For many in the US, just saying the name of that state causes a visceral reaction. On February 3rd, 2020, Iowa held the Democratic caucus. This was to be the day where the Democratic party would begin the takedown of the Republican Presidential Incumbent, Donald Trump.
Instead, it was the Democratic party’s takedown of the Democratic party. I may be jumping to conclusions and exaggerating a fraction here. But for the first time in many years, the candidates left the state of Iowa without the results. Instead, the Iowa Democratic Party was left to explain how the technological challenges of introducing a new App had prevented them from getting at the results.
The Democratic Caucus provided a cornucopia of Digital Transformation learnings – that we’ve learned already.
Iowa’s Lessons Learned
It doesn’t take more than a 30-second search to read up on hundreds of Digital Transformation disasters. There are a few mentioned on this blog, like the one for Blockbuster. But it’s important to remember that they are everywhere so that we can learn from them. The lessons learned in Iowa are not disappointing because they happened (who am I kidding? they were a gut-punch). No, the lessons are disappointing because they are lessons that we seem to be repeatedly learning over and over again.
- If you are aiming for transparency, don’t affiliate with a company called “Shadow.” The App that was intended to move data from one precinct (voting area) to another was built by a tech firm called Shadow. That App failed.
- Have a back-up plan – like a legit back-up plan. When the App failed, there was a hotline (a phone number) to call, but there was an hour wait. When was the last time you waited on hold longer than 10 minutes? Translation? What are things that can go wrong with your effort and what are doing to mitigate them?
- Test the full experience in real-world conditions. If you are going to build something, test it. And if you are looking for lessons around your transformation effort – we often call this User Acceptance Testing. Don’t skip that step.
- Train your users and build in champions. On the day of the caucus, many precincts hadn’t downloaded the App or knew how to use it. And others never did download the App, which is batshit crazy if you are running a precinct but don’t know how to get the results submitted. When launching a new experience, train the core team and build in the front-line support to overcome normal Change Management challenges.