Think you’re behind on digital? Think again.

When did you first hear the term “digital transformation”? Two years ago, perhaps three? It’s been around for a while, but as a popular term (according to Google Trends), it really took off in late 2013 and quickly became a white-hot topic around the world. Yet many businesses say they’re already behind the curve, and that got me thinking.

I recently attended IGD’s The Big Debate, the food and grocery industry’s annual bash. It’s a fascinating affair as much for the conversations on the floor as for the content presented onstage.

Going along for the first time with Mindtree, an event sponsor, I found it intriguing how frequently that conversation turned to digital technology. Time and again, attendees told me it was high on their agenda, then said their businesses were struggling to catch up.

So who, then, are they trying to catch up with? If they’re comparing themselves to P&G or Coca-Cola, it’s hardly surprising that they feel a bit behind. Few businesses can match those powerhouses when it comes to R&D or innovation spend. Aside from a handful of trailblazers and innovators, most enterprises are actually in the chasing pack.

Give yourself a break

If you ask—or even if you don’t—your customers will be quick to tell you what they think of your digital credentials. So instead of worrying about falling behind, be realistic and pragmatic. Try to focus on taking a few small steps forward. We all recognize that daunting tasks look less daunting once you’ve made a start, and that goes for digital transformation, too.

In my experience, the more you focus on how far behind you are, the bigger the mountain will look—and the less likely you are even to reach the foothills.

Of course, a positive outlook alone won’t get you where you want to be. It takes more than a smile and a can-do attitude to overcome odds like that. Here are a few other ideas that might help, gleaned from businesses that are facing the same mountain as you and starting to scale its slippery slopes.

Find your confidence

If you’ve heard one person tell you to “test and learn,” you’ve probably heard a hundred. Still, many businesses continue to regard digital experimentation and innovation as too time-consuming, too resource-heavy and ultimately too risky for today’s challenging business climate.

Yet with the power of modern technology, companies can run tests in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost and risk of disruption than they could before. Mindtree sees the evidence of this every day as we work with companies all over the world to realize great leaps forward in digital capability. Many of these advances begin with delivering the minimum viable product in an e-commerce, omnichannel, analytics or marketing test, then build gradually from there. “Fail fast,” some say—and if you start small, you can afford to do that and keep going.

Work from the ground up

Building a mobile B2B platform for a global hotel chain is one example of when Mindtree showed just what’s possible. It took only three months to get from idea to delivery, and while that had a positive impact on the cost of the project, it also meant that the business saw quick results to help validate its decisions.

Crucially, though, before the first line of code was even written, a solid piece of research clearly established the stress points in the customer journey—so the whole initiative was constructed on firm ground. That’s the kind of foundation that every test-and-learn initiative needs.

Close the loop

Focus on a particular business question, be very clear about what you’re testing and, above all, make sure you close the loop by feeding the wisdom you gain, good and bad, back into the system. You’ll build confidence within your team and keep the momentum going for future experiments.

In other words, this process doesn’t end with learning, but with revising your approach and trying again. Take riding a bike: It’s automatic for most of us, requiring very little conscious effort. But when we first got on the bike, we tested and learned and revised, over and over, until we achieved the result we wanted. If we hadn’t made some tweaks after the first fall, we would have gone nowhere. And neither will your digital transformation.

Whatever you do, though, don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. If you frighten the rest of the business with creeping scope—or your CFO with creeping costs—you’ll find yourself right back at square one.

Are you looking to make digital real for your business? Focus on the initiatives that matter most to your customers.

Find out how with our new e-book, Get Personal to Make Digital Real.

Learn how to take your digital journey to the next level.

Check out our latest e-book, Get Personal to Make Digital Real.