It’s the missed opportunities that cost us, not the projects that fail

In my last post, I made the point that successful project implementation requires that someone who gets the business need implements the projects and that the failure of many digital projects result from the wrong people calling the shots (such as people like me).


The ability to successfully implement projects is an incredibly important skill. In fact Pete Cook in his book The New Rules of Management suggests that “The success of you life comes down to the important projects that you have implemented”.

Although I love Pete’s work and completely agree with the need for strong project implementation, I would also argue that this is actually NOT the biggest problem most organisations face when it comes to digital technology. The biggest problem that most of them face is identifying the best projects to implement.

[tweetthis url=”″]The biggest cost of all are the opportunities that are missed in the first place.[/tweetthis]

The right projects implemented poorly will ultimately have a bigger impact on the bottom line then the wrong projects implemented well…but the biggest cost of all is the right projects that are never identified and investigated in the first place.

This is kind of important so I will say it again (a little louder):


See, we are used to identifying projects the size of elephants: big meaty projects that would keep the tribe going for months or years. These projects have elephant-sized returns but normally also come with a far higher degree of complexity and danger. Although these projects are still extremely important, if only focusing on the elephants we will miss out on a whole heap of other smaller, easier projects sitting right in front of us. These are the antelope, zebra and meerkat-sized projects that are still nutritious but only require days or hours to implement.

In the digital space, these smaller opportunities have been proliferating at breakneck speed. The splintering of the traditional desktop environment into web based apps means that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of little opportunities to drive productivity and improve the way we work. And each one of these opportunities that is not implemented means that we continue to operate in a way that is more expensive or less effective than might otherwise be the case.

The challenge is, to identify these projects you need digital champions operating at ground level. People engaged in the every day work of the organisation but with the knowledge, skills and awareness to hunt down these opportunities when they emerge. So rather than focusing on the projects that have the biggest returns but are ultimately challenging to implement, why not focus on projects that are easy to implement but still have a reasonable return. And then just do it again and again.

I am currently looking to work with a small number of businesses to help them develop their digital champions. If you are interested to find out what this might look like and the benefits that this could bring to your business please get in touch.

I’m the type of person that makes digital projects fail

Digital technology projects have a bad reputation for running over budget and under performing. In fact research by McKinsey from a couple of years ago suggests that, on average, large IT projects run 45% over budget, 7% over time and deliver 56% less value than predicted.

Clearly we need someone to blame.


When McKinsey looked at the underlying causes, they found  the number one factor for these failures was that the projects did not have a clear business focus (meaning there was no clear objective and a lack of alignment with business objectives). Fundamentally, the people designing and delivering the projects didn’t understand the business because either

a. They have no business experience and only understood what the technology does, not why it is needed
b. They were consultants, contractors or vendors who didn’t truly understand the needs of the customer
c. both of the above

Now clearly this is not a very self serving post given that I am often one of the people on the outside who doesn’t really get your business. Technically, I am the type of people that makes digital projects fail.

All done. Mystery solved. Except…

The truth is though that people on the outside are still required. It is unrealistic that any organisation, regardless of size, can have all the expertise they require in constant employ. Sometimes you need expertise or advice that is a little bit niche, or maybe you only need it for a short amount of time. It is just that you don’t want people like me running your projects or even worse, deciding which projects you should be undertaking . People like me need to answer to someone on the inside who gets the business, understands its objectives, can influence the right people and ultimately make sure that the digital projects that get delivered are the ones that the business needs.

[tweetthis url=”″]A #digitalchampion is someone who understand YOUR business first and the technology second.[/tweetthis]

You need to develop your very own digital champions, people who understand YOUR business first and the technology second. And you will need to develop them yourself. By virtue of their need to understand your business (and the fact that digital savvy business focused people are also in incredibly short supply) it would be difficult to hire externally. But until you get them, the digital projects that get implemented will not be the ones you need, they will be the result of the squeakiest wheel, the smoothest salesman or the IT department’s best guess.

When things changed slowly and the stakes were low we could afford to take an ad hoc approach to technology but when digital opportunities could add up to 40% to revenue and reduce costs by over 20% then it is probably time to get a little more serious.

I am currently looking to work with a small number of businesses to help them develop their digital champions. If you are interested to find out what this might look like and the benefits that this could bring to your business please get in touch.

