October 21st, 2019 | by Radosław Szmit

A Lighthouse Project for Digital Transformation

Table of contents

‘Let there be light!’ – the CEO screamed across the room. No light was lit, yet managers across the table could see clear as day. The idea of a lighthouse project – a small pilot initiative for digital transformation, convinced them to proceed. If you are the manager and have problems convincing your board of doing the same, start with a smaller project and scale up.

Digital transformation is about adopting correct hardware, software, and effective usage of resources. But most of all it’s about mindset. The ability to reimagine an entire organization going forward with the latest technology doesn’t have to go with the willingness to invest money. The lighthouse project is low-hanging fruit that lets you invest a little money and try a concept that can be scalable. It’s a perfect solution if you’re deciding on something bigger. Plus, it lets you develop a project as a Proof of Concept (PoC).

How a lighthouse project can contribute to a successful digital transformation?

You can convince your managers or CEO by taking up these 10 crucial talking points:

  1. The Lighthouse project is about a small-scope project, usually one department, one product, one assembly line. The controlled environment brings results faster and lets them shine more easily. Especially when you choose the right software product development company.
  2. Rolling the massive program involves investment, time, employee training, and disruption of day-to-day operations. Small-scale change is less time and material-consuming.
  3. One department on an assembly line can be a successful case study for the rest of the company. It can prove that the change is necessary, possible, manageable.
  4. Let your CEO shine. By letting him or her lead the charge, you create a situation where the CEO or a manager decides on the future of the company. Even if the idea isn’t his or her, the person builds authority in the organization. And you along with them.
  5. A small-scale project can point an internal R&D department towards mistakes and miscalculations (read about Digital Transformation – The Road To Success). They can be avoided while implementing digital transformation in the entire organization.
  6. Data-driven production, management, maintenance, and R&D. Intuition is great but when was the last time you made your decision based on assumptions alone? Guessing will get you nowhere, leveraging data will get you everywhere.
  7. Prioritize hardware and software that gives you a direct impact on daily business activities. If your business is based on email marketing, you probably don’t need beacons monitoring productions, destined for factories. And vice versa. Limit the scope, see first-hand how changes will impact the business.
  8. With your vendor, create a training program for your employees. Teach them how to use what you’ve built.
  9. Create a culture where your new tools are actually used by your team. Sinking money into a program that doesn’t have credibility in the company is not what you’re after. Train key stakeholders and let the knowledge about the benefits coming from the tool, naturally proliferate through the organization.
  10. Adopt a sequenced delivery. The Lighthouse project quickly shows where bottlenecks are hiding and what challenges will be present during the implementation on a larger scale. The Lighthouse provides clear evidence of a working solution but companies have the tendency to get back to old habits. It’s called ‘transformation’ for a reason. You have to keep a sequence of events, not only use provided tools. Hardware and software are only a starting point. Leverage experience of DevOps provided by your software development partner. Introduce agile practices to your organization, don’t let a lighthouse project by just a short-term vision, a board’s whim.

Why? What? How?

Start with ‘why?’. Why does your company need a change, what is that you want to achieve for it? Proceed to ‘what?’. What is the current state of the organization? End with ‘how?’ How will I change the status quo, how the lighthouse project will help me with it?

The first question is crucial. Do you need to re-evaluate the business model or just improve on what’s already there? Do you want to elevate a company’s department? Or maybe you need an introduction to a new way of thinking and a small-scale project is what you need? Either way, it’s the most important question you have to face. Discuss it with the team, get the priorities and agree on the motivations behind the project.

The ‘What’? question will help you understand the current situation in the organization and how the lighthouse project can improve it. What legacy technology are you currently using? How do your employees engage with the user, with what tools? Does your customer go through a personal journey or the buying process is flat, instead of being an experience? What are the pain points with the architecture? What in-house skill, handy with new technology do we have? Do we want to make a Proof of Concept? Bite these apples and you are one step closer to a full-course meal, which is a full transformation.

The ‘how?’ part is interesting. Some companies like to turn lighthouse projects into flagship projects. Meaning, they invest in very important products or departments, sometimes to impress co-workers and improve internal rating for their ideas. Sure, it can work too. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with a small, less significant project. Relax, it’s not an apple handed by a snake, you won’t be poisoned by it. Consider what makes the most sense.

The second part of this question involves cultural issues. Internal risk management sign-off processes, deployment – these are the matters you’ll have to face. Talk to your team and resolve all these issues to have a clear field for the upcoming transformation.

The Lighthouse project as a test for a software product development company

If you have read this far, you are probably convinced that a lighthouse project is dedicated to digital transformation alone, hence the title. Not exactly. The Lighthouse can serve as a scout for larger projects as well. You don’t have to transform the entire organization if you’re convinced it runs fine. You can use a smaller project to convince executives to run with a bigger one. Sit down with your partners and give them a simple task: show, don’t tell. Why your services, why your software products? Prove it!

Also, don’t be afraid of experimentation. Since a lighthouse project is a smaller-scale initiative, you can afford to iterate, even burn the money on it. Sure, this isn’t preferable but you can even fail, as long as there’s a lesson to be had. Paradoxically, the lighthouse is mainly about trust, not a successful project itself. The ability to deliver by a provider is everything but there are companies out there that can do it. What’s really important is the relationship between you and the vendor. The understanding of your business needs. The ability to deliver while pointing you in the right direction shows the best possible use for your money. Trust is also crucial in the context of Proof of Concept – an experienced vendor can help you in establishing requirements for the final product at this stage.

Learn more: PoC vs. Prototype vs. MVP

Rapid application development for rapid transformation

‘Let there be light!’ – the CTO screamed across the room and asked Chief Technical Officer what the company can do about it. A CTO is usually the person accountable for introducing new technologies and tools to the company. The responsibility that lies on his or her shoulders is great. Do I go for low-hanging fruit or a full, two-course meal, a full transformation? Can we handle it, internally? Questions, questions…

MAKO – a rapid software development platform has some answers. It’s a tool designed to save money on initial development, quickly implement business services and scale architecture, adjusting it to your needs. MAKO is perfect for the lighthouse project since it gives you the opportunity to confirm the need. Companies often work on a validated, polished product instead of releasing a simpler one, treated as a cornerstone. Adopt this philosophy and think of your internal lighthouse project as an MVP development for the entire company. In fact, a minimum viable product often lets new companies test new technologies that would not be utilized in any other scenario. Another option is to buy a startup that already made an MVP. It’s a shortcut but pretty popular. That way companies can keep up with new technologies – they either buy or create internal accelerators to copy technology or develop it themselves.

The takeaway

Digital transformation, as well as a lighthouse project, is truly about the support at the mountain peak and changes from the bottom of the mountain. Start with something small and easy to maintain while having support from those at the top. Ask yourself why do you want to go through the change, what will be the result and how the result will be measured.

A successful lighthouse project should leave you with a transformed department or a ready-to-deploy software project. Deep inside we are all lazy and crazy. We don’t want to stretch our backs, even for low-hanging fruit. At the same time, we believe that by doing nothing, the organization we work for will magically turn its course and work more efficiently. It doesn’t work that way. Pick this apple, start working on the future.



Radosław Szmit

Former VP Business Operations

Former VP Business Operations at CSHARK. Business development and consultant expert with numerous years of experience in IT. Management and business coach, project manager and vision monger.