding user needs, business needs, policies, and constraints. The facilitators of the Discovery use tried and tested tools and techniques to help the team develop a common vision and align with the organisation’s strategy.

The result is a series of considered recommendations, based on verified facts rather than assumptions, which form the blueprint for the digital project. By the end of the Discovery there should be a clear, documented and, most importantly, shared understanding of the project’s purpose, goals, and requirements.

How does a Discovery phase help ensure the success of a project?

A Discovery phase helps to make sure that we are accurately framing the problem the business is seeking to solve. We all like to solve problems but we often jump straight to the “how” without properly considering the “why”.

At the end of the Discovery process, the organisation will have a clear problem definition and stakeholders have a common vision and consensus about what success looks like and how it will be measured. By doing a Discovery phase first, it ensures that the project sponsors are not only headed in the right direction but that all the various stakeholders are accompanying them on that same path too.

Achieving buy-in and building trust are critical success factors for any project. Many technology projects fail, not because the technology is at fault, but because organisations don’t fully understand and deal with change management or the operational business challenges which can arise.

Discovery helps to reduce risk. It’s a great way to deal with the uncertainty which is present at the start of any project. It helps to avoid the ambiguities and misunderstandings that can lead to scope creep further down the line.

Most importantly, a Discovery phase helps put the users first buy truly understanding their needs and requirements. It ensures that the users are front and centre of any development. By actively involving users early in the process, it also helps to highlight the value that the digital project will deliver to them and help to achieve buy-in.

It also provides a great opportunity to go for a “test drive” with a prospective technology partner. The Discovery phase helps to develop positive relationships and rapport between project team members – establishing two-way trust. It gives organisations a chance to see if they are a good fit for each before making commitments to major development projects.

Saving money and adding value

As a technology company with expertise in software development, PDMS is frequently invited to tender for various projects. This often entails being handed a very detailed specification document, usually including a spreadsheet with a list of hundreds of very specific requirements. Our hearts sink. You can hear the collective sighs as our analysts and software developers plough their way through the Excel columns.

We know that we can absolutely deliver a system which meets all the very specific requirements listed. But, in this format, our team can’t do what they do best. They can’t talk to the stakeholders to understand the problems they are really trying to solve, question preconceived ideas about processes and technology platforms, make sure that that the user’s needs are really understood and are top of the priority list. And the icing on the cake - bring their collective experience and insights from delivering hundreds of successful digital projects to the table.

Remember the headlines about all those wasted millions on failed IT projects? A paid for Discovery Phase shouldn’t be viewed as an additional cost but an investment in the success of a project.

Join us on the first step to digital transformation

We want to go on a voyage of discovery with our clients and put what we’ve learnt about successful project delivery over the past thirty years to good use. We want to help people avoid the common pitfalls that they often fall into when embarking on new technology projects.

We want to collaborate with our clients to deliver digital solutions which customers or employees love to use and which deliver genuine business benefit. If we can also rid the world of long requirements spreadsheets and reduce the number of failed IT projects, that would be a bonus too!

Learn more about our discovery services and how we can help you on your way to digital transformation


  • Digital Transformation
  • Discovery