Will you be your Champion’s champion?

What to do about digital disruption

As a speaker for The Executive Connection I have spoken to over 400 SME executives about the impact of digital technology on business over the last two years. Almost without fail, these CEOs have acknowledged the pressing need to take a more proactive approach to digital technology and identify opportunities to disrupt their own business (before someone else does). Yet for all the urgency around digital disruption, theirs has generally been a large amount of inaction and the biggest frustration for many of these CEOs has been in knowing what to do next.


The reason for this is that the ‘what to do next’ is different for each organisation. Every one of the CEOs I spoke to was dealing with a unique organisational problem based on available skills and experience, legacy systems,  and industry requirements that shaped their opportunities and defined their needs. As such any cookie cutter solution imposed from the outside would be unlikely to have any meaningful long term impact. As a result, one of my great frustrations has been in knowing how to support these organisations in a way that was both effective and cost effective.*

What is missing is a Digital Champion

What I now realise is that these organisations don’t need someone from the outside telling them what to do. They need someone on the inside making things happen. They need an internal resource that was tasked with helping the organisation identify, prioritise, and implement against digital opportunities as they occur This is the role of a Digital Champion.

In larger organisations, the Digital Champion might otherwise be called the Chief Digital Officer. According to McKinsey, the number of CDOs in the world is growing at 200% per year (with Melbourne City Council being the latest organisation to add one) and this extraordinary growth is a direct reflection of the growing need for organisations to take a proactive rather than ad-hoc approach to digital technology. In smaller organisations, budgetary and resourcing constraints mean a full time CDO is unrealistic. Instead SMEs need a Digital Champion that can provide a similar set of skills on a part time basis.

Given the extraordinary (and growing demand) for digital skills, there is little chance that SMEs will be able to hire the Digital Champion they need. Instead, they are going to have to develop them.** Although there is a good chance that a potential Digital Champion already has a passion for technology, they will need help and support to channel this passion into relevant (and valuable) business projects. They will need help identifying and prioritising opportunities, leading and influencing others, and implementing the projects that matter.

Welcome to the Digital Champion’s Club

The Digital Champion’s Club is my answer to what SMEs need to do next in an age of digital disruption. In essence, it is a support group for Digital Champions, giving them all the resources they need to identify and launch successful digital projects. A member of the Digital Champions Club will get

  • A tailored development plan and development goals
  • Expert one on one mentoring on a monthly basis
  • Lightning email/phone support as required
  • Access to a resource library of templates, models and other useful stuff

Best of all, they will get to participate in the quarterly Club Days with their peers. Club Days will provide a unique learning experience where a group of between ten to 20 Digital Champions from different organisations get together. During the day there will be a combination of expert tuition, peer learning sessions, and the opportunity to work on their digital project in a supportive environment.

Through this model it is expected that Digital Champions (working on a part time basis) should deliver between $100,000 and $500,000 in benefit to their organisation per year.

Will you be your Champion’s Champion?

Through the Club I see my role as being the champion of Digital Champion’s, but this is not something I can do alone. I can provide external support and the ‘push’ to help your Digital Champion develop but they will also need an internal champion to provide the ‘pull’, someone who can provide the resourcing, internal support, and influence to help them deliver the projects that disrupt your business for the better. The question is, will you also champion your Champion?

Applications are now open for the Digital Champions Club. If you see the opportunity in developing a digital champion and think this might be your ‘what to do next’ about digital disruption, I would love to talk to you – champion to champion.


*Coming from a small business background I am incredibly conscious of the challenges that these organisations face, especially when it comes to ensuring that limited financial resources are channeled into the types of projects that have a high return on investment and a good chance of success.

**It is unlikely that this is a role that you will recruit for, primarily because the person you need would be either unavailable or prohibitively expensive. Instead, your digital champion is probably someone already in your employ. It is likely to be the person that you or your other staff turn to when you’re looking for advice about new technology.

Information pressure and information capacity

Over the last 20 years, we have seen a steady increase in information pressure yet our ability to manage it has largely remained the same. You can think of information pressure in the same way as you think about water pressure. If you’re watering the garden and open up the tap, more water goes through the garden hose. And just like when you’re watering the garden, you rarely want full pressure. The quantity of water ends up being much more than our capacity to deal with it and we end wetting things rather than watering them.


