Lessons from Laundry: How your white t-shirts are like your digital transformation

As I dressed this morning beside an open closet holding way too many white-t-shirts, it struck me that how men buy white t-shirts is very similar to how far too many companies tackle digital transformation.

“It’s unplanned, random and you ultimately spend more than you need to own too much of what you don’t.”

I own more than a few white t-shirts. In fact, I’ve probably got at least 30 in my unnecessarily cramped closet. Which is far more, as I’ve already noted, than I need. Which also makes me no different than tens of millions of other adult males who build up a large and random t-shirt inventory because they spend so little time thinking of the how, why and how much associated with white t-shirt ownership. Companies do their own version of this when trying to figure out how technology-driven change can lead to good things.

Individual? Organization? The end result is similar; a half-dozen shirts whose neck circumference is too large, a three-million dollar customer service app the CS team finds too illogical to use (a true story), too many baggy shirts noticeably lumpy underneath a dress shirt, or a DXP implementation without the annual maintenance support to generate anywhere close to an ROI sufficient to justify the annual subscription fee (a true and sadly too common story).

So, how can we avoid unused apps and cluttered closets?

Clarity

Problem #`1 with digital transformation is confusion about what it even means. Some think it means sexy stuff like AI and data analytics; others think it means improving relationships with prospects and customers; still others may assume it means streamlining new product development processes using rapid prototyping machines. The starting point is to seek common ground among the relevant constituencies.

The starting point for closet cleanup is similar; grab all your white shirts and throw them on the bed. (Don’t forget to check the laundry).

Use Case Analysis 

What do you want to be able to do that you can’t currently?

  • Connect systems internally and externally
  • Have better data or be even able to access it for the first time
  • Complete tasks faster
  • Accomplish more with fewer staff
  • Improve how you attract customers
  • Reduce sale cycles
  • Transition one-time revenue to subscription opportunities
  • Improve the collection and analysis of data to help identity new markets
  • Communicate more efficiently with prospects where they are
  • Track R&D development within your markets
  • Monitor sociological and cultural issues

This is often the point where we’re contacted at EX Squared by companies who don’t know what they don’t know. Basically, they have no idea what’s possible. Which really isn’t that surprising because their wheelhouse is selling soft drinks or building housing developments.

Creating a use case wishlist is a valuable exercise for any digital transformation project. It’s also the key to smart white t-shirt inventory management. With your pile on the bed looming, sit down with your spouse and list all the situations where you would need a white tee or, something that is often more appropriate, a white undershirt. Think weddings, office visits, nice dinners, 6:00am gym workouts, business casual dress conferences, etc.

Planning

This could be the hardest part of your Digital Transformation 1.0 journey; transforming a wishlist into a prioritized project list with the budget approval and constituent buy-in you need to move forward. When you reach this point, you will have likely addressed the clarity issue described earlier. If you did the prep work, you should have a pretty good idea of where you can get early and easy wins. I’d start there.

Do you have the talent? Do you have relevant domain expertise? Is this something you even want to tackle? Are you better off finding a digital transformation partner who does these sorts of projects every day? You need objectivity here about your resources and capabilities to develop these digital transformation projects.

Shirt inventory planning is far simpler. You will need to cull. Your closet cull should include you, a weekend afternoon and someone with better fashion sense and judgement. (There’s a reason why Queer Eye has been so popular for so long). For me, this means my wife. With a use case list in one hand to consult, and a beverage in the other to sip, it’s time for her to act like a Roman Emperor and give an unsentimental thumbs-up or down on each shirt I put on. Within an hour, you should have a keeper pile and an even larger discard mound. You should also have a shopping list to recharge your likely tired inventory.

Understanding What Digital Should Look Like in Your Company

It’s not difficult to imagine Jerry Sienfeld riffing on this topic in a Netflix special and finding much humor in white t-shirt ownership. It’s less obvious where he could humor in digital transformation; the stakes there are much higher.

Even if I don’t follow my own advice about smarter white t-shirt management, I’ll survive. Companies failing to get digital transformation right won’t. It’s really about survival based on being good at identifying opportunities, pursuing them quickly and managing expectations and disruptions.

My advice is to start by analyzing what digital should look like in your organization. Think deeply about becoming more agile, better serving your constituents (from employees, vendors and customers) and responding to rivals and emerging threats. (And avoid impulse purchasing on Black Friday).

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