Companies with high aspirations for digital transformation have a lot of hurdles to clear before they reach their goals. And no matter how well you plan things, there’s a lot of initial setups that need to happen in order to ensure success. You are, after all, planning a mental shift as well as a software upgrade.

So today, I’m drawing insights from over ten years of experience working with enterprise leaders and watching how they approach transformation. If there’s one thing I’ve witnessed, it’s the dramatic effect that leaders can have on the end results of digital transformation projects.

With that in mind, here are five suggestions I’m offering up when thinking about digital change.

1. Accept That There is No Such Thing as an Obstacle-Free Transformation

Some say that change is like removing a band-aid: best if done quickly so there’s less time to feel the pain. That leads some organizations down the path of a total overhaul of all their digital processes at once. Whether or not that’s effective is a topic for another post. The point is: there will still be bumps in the road, whether that road is short or long. You’ll still need to seek employee buy-in, customer satisfaction, and fulfillment of business goals, among other challenges.

Taking your own sweet time won’t remove obstacles, either. Even those who plan a step-by-step approach to transformation and intend to roll out their changes gradually will face a similar series of front-loaded challenges.

Whether your plans for digital transformation are aggressive or gradual, research has shown that leadership is one very essential key to success. Your role is to accept that there will be hurdles, prepare for them, and to guide your organization through them with as little pain as possible.  

The following pieces of advice hone in a little closer on how exactly you should go about doing that.

2. Get to Know Your People and Your Processes at Every Level

Ensuring everyone is geared up for change can feel sort of like planning for a tornado. There’s a lot of risk and you’re not sure where things will end up. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. I’ve seen plenty of leaders be successful at steering their “ship” in the right direction and away from the storm.

From my experience, there are all kinds of formulas for making digital transformation a success. They’re uniquely customized to each organization, comprised of tactics that target not just how software should be developed but which also take into effect human behavior.

So my advice here is simple. Knowing what your people need at every level to do their jobs right is how you end up with a better product. If you understand their processes and where current systems are coming up short, you will be better equipped to help your software team design a better version — or a whole new product altogether.

Sometimes it takes an entire re-imagining of your processes to truly achieve digital transformation success. After all, why just recreate your old legacy system if it’s not helping your business thrive anymore? Bottom line: get to know your people and your processes at every level. Then and only then will you be able to offer the development team the kind of information they need to create a product that will transform your business.

3. Don’t Leave it Up to Your IT Department or a Select Group of Managers

I work with heads of companies all the time who are at various stages of digital transformation. And let me tell you — each has their own unique playbook. I’ve seen some leaders take the bull by the horns and I’ve seen others step into the shadows and let the more “tech-savvy” people in their organization run the show.

Let me offer you these words of wisdom:

Digital transformation isn’t the sole purview of your IT department. CEOs and other leaders need to be involved.

Whether you’re attempting to switch to a more customer-centric business model or you’re trying to boost efficiency or you’re trying to help previously siloed departments within your organization collaborate and share data, you’ll need digital tools to get you there. Leaving it up to a select few people in your organization to set goals and parameters for your new product means you’re putting all those goals at risk. Does your IT department understand how marketing and sales need to be aligned, for example? Do they know the struggles your frontline employees face on a day-to-day basis? Probably not.

4. Appreciate the Business Value of Good UX

Whatever your digital goals might be, I’m willing to bet that user experience (UX) will come into play as a distinguishing factor in your success. Good UX lends itself to any process, making it easier, faster, and more intuitive.

Leaders sometimes have trouble seeing the business value of good UX, however. It’s partly due to lack of understandings (UX is far more than just “making things look pretty”) and it’s partly due to the fact that it’s hard to see how it increases revenue or pleases shareholders.

Learning to appreciate the business value of good UX can be a journey. Luckily, there’s nothing like cold, hard facts to make the case quicker. McKinsey & Company tracked 300 companies and gave them a “design index” score. What they found was a strong correlation between good design and strong business performance across a variety of industries.  

5. Learn How to Assess and Prioritize UX

Design and development aren’t the same things but they need to be synergistically joined so your digital product satisfies your intended users. To make that happen, developers need to work from within a solid foundation of design thinking, which means they need to fully understand the users’ needs. Having UX principles in mind from the very start of the development process helps to ensure that they design a great product.

So it’s not enough to understand the business value of UX. You also have to know how to recognize it and asses it — or make sure you have a development team who can do it for you. If digital literacy isn’t your specialty, be sure you choose a team who knows how to get the right information from you and other stakeholders so they develop the product you really need. Even if you don’t know how to assess good UX, you can make sure it gets prioritized on your side of the table.

Clarity on that last point is essential. Once you understand that, you’ll be in a better position to help your team move forward on all the stages of digital transformation. By offering the right kind of insight to developers or the business analyst to choosing the best in-house members for collaboration with your dev team, it all starts with your understanding of how UX plays an incredibly pivotal role in the making of a great product.