Over that time it has become easier and easier to both create new information and share existing stuff, and as a result, the amount of information travelling through the pipes has grown, and quickly. Between 2011 and 2015, there was a 20% increase in the amount of business email sent and received. By 2018, it is expected to increase by at least that much again. Yet, although our ability to create and share information has increased, our capacity – or ability to deal with it – has remained largely the same.

So what does this mean?

It means that we are now spending more and more time managing email which means that we are spending less and less time on the other things that matter…like our people.

In essence our growing information load is making us less productive leaders.

[tweetthis]Effective technology can help us manage, store, and retrieve information quickly when we need it.[/tweetthis]

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just as technology has been instrumental in turning up the information pressure, it also has the potential to dramatically increase our capacity. The effective use of technology can not only help us quickly and easily manage the information we receive, it can help us to save it so we can find it and retrieve it quickly when we need it.

The obvious outcome of this is reduced time spent on email and information management and more time on leading. The less obvious (but perhaps more impactful) outcome is the reduced cognitive load that allows for clearer thinking and better decision making.

We already live in a world of too much information and yet for most executives the information load is only going to increase. Given that what is at stake is our productivity, the effectiveness of our leadership and the quality of our decision making is more important than ever so that we provide leaders with the tools and techniques that will improve their effectiveness.

Is your leadership team drinking from the firehose?

The time we seem to spend managing information rather than doing our work always amazes me. Research by Google a couple of years ago suggested that information workers (people who do thinking work, rather than doing work) spend over 30% of their time looking for stuff…and not always successfully.


The hashtag #TMI is used on social media to refer to someone who shares just a little too much about their personal lives. #TMI stands for Too Much Information and the truth is, this is not just a problem in our personal lives, it is just as much a problem in our professional lives as well. People cc us in on conversations we don’t really care about, and we sit through meetings to get the smallest of status updates that are actually relevant to our roles and we scan endless documents to try and find the bit that’s important.

We are trying to drink from a firehose and all we are doing is getting wet.

It used to be that being at the centre of communication channels in an organisation was a benefit. Now it is just a burden. We have more and more information to get through and our main strategy to date has been to just spend more and more time doing it. The truth is, every hour managing our information is an hour that we don’t spend doing what matters.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t check our email (as appealing as that sounds). What I am suggesting is that we can do it better. What if we could use a combination of technique and technology to improve the way we manage our information. A program I recently ran for the leadership team of one of Victoria’s local councils is a great case study of this. It showed that giving people the right techniques and the right technology to manage their information (and then showing them how to use it) reduced the time burden of #TMI by more than 2 hours a week per participant with one director citing a saving of 5 hours per week. Across the whole leadership team the total time saving was about 90 hours per week, or the equivalent of two full time employees.

But this is not just about time saving (if you have read some of my previous blogs you would know that this is an incredibly poor measure of productivity), this is really about freeing up your leadership team to focus on what really matters. Apart from the time saving the training also gave the leadership team the tools they needed to collaborate better, to work with greater flexibility and to make more informed decisions.

To stretch the analogy just a little too far, we need to teach our leaders how to get cup full of water when they need a drink and save the firehose for when we need to fight fires.

If you live in a world of too much information and can’t afford to keep throwing more time at the problem, get in touch to find out more about the leadership programs I run.

Do you think your orgnisation could manage it’s information better?

Digital Conversations with Patrick Hollingworth

It is my pleasure to present this week’s Digital Conversation with Patrick Hollingworth, an accomplished high-altitude mountaineer and leadership, teamwork, and business safety expert. In his professional role as a business consultant, Patrick draws from his mountaineering experience to help individuals and organisations cope with uncertainty in a changing business environment.

Patrick provides a unique perspective on why organisational leaders need to to be employing emerging technologies, especially mobile, cloud and social, to drive agility and flexibility in the way people work.



S: You talk a lot in your work about the idea of VUCA, could you explain what this means and why it’s important for businesses?

