Are you a sheep or a shepherd?

Have you ever noticed that some organizations are prone to struggle with digital/IT projects?  You might be able to tell these folks out of a crowd, based on some common behavior.  They may hop from one agency or tech partner to another, using their perceptions of the partner’s shortcomings as a requirements scope for the incoming partner.  They may have more internal turnover than they'd care for; often times driven by employee burnout, shifting priorities and a crisis-of-the-day culture.  They may be unable to describe their business processes.  When they talk about project scope, they may spend more time referencing competitor’s features, rather than presenting a holistic view of a project.  

Let’s flip the conversation to organizations that get it — that can drive their digital/IT roadmap from the inside.  3 quick examples from my time working with organizations across many industries over the last 18 years.  

Specialty retailer - Years ago, we worked with an online retailer that specialized in high-end designer undergarments.  Even though they competed with industry goliaths like Victoria Secret, they did extremely well.  Why?  They knew both their customer and their product intimately.  They could speak about customer and product attributes with precision, and at an extremely detailed level.  This level of awareness of the customer and product drives more actionable business requirements.  
Takeaway:  Know your customer and know your product/service.

Faith based organization - We worked with a faith based organization on a software selection project for customer experience platform.  This project was essentially the beginning of their multi-year digital transformation initiative - ultimately replacing WCM, eCom, email, CRM and ERP systems.  The organization was constrained by the limits of their aging legacy systems (including some good old fashioned green screen systems).  But, that didn’t stop them from making the most of what they had to work with.  Why?  They had assembled an intimate knowledge of their systems, their business functions and the shape of their data.  This enabled them to be more specific in software evaluation criteria, and to build out proof-of-concept projects using their actual data.  
Takeaway: Know your systems and know your data.

Outdoor consumer brand - We did a technology advisory project with a large outdoor consumer brand.  This organization was a little different from the first two, in that they were not very technically sophisticated.  They were extremely sophisticated at knowing their customer, at being able to articulate the value & purpose of their brand, and being able to assess and evaluate tactics in the context of their ultimate purpose.  They were a bit of an outlier, in that they could say, ‘we’ll know it when we see it’ and be able to back it up with historical proof.  Their organizational purpose was the North Star for everything they did. 
Takeaway:  Know your organizational purpose, your strategic objectives, and how your tactics (project) roll-up to those.   

What these three organizations have in common is a significant understanding of their purpose, customer, business processes and data.  This, combined with a discipline to a calm, reasoned and intentional project approach, enables them to take control of their MarTech roadmap -- to be the shepherd of their flock, rather than one of the sheep. 

If you're one of the sheep, you either get the shepherd or the wolf.  And you're not really able to influence that outcome.  It sucks being a sheep.  

So, who's the wolf in this fable?  The wolf could be an opportunistic agency that takes you out for a ride.  The wolf could be a well intentioned agency or tech partner that really wants to help, but is transactional in their approach -- building you just what you asked for, without guidance towards what you should be doing.  The wolf could be an internal stakeholder that has operational responsibility, but doesn’t have the skills, understanding or sometimes (departmental fiefdoms) motivation to lead.  

If you think your organization is a sheep, I’d advise you to build a plan to take back control of your purpose, strategies, systems & data.  Without it, your organizational well being will always be in the hands of others.