Just before the global pandemic struck, I climbed a massive mountain in Argentina called Aconcagua. 

With a height of 22,837 ft (6,960.8 m), it’s the world’s tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas. It can take about three weeks to climb. Around a dozen of us joined an experienced guide to make the trek.

Climbing a mountain of this size is not something you can do without preparation. It takes 14 days on the mountain and a further three days just to reach the base camp. There’s also around 600 kilos of gear and food to carry up, and the oxygen level at the summit is just 40% of what it is at sea level.

During that long, steady walk, I came to realise that scaling a large mountain is, in many ways, similar to undertaking a big digital transformation. Here are five big digital transformation tips gleaned from climbing up the side of a mountain.

1. Reaching the summit is half the journey

Our guide, who’s an experienced mountain climber, began the trip by asking us an important question: “Everybody trains for going up, but who trains for going down?” Of course, nobody had. But when you reach the top of a mountain, you’re only halfway. You still have to get back down. Most of the accidents in mountaineering actually happen on the way back down from the summit. 

That’s a lot like a big digital project. Everyone focuses on the summit: launch day. And, obviously, launch day is very important. But one of the things that we’ve learnt over time at Clarety is that getting to launch day is only half the journey. It can take you just as long to get used to using the system and bed down your new processes as it does in preparing to replace a system. 

Like our party of climbers, many organisations don’t prepare for the post-launch implementation and support of their new digital systems. But that’s something you need to pay a lot of attention to for success.

2. Know the critical factors for success

The weather on Aconcagua is unpredictable and challenging at the best of times. Around 30% of people make it to the summit. There are many influencing factors, such as lack of lack of physical preparation and acclimatisation, but the weather, specifically high wind, is the main reason the success rate is so low.

A crucial part of preparing for any big journey is to think about what the critical factors are for both success and failure. Only 30% of people who attempt to climb Aconcagua make the summit. If you underestimate the task ahead of you, the project might have to be abandoned. On the mountain, without the right preparation, some people end their trip at base camp and never go any further.

When you climb Aconcagua, the most important factor to consider is not how much it’s snowing or how cold it is. It’s the wind. You can walk through snow, and you (hopefully) came prepared with equipment to handle cold weather. But when the headwinds are too strong, you can’t move forward.

It’s important to take a similar attitude to preparing for a big digital project. So be sure you ask yourself: What are the things you can control? And, more importantly, what are the things you can’t?

For the best chance of reaching the summit, we checked the weather continuously and allowed extra days in the itinerary to wait out the wind if needed.

3. Challenge your mindset and pace yourself

As we approached the summit, there was less and less oxygen. One of the important things I learnt from our guide as we climbed is that you’re going to have to challenge your mindset. Walking quickly from A to B won’t achieve the outcomes you need. You can’t rush the process. You have to walk mindfully, allow your body to acclimatise and build trust and rapport with your climbing team. After all, you’re in it together and the summit is only halfway — you still all need to get down safely. 

Whether you’re climbing a mountain or implementing a new fundraising and donor management system, one of the most important factors of success is to pace yourself and leave energy in the tank.

4. Do regular health checks as you progress

As you approach the summit of a really tall mountain like Aconcagua, your body needs to adapt to the lack of oxygen. There are set times you need to have your blood oxygen level measured to see if you are healthy enough to go on. Sometimes, these tests will show that it’s safe for you to continue climbing. Other times, you’ll find out that you need to take an extra day’s rest to allow your body to acclimate to the lower oxygen.

Along with doing these health checks, it’s also important to regularly check on your fellow team members. If some team members are feeling weak, it’s important to assist them and keep them close. Long journeys are a team effort, and everyone will struggle at times.

Likewise, on big digital projects, it’s vitally important to do health checks instead of pushing on. That includes checking both your progress in implementing the new technology, and to see how well your team members are coping with change.

5. Make sure you have an experienced guide

Aconcagua is probably the highest mountain in the world that you could climb without a guide. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea.

You learn a lot along the journey by having a guide. Our guide had a lot of experience helping mountain climbers all over the world — that’s all he does. While we were on the mountain, there was a group that didn’t have a guide. They had to be evacuated by helicopter when one of their climbers got altitude sickness. 

Why did it happen? Because they didn’t plan for the journey down from the summit. They didn’t consider the key factors for success. They didn’t pace themselves. They didn’t do health checks. In short, they made a series of simple mistakes that an experienced mountain climber would have warned them about. 

A successful digital transformation involves far more than just launching a new website or fundraising and donor management system. It’s a long journey, and you don’t want to find yourself stranded halfway! That’s why it’s important to have experienced experts to guide you on your transformation journey. 

The team at Clarety Community have decades of experience helping Australian nonprofits of all sizes scale their digital challenges. That’s what we do. With our local expertise, we will help you find the path to your digital summit — launch day. But just as importantly, we will guide you safely all the way to the other end of your digital journey.

Along with being a keen mountain climber, Jeremy Horn is the Solutions Director at Clarety Community. Visit Clarety.community to discover how Clarety can help your nonprofit reach new digital heights.