A: VUCA is an acronym which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It originated in the United States Military and was devised as a succinct way of describing the ‘new’ landscape that the US military found itself in after the cessation of the Cold War. The global landscape had seemingly changed overnight from bilateral (i.e. the West vs. the Soviet Union) to multilateral (i.e. the West vs. many smaller, unknown opponents). This altered landscape would, they predicted, bring with it a lack of stability, certainty and simplicity, and an increase in ambiguity. For the most part, they were spot on.

Since then it’s been picked up by a few people who consult to organisations, me being one of them. I reckon it’s a great way of summarising the new landscape which, not only organizations, but all people and society are dealing with today. Globalisation and social and political change is having a significant impact on pretty much every aspect of our lives and most of this change is driven by technological disruption. I think a lot of us tend to dismiss it as a concept which only applies to Silicon Valley and the tech sector. But nothing could be further from the truth. Everything is ripe for disruption and the problem with disruption is that it’s really hard to predict or forecast where it will happen next. Essentially, you can’t, so VUCA describes the landscape we’re all in and it requires us to develop new ways of doing things. What worked yesterday is barely working today and certainly won’t work tomorrow!

S: What is it about your own experience that has led you to focus on this particular subject area?

A: It’s a kind of interesting path that led me to focusing on the work that I do around VUCA today. At university, I studied an interesting mix of geography, anthropology and psychology, and that led me to working as a consultant to a lot of large mining and oil and gas companies during Australia’s mining boom of the 2000’s. I worked for a small but very successful niche consulting company which, at the height of the boom, was acquired by a large multi-national consultancy. Overnight, they attempted to transplant their large organisational culture into this small niche company. It failed miserably and I got to see first-hand how badly cultural change programs can go. Within a few years of the takeover, more than 80% of the original staff had left.

At the same time, I was developing my skill set as a mountaineer and was embarking annually on Himalayan climbing expeditions. That eventually led me to climbing Everest in 2010, and subsequent to that actually working as an expedition leader, so I spent a lot of time in that Himalayan environment at high altitude. In my experience, there’s no better place for testing out what individuals and teams are capable of than when put under pressure at high-altitude. Everything is really hard up there!

As I continued my consulting work with large organizations, I started to notice that the business and political landscape post GFC was becoming increasingly uncertain, and that many of these organisations were responding to this uncertainty in a fairly reactive manner. It occurred to me that that is the last thing you would do in the mountains when surrounded by uncertainty. That’s how accidents happen. So that’s when I started looking at the similarities between the high-altitude mountain environment and this new business landscape, where uncertainty and overwhelm are the norm. And it just so happened there was already a word for it – VUCA!

S: What are some of the successful strategies you would put in place in a VUCA mountaineering environment and how do they translate to the corporate world?

A: Before setting in place a specific strategy, I would actually start with establishing an overarching context, a philosophy under which everything else will sit. This central philosophy is essentially an acceptance that the forthcoming period (be it a day, week, month, however long your climb or expedition is going to take) is going to entail some discomfort. Possibly even a bit of suffering. But I need to prepare myself for that in a mental context firstly. Then once I’m in the mountains, and something violent happens, such as an avalanche, or if uncertainty persists, such as fast moving or unpredictable weather, I’m not caught off-guard.

With regard to an actual strategy, I use a framework which consists of nine elements. The first three are about choosing the approach, building the team, and making sense of the surrounding environment. The next three steps are about the getting the vision, team engagement, and resilience right. Then the final three are about making safe decisions en route, constant learning, and thinking longer-term.

I find that all of this is of huge relevance to the corporate world, but in recognising this relevance, you need to move beyond the approach of the typical motivational speaker who might proclaim that “I climbed Mount Everest and you can too.” Today’s corporate world is way more complex, informed, and nuanced for such a simple message. However, when you go a whole lot deeper, that’s when you can start extracting some really powerful learnings.

S: I appreciate your expertise is not in technology but as you pointed to technology earlier as a key driver of the uncertainty that many businesses are facing. If you were to apply your framework to an organisation’s technology decisions, what advice would give them?

A: I reckon if applying my framework to an organisation’s technology decisions, probably the most important factor would be the first: getting the approach right.

