8 Considerations for Picking your first Digital Innovation Project

By Roald Kruit – Co-founder of Mendix.

By this point, most organizations don’t have to be convinced about the need to go digital. The more pressing question is how to make digital innovation a reality. After learning about the Mendix platform and approach, CIOs, CDOs, and innovation heads typically say something like, “This is great. How do I get started?” Because Mendix enables a new way to deliver innovative applications, conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply.

But have no fear—we’ve guided more than 500 customers along their digital journey. And we’ve distilled those best practices into our digital transformation roadmap, helping new Mendix customers get quick wins under their belt, and then formalize and scale their innovation program.

The Start phase is about starting small and celebrating success to build internal excitement—and momentum—for your digital innovation initiative. But before you break out the cake and champagne, you have to pick the right project. Below, we outline 8 ideal characteristics of your first application.


1. It can go live within 30 days:

One of the main goals of the first project is to validate your ability to rapidly bring new ideas to market. You want this application to be a catalyst—something that gets the organization excited and open to experimentation.

Therefore, it’s important that the application can go live quickly, typically in 30 days. Gartner calls them ‘island’ projects, as they are limited in scope and can stand alone in production. The key is to show results quickly to create a flywheel effect that accelerates momentum for your digital innovation initiative.

2. It’s highly visible and will deliver direct business value:

Your first project should also be highly visible within the organization. It must have the right urgency and executive support, as well as deliver tangible business value. You want to ensure the results get noticed and your success gets shared.

At many customers, word of the first project success spreads like wildfire throughout the organization. Suddenly, there are colleagues banging at their door, saying things like, “I heard you delivered that application in 30 days. How the heck did you do that? Will it work for my project?”

3. The business needs to be involved:

In addition to executive support, you want a project that requires direct business involvement. This isn’t unusual with digital innovation projects, as the requirements are often unclear and need to be refined through collaboration with, and feedback from, the business. The goal is to illustrate the higher level of creativity and collaboration facilitated by this new approach.

What we see repeatedly is that user involvement in the development process leads to much higher acceptance. And while this collaboration is important to delivering on the core business requirements, it’s also about uncovering those small features that aren’t known at the beginning of the project but ultimately determine the difference between average and great user experience.

One word of caution: we recommend limiting business involvement for the first project to a single department. The ability to make decisions quickly is crucial. If you have to get consensus from multiple departments, with conflicting needs and priorities, this will slow the project down.

4. The application has limited external dependencies:

In order to deliver the application in 30 days, you need to limit external dependencies. The productivity advantage offered by a platform like Mendix can be quickly mitigated by external factors over which you have no control.

Examples include:

  • Integration with existing systems, particularly those where APIs aren’t defined. At one client, it took three months just to get access to their back-office system. You simply cannot wait that long.
  • Deployment infrastructure. It’s not uncommon at large companies to wait two months for the required hardware. For this reason, we recommend deploying your first application in the Mendix Cloud. With one-click deployment, you’re able to remove all friction from the deployment process.
  • Industry regulations. Often, application needs emerge in response to new regulations. However, if all the requirements aren’t available, you’ll be forced to wait, causing project delays.
5. There’s a desire to take the application into production:

Another important consideration is that you can take the application into production. You will gain a clearer picture of the time to market advantage. Plus, you will help your internal PR efforts with a live application that delivers real business value. (As an aside, starting with a prototype might lead others to believe this approach is only suitable for prototyping, selling the impact short.)

If you decide not to take the application live, the decision should be made for business—not technical—reasons. For instance, one of our customers built a customer self-service portal in six weeks, only to discover a week before go-live that their biggest competitor launched a mobile app. They delayed the launch a few weeks to build their own mobile app. This business decision led to a better outcome.

6. The requirements aren’t completely specified:

As I mentioned above, digital innovation projects are often marked by unclear business requirements. Don’t worry; this is a good thing! For your first project, it’s better to define a high-level goal or purpose, versus detailed requirements. Then, your team can capture and refine requirements through our iterative development approach. The process of getting from idea to application is traditionally a lot work, so when your users see an idea come to fruition in just 30 days, they’ll be amazed.

7. You tried to build it in the past—and failed:

It may sound contradictory, but a good first project is one that your organization previously attempted and failed to deliver. This will really open eyes and demonstrate the value of this approach.

For instance, one of our customers initially failed to build an application that calculated the price of custom DNA. That’s was because the algorithm was so specific to the business, the .NET developer wasn’t able to grasp all the nuances. Using Mendix, business and IT were able to collaborate much more closely and a first version of the application was delivered successfully in a few days.

8. The application is multi-channel:

It probably goes without saying that most digital innovation projects have at least some component that is mobile focused. But by picking an application that’s multi-channel, you can really illustrate the time to market versus traditional approaches.

Often, it’s sufficient to build a web application with a simple mobility function to illustrate these multi-channel capabilities. For instance, as part of a Master Data Management (MDM) solution, one customer built a simple MDM approval workflow for mobile devices.

Begin with the end in mind

By picking the right first project, you will illustrate four important things:

  • You can release an application in an unprecedentedly short time to market.
  • Business and IT can effectively collaborate to deliver new innovations.
  • You can achieve results with limited resources (small teams, low cost).
  • You’re able to work with agile processes and feedback cycles.

Your first project is not about things like scaling, operations or continuous improvement. Ultimately, it’s about delivering business value quickly, in an experimental way where creativity and close cooperation between business and IT are central. By following these guidelines, you’ll have plenty of success to celebrate, triggering a flywheel effect within your organization.

This blog post was first published by Roald Kruit, co-founder of Mendix on 20th August 2015 – Original source: https://www.mendix.com/blog/8-considerations-for-picking-your-first-digital-innovation-project/  

If you would like to discuss our previous projects or if you have an idea that you would like to explore please get in touch. For more information on embracing digital applications, download our e-book.

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