8 Considerations for Picking Your First Digital Transformation Projects


on February 14, 2017

The content of this article was updated on February 14, 2017, originally published August of 2015

By this point, most organizations don’t have to be convinced about the need to go digital. The more pressing question is how to make digital innovation a reality. After learning about the Mendix Platform and approach, CIOs, CDOs, and innovation heads typically say something like, “This is great. How do I get started?”

Because Mendix enables a new way to deliver innovative applications, conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply. But have no fear—we’ve guided more than 500 customers along their digital journey. And we’ve distilled those best practices into our digital transformation framework, helping new Mendix customers get quick wins under their belt, and then structure and scale their innovation program.

The Start phase is about starting small and celebrating success to build internal excitement—and momentum—for your digital innovation initiative. But before you break out the cake and champagne, you have to pick the right project. It is important to pick the right first projects: ones where you can deliver business value quickly but at the same time, are significant enough that their impact will ripple throughout the organization.

Here are 8 ideal characteristics of your first applications

8 considerations to consider when choosing your first digital transformation project

1. They can go live quickly, ideally within 30 days

One of the main goals of the first projects is to validate your ability to rapidly bring new ideas to market. You want these applications to be something that gets the organization excited and open to experimentation.

Therefore, it’s important that you identify quick wins that can go live quickly, typically in 30 days. Gartner calls them ‘Island’ projects, as they are limited in scope and can stand alone in production. The key is to show results quickly to create a flywheel effect that accelerates momentum for your digital innovation initiative.

2. They’re highly visible and will deliver direct business value

Your first projects should also be highly visible within the organization. They must have the right urgency and executive support, as well as deliver tangible business value. You want to ensure the results get noticed and your success gets shared.

You want word of your initial successes to spread like wildfire throughout the organization.  Suddenly, you’ll have colleagues banging at your door, saying things like, “I heard you delivered that application in 30 days. How did you do that? Will it work for my project?”

3. The business needs to be involved

In addition to executive support, you want projects that require direct business involvement. This isn’t unusual with digital innovation projects, as the requirements are often unclear and need to be refined through collaboration with, and feedback from, the business. The goal is to illustrate the higher level of creativity and collaboration facilitated by this new approach.

A common theme is that user involvement in the development process leads to much higher acceptance. And while this collaboration is important to delivering on the core business requirements, it is also about uncovering those small features that aren’t known at the beginning of the project but ultimately determine the difference between average and great user experience.

4. The applications have limited external dependencies

To deliver applications quickly, in as little as 30 days, you need to limit external dependencies. The productivity advantage offered by a platform like Mendix can be quickly mitigated by external factors over which you have no control.

Examples include:

  • Integration with existing systems, particularly those where APIs aren’t defined. At one client, it took three months just to get access to their back-office system. You simply cannot wait that long.
  • Deployment infrastructure. It’s not uncommon at large companies to wait two months for the required hardware. For this reason, deploy your first application in the Mendix Cloud. With one-click deployment, you’re able to remove all friction from the deployment process.
  • Industry regulations. Often, application needs emerge in response to new regulations. However, if all the requirements aren’t available, you’ll be forced to wait, causing project delays.

For your first project (MVP), instead of building direct integration that might slow down the project, it is important to be pragmatic and use less refined methods such as importing and exporting Excel or CSV files. Once the project is successful, you can go back and optimize the process.

5. There’s a desire to take the applications into production

Another important consideration is that you can take the applications into production. You will gain a clearer picture of the time to market advantage. Plus, you will help your internal PR efforts with a live application that’s delivering real business value. (As an aside, starting with a prototype might lead others to believe this approach is only suitable for prototyping, selling the impact short.)

If you decide not to take an application live, the decision should be made for business—not technical—reasons. For instance, a Mendix customer built a customer self-service portal in six weeks, only to discover a week before go-live that their biggest competitor launched a mobile app. They delayed the launch a few weeks to build their own mobile app. This business decision led to a better outcome.

6. The requirements aren’t completely specified

As discussed above, digital innovation projects are often marked by unclear business requirements. Don’t worry; this is a good thing! For your first projects, it is better to define a high-level goal or purpose, versus detailed requirements. Then, your team can capture and refine requirements using an iterative development approach. The process of getting from idea to production is traditionally a lot of work, so when your users see an idea come to fruition in just 30 days, they will be amazed.

7. They’re Smart Apps

To ensure that apps deliver the best possible experience to the user, they should be intelligent, contextual and proactive – Smart Apps. For example, Waze is a navigation app that is smart and personalized for the user because it knows where you are in real-time, knows whether you are in transit and knows when you typically arrive to work in the morning. It combines contextual and historical data with real-time traffic and weather data to optimize your commute.

8. The applications have a WOW factor

Lastly, it is important for your first projects to deliver a WOW factor that is worth celebrating. A wow factor is achieved by building something with high value that is unexpected. This can be the app by itself or 
a cool feature. Other people throughout your organization should come to you, asking you to apply your new approach to their problems so they can share in that success.

First digital transformation project should have a WOW factor

Begin with the end in mind

By picking the right first projects, you will illustrate four important things:

  • You can release applications in an unprecedentedly short time to market.
  • Business and IT can effectively collaborate to deliver new innovations.
  • You can achieve results with limited resources (small teams, low cost).
  • You’re able to work with agile processes and feedback cycles.

Your first projects are not about things like scaling, operations or continuous improvement. Ultimately, it’s about delivering business value quickly, in an experimental way where creativity and close cooperation between business and IT are central. By following these guidelines, you’ll have plenty of success to celebrate, triggering a flywheel effect within your organization.