In mountaineering, there are generally two schools of approach. The first one is called Expedition Style, and that’s where you lay siege to the mountain and overpower it with excess manpower and equipment. It’s a really effective way of getting climbers to the top, and it’s used on about 99% of occasions in the Himalayas due to the extremely high altitude. The downside to it, however, is that it’s a fairly cumbersome approach. Whilst it’s powerful, it’s also a bit unwieldy and slow to respond. It’s not a particularly agile way to climb. The second approach is known as Alpine Style. That’s where you climb in a much smaller team carrying far less equipment, which allows you to move really quickly. It’s an arguably more exposed way of climbing, but it does mean that you’re agile and can respond really quickly to the changing environment. You’ll be up on the summit and back down in base camp before any of the expedition style climbers have even had breakfast!

Applying this analogy to technology within an organisation, I guess it’s like mainframe computing versus cloud computing. Mainframes are the expedition style of computing: large and powerful and pretty expensive to operate, and really well suited to large organisations dominating a stable and known environment. Cloud and mobile computing, on the other hand, are like alpine style: they’re much cheaper and affordable for smaller businesses, and enable agility and flexibility that allow organisations to more quickly adapt to a changing and uncertain business environment.

Patrick is a TEDx presenter, a trained workshop designer and presenter, and an accredited practitioner of the Hermman Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), an internationally renowned and highly effective diagnostic tool for determining the cognitive thinking styles of teams and individuals. To learn more about what he can do for you and your team, visit

Digital Conversations with Dr. Andrew Pratley

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to meet a bunch of incredibly talented people doing interesting things with technology. As part of a new series called ‘Digital Conversations’ I am going to bring some of this great thinking to you through a series of expert interviews.

My first guest is Dr Andrew Pratley, an expert in the field of data and analytics. Andrew completed his PhD at UNSW and is currently an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School in the Discipline of Business Analytics. Over the past decade Andrew has taught thousands of students and trained hundreds of professionals in the power of data.


What I love about Andrew’s work is that he takes one of the most abstract parts of digital technology, data, and applies it in a way that helps people build knowledge and make better decisions.

S: There is a lot of talk about ‘big data’ but you tell your clients to focus on ‘your data’. How is this different and why is it more important?

A: Your data is information you have access to from your clients. customers or co-workers. It’s information readily and easily available and reflects the unique aspects of your business. Big data, on the other hand, is the great drag net of the internet. Yes, it picks up interesting information, but there is a lot of by-catch. Without extensive sorting, you don’t know what’s important and what’s irrelevant.

When I implement change in an organisation I want to know on what basis we made this decision. If that decision comes from information about your customers (your data) I think there’s a far better chance of success than from big data.

S: Where do I need to look to find my data and how do I know if it’s any good?

A: Your data has a shelf life of bottled water, not bottled milk. Instead of looking for your data, spend your time looking for a question worth answering. A question that you care about and would be willing to devote considerable time and resources to. Formulating a good question is a blend of scientific and creative thinking. Science is the process of observation and deduction. Creativity is the process of abstraction and connecting ideas. Work out which area of thinking are you strong in and then focus on the other area to develop better questions.

Coming up with a simple and compelling question that will provide a clear answer is 80% struggle. All too often I see people ask questions like “What is the value of social media?’ to which there is no answer. A better type of question would be “Do customers that purchase in store purchase more from the website with SMS or email follow up correspondence?”.

S: What are the benefits that organisations get from data-driven decision making?

A: I think the use of data to answer questions is a bit like the use of technology to improve our lives. Almost everyone uses data every day to make decisions. Just like we all use technology everyday to improve our lives. The difference is that there is a science behind the data that is rarely understood. People tend to think that because they don’t understand the science they simply shy away from approaching this space.

I know that organisations that are successful translate their strategy into quantifiable metrics that can be accurately assessed with information. Data-driven decision making is the process around the translation of plan into a quantifiable metrics which tell you truth. Sometimes this can be an inconvenient truth.

There’s a strong argument that because the data will never be perfect, we shouldn’t use it. If people really believe this then they would never buy a house, get married or send their children to school.

S: If I wanted to take a more data-driven approach to decision making what could I do to start now?

A: If an organisation is clear about their strategy then the quickest way to know if you’re succeeding is to collect small amounts of data on a regular basis and test this in a rigorous manner. One example of the many different ways you can collect data is through the receptionist at any physical location. This is a prime opportunity to ask one or two critical questions to the exact target market at the point in time when they are most interested in your business.

