After 27 years at Procter & Gamble and the #1 Amazon book ‘Why Digital Transformations Fail’, there are few more experienced in transformation than Tony Saldanha.

Now at the helm of digital transformation agency Transformant, Tony believes he can distil the key problems of change projects into two areas. In fact, he believes most of what we need to know about digital transformation failures can be found within a simple scene from Alice in Wonderland.

Most of us will recall the sequence where Alice meets the Cheshire Cat at a crossroad.

Alice asks, “would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the Cat replies.

“I don’t much care where, so long as I get somewhere,” says Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” says the Cat.

For Tony, this is an accurate portrayal of what’s happening with many of the digital transformations that go wrong.

“In the research I did for my book, I talked to 100s of companies and executives and I’ve got it down to two main reasons. One is language and the second is disciplined execution.”

In terms of language, it starts from the very beginning. As Tony observes, “when people say digital transformation, they have 100s of different potential meanings”. And so, back to Alice in Wonderland. If you’re not clear about where you want to go to, and that other people are too, the chances are you’re not going to get there.

Clarity on the end-goal and desired business outcomes, as well as how these are communicated, is key to successful transformation projects. Going in with an Alice-like attitude of ‘so long as I get somewhere’ simply doesn’t cut it.

Real digital transformation, as Tony defines it, is essentially “what companies, organizations and economies need to do to rewire themselves so that those of them that are successful in the third industrial revolution become successful in the fourth industrial revolution.”

“Real digital transformation is not about technology. It’s about quite literally re-inventing yourself.”

For Tony, establishing this definition is essential. “If you’re not clear that that’s the only allowed definition of digital transformation, then you are going to have a lot of failures.” Without it, you may have some stakeholders falling for a wonderland definition of adoption, rather than the reality.

In terms of discipline and execution, Tony makes the point that the requirements related to digital transformation are actually very different from typical execution methodologies.

“Whether it’s Six Sigma, project management, or whatever IT organizations have been brought up on, real digital transformation is related to the fourth industrial revolution, not just IT.”

When confronting this scale of project, a methodology that’s more about IT projects and not enough about organizational change management won’t cut it—especially in cases that are high risk, high return, or involve the juggling of portfolios. Tony adds that if this is your chosen approach, “then of course you’re going to fail.”

There’s a point in every journey where we ask ourselves, subconsciously or otherwise, ‘where do I go from here?’ And while imagination and creativity are wonderful, valuable things, when it comes to digital transformation, it’s those with a clear plan and defined goal that tend to find the right path.

For more insights from our session with Tony watch Talking Transformation with Tony Saldanha today.