How Digital Transformation Efforts Get Killed

January 28, 2024

A central tenant of digital transformation efforts aimed at government in the US can be reduced to: “show them the way and they will change.” Code for America tackled this by placing fellows with various government agencies. Folks joined government agencies and tried to do things differently. Yet many times these efforts belly flopped. What’s the issue?

Why It Matters

If you cannot get an organization and its culture to change, then successful digital projects are merely demonstrations. Outliers that were only possible because of the skills and resources of the people there in the specific time and place they happened. Returning to old habits means an organization will fumble its chance to do well on future projects on its own. When they’re government projects, these often have wide reaching consequences.

It’s Easier to Preach to the Choir

When folks in an organization become believers in good software engineering or digital project management practices, they often develop a set of valuable skills. They are then faced with a dilemma: do I stay and try and transform the organization, or leave it for a more lucrative opportunity with other believers? As time progresses the decision becomes inevitable.

Short Circuiting This Issue Is Easy, Except It’s Not

If you’re in management you simply need to offer the converted above market salaries to stay. They’re going to be working harder staying than if they leave. However if you cannot sell this to the folks upstairs, then they will probably leave for another organization.

In Large Orgs Top Down Beats Bottom Up

Whether it is government or a large corporation, digital transformation efforts have a greater chance of success if they are top down efforts instead of bottom up. It is easier to let go of a resistant middle manager or junior software engineer than it is to keep filling empty job requisitions with believers that are willing to make below market.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.