Change is difficult, so most companies pull the bandage slowly, hoping to avoid the hard, painful part, especially with regard to digital transformation. But in the corporate world, cautious change inevitably leads to entropy. Progress gets made in one department at a time, at the expense of others. Leaders turn over, priorities shift, plans fall apart and the desired results never happen. The bandage never really comes off.

I see this happen a lot in companies that say they want to transform their digital customer experience across all industries we work with. The board or the shareholders might not embrace a truly digital-first strategy or understand what the end-state transformation goal actually is. Instead, they end up digitizing the past, refreshing a longstanding brand with a new storefront in a doomed effort to maintain business-as-usual.

These companies start with a well-meaning internal innovation team. They preach agility, then spend months researching the problem and consulting internal stakeholders, all the while trying to stay close to their comfort zone of existing practices. They write reports, they create road maps, run design-thinking workshops and come up with a solution … and then throw it over the wall to IT and wash their hands of it. Nine months later, the team is busy executing the new plan, but, with no internal champion, it can’t innovate. Due to the chaos and complexity of the project, the company burns through its budget and the project becomes a sad statistic. In fact, 95% of corporate digital transformations fail outright or produce diluted results, according to one recent study.

Shrink the Transformation Timeline

If a company really does want to digitize for the future instead of the past, it needs to turn that approach on its head. It needs to drastically shrink the timeline for digital transformation, which means starting with a digital operating model and putting the end clearly in sight.

The result is a digital operating model that continuously delivers and measures value. It’s not a project. It’s not a product. It’s an operating model that puts teams close to the market and customer and makes them responsible for finding and delivering innovative, high-value customer experiences.

Get the Team Right

This approach requires a team that knows how to embrace ambiguity and takes responsibility for creating the solution, not just designing it or building it—both of which fail when done in a silo.

It needs to be a small, multifunctional team with the authority to implement things quickly, with the fewest possible hoops to jump through along the way. And when the inevitable organizational friction arises, the team and its goal need to be seen as a transformation opportunity, not a barrier to be avoided.

Companies assume they can do this work in-house, but it’s next to impossible to form the right internal teams because typically they don’t have enough experience with this model.

These internal teams don’t quite have the right training for the job, but more importantly, they don’t have the right permission and agency. Some are risk-averse or can’t break through organizational silos. Some simply aren’t given the agency to do the work. Organizations with a lot of experience evolving that give their employees this agency as a matter of course might have success in-house. But it’s a tough ask for older, established firms.

Don’t Design. Execute.

To their credit, many companies see this and outsource their transformation leadership to a consultancy firm. But you can’t outsource a transformation. You can’t teach a transformation. You need to implement transformation.

Both internally and externally led transformations fail to grasp what really makes transformation work: agency and delivery.

Instead of researching, planning and announcing, the team needs to roll up their sleeves and start executing. They have to drive the evolution of the company’s software toward the identified goals, break down any organizational silos or challenges that get in the way and deliver, quickly. They have to work together with the IT team and anyone else who needs to understand what they’re doing, but execution needs to be top of mind at all times.

The solution isn’t insourcing or outsourcing. It’s a joint venture, where the transformation is within the company’s core business unit, working together with a consultancy or partner to complete the digital transformation faster by focusing on a smaller slice of the business. With this foundation, an organization can be pulled through a rapid transformation in nine to 18 months rather than three to five years.

In fact, in under six months, a tiny transformation team of five to seven people can scale up to a transformed organization of 120 people, quickly delivering the desired digital-first customer experience. All it takes is a team that has done it successfully, multiple times. And the best thing about this is that transformation is measurable by the ability of teams to continuously deliver and evolve experiences across multiple digital channels.

Digital moves too fast and is too complicated to be managed by traditional processes and approvals. If it does, whatever change your company sets out to enact is at risk of being dead on arrival. Agency plus delivery is the formula for a successful digital transformation.