Compare this to what most organisation do – they send out a blanket email to their entire database with the chance to win a iPad. Which of these approaches is more likely to produce better results? Which of these is less intrusive? In which of these approaches does the customer feel engaged? When I think about data-driven decision making I don’t wonder when could it be used, rather I wonder why aren’t we using it right now.

Andrew helps franchises, start-ups and Fortune 500 companies to identify the best business opportunities based on their data, and implement measurable success. If you would like to find out more about Andrew’s work or to purchase his book Inside Job: Doing the work you want with the job you have visit his website

If in doubt, follow the pirate with the peg leg

In my final post on what we can learn about leadership from pirates it is time to get down to action, or more specifically actions.

During the 1600s there was a famous French pirate by the name François Le Clerc. He was famous for two reasons, firstly he was incredibly successful, holding down position 13 in Forbes list of Top Earning Pirates of all time (yes there really is a compiled list of top earning pirates), and secondly he had a peg-leg. bhc0315

Legend has it that Le Clerc, or “Jambe de Bois” (“Peg Leg”) was a lead from the front type of pirate and was often the first to board the enemies ships. Eventually though this was his undoing and in one such raid he lost his leg (but in return scored a great nickname). Undeterred, Peg Leg then entered the most successful period of his career, leading a fleet of ten vessels and over 300 men he sacked the capital of Cuba, Raided Puerto Rico and plundering treasure from Grand Canary Island.

[tweetthis url=””]Leading by example is not a one-off thing. It must be done time and again to show true commitment.[/tweetthis]

So, why were so many other pirates willing to follow him into battle, even after he had lost his leg? Because he led by example, and he didn’t just do it once, he did it over and over again.

When it comes to technology we often expect others to go where we aren’t willing to go ourselves. We think it is all well and good to have a digital transformation strategy as long as we don’t have to change. Ultimately we need to lead by example. We need to demonstrate with our own actions, and ultimately, some self sacrifice that we are willing to change and learn new skills just as we are asking others in our organisations to do.

And it is not good enough to just do it once. An action is an anomaly, it is actions that show true commitment.

If you would like to read the other blog posts in this series you can find them here: What is your digital vision, Have an approach where x marks the spot, and Speak from the main deck.

Analogosaurus books have arrived!



I’m incredibly pleased (and just slightly relieved) to announce that my book Analogosuarus: Avoiding Extinction in a World of Digital Business is now 100% officially available.

With so many people I have worked with over the last few years there is a massive amount of uncertainty when it comes to technology in the workplace. Clearly it is changing the way we work but there has been so little help and support for people to understand how it is impacting them and what they can practically do about it.

I hope this book goes some way to answering those questions for people.

To find out more about the book, what it’s about and where you can get it from, please go to

Speak from the main deck

In this third post in my series on pirate leadership we are going to talk about engagement and the need to take your message to where the conversation is happening. I’m a big fan of the TV show Black Sails, partly because my cousin plays the part of ‘Calico’ Jack Rackam but mostly because it is a show about pirates.

black sails

The picture above is taken from the first season when the Captain of the Walrus Captain James Flint needs to convince his crew not to mutiny. What I think is so powerful about the picture is that to get traction, Captain Flint isn’t passing messages second-hand from the comfort of his cabin, he has taken his message to the main deck.

To me this is the difference between talking from a position of power and talking from a position of influence. When we talk from a position of power, we expect others to come to where our message is. When we talk from a position of influence, we take our message to where people are talking.

[tweetthis url=””]To build genuine engagement, take your message to where the conversation is happening. [/tweetthis]

When it comes to digital technology, many leaders are still talking from a position of power. They are broadcasting their messages through traditional channels such as email but haven’t been willing to engage in to social media and other platforms where the people are talking.

The challenge of this is twofold. Firstly, there is a good chance that in a world where many of us are overloaded with email that messages are not getting through. Secondly, we are missing the opportunity to genuinely connect with our followers. To understand their needs and to make sure our message is delivered in a way that is both relevant and compassionate.

Whether your a pirate or a leader, if you want to build genuine engagement with your followers you need to take your message to where the conversation is already happening.

If you would like to read the other posts in this series on Pirate Leadership you click here to find out about the need for pirates to have somewhere to go and the benefit of having a map where x marks the spot.