The digital transformation journey requires the right team

The digital transformation journey requires the right team
October 2, 2023  |  BY

When leaders think of digital transformation, many often latch on to the “destination” aspect when it’s mostly comprised of a long journey. And in order to take the proper steps, digital transformation must be a core competency that’s shared among a select team of digital experts.

Having the right people steering the ship is important, as digital transformation is about continual improvement. You must always adjust based on ever-changing customer expectations, marketing opportunities, employee skills, and of course technical innovations such as AI and machine learning.

This is where CIOs and CTOs play a huge role. Specifically, they have to close the gap between digital transformation strategies and what’s actually being implemented. Reality doesn’t always keep up with ideas.

To do so, technical leaders need to assemble a digital transformation council – ideally, these are other leaders across the organization. Each person will take on responsibilities around planning, execution, communication, and other vital aspects of the transformation.

One of these individuals should be the product leader. Alternatively thought of as the product manager, their key responsibility is ensuring that the transformation aligns with the overall strategy, and that all tactics can point back to improving the customer experience.

The product leader is also responsible for user research, creating roadmaps, and collaborating with other team members to morph high-level strategies into specific actions steps. And throughout the transformation process, they continually adjust their plans to adjust to feedback from other stakeholders and customers, and to how priorities can naturally change based on market conditions. They also partner with delivery leaders to ensure the expected level of quality standards, performance, and reliability of each digital transformation element.

Ideally, product and delivery leaders will employ agile methodologies and tools. These provide the much-needed autonomy to make fast decisions regarding technology selection, priorities, scheduling, and ultimately execution and implementation.

Interestingly, the agile approach creates a bit of a paradox: While digital transformation leaders require the autonomy to act alone, they may not always have the precise experience or institutional knowledge to make the best decisions. Also, when you have multiple leaders making multiple independent decisions, you can end up with redundancy, contradictions, and lack of a unified vision – the latter can be extremely damaging to the health of the transformation.

Yet if there’s too much bureaucracy and too many official procedures, teams can lose their enthusiasm, bogging down progress and wasting money. Nothing dampens excitement for a project more than having people spend more time on process than on creating. Sure, presentations, reviews, and approvals are necessary, but you must balance those with maintaining momentum.

CIOs, as well as product and delivery leaders, should also bring domain experts on to the transformation team. This includes solutions architects, user experience (UX) specialists, information security personnel, and data architects. Many companies don’t have these roles staffed full-time, so they’re often hired as consultants on a per-project basis.

It’s these domain experts that can help to solve the autonomy paradox. Their primary value is to propose, define, and communicate self-organizing standards. Collaborating with the digital transformation team, domain experts ensure the adherence of best practices throughout all phases of the initiative.

All of this brings us back to the aforementioned need of having digital transformation core competencies on the team. We suggest that CIOs meet with domain experts regularly, and establish KPIs that illustrate the practical value delivered of the self-organizing standards they created.

Product and delivery leaders, in partnership with domain experts, are essential components of a successful digital transformation. Yet CIOs will always be the crucial element, in that they’re charged with connecting execution with digital strategy.

To do so, CIOs must keep other executives up to date on the status of the transformation initiative. They need to not only convey the progress of specific phases, but also the budgetary issues that could impact results and long term goals.

CIOs may also consider revitalizing their program management offices (PMOs). This is comparable to the education project managers had to undergo when they shifted from waterfall to agile methodologies.

The benefit of agile PMOs is that they can quickly foster digital transformation as a core competency. Specifically, PMOs can share compliance requirements team-wide, advance learning objectives, and encourage hiring practices that meet objective project needs while also fulfilling the company’s diversity goals.

Another advantage of PMOs: The can help to streamline vendor management and financial reporting – this alleviates those responsibilities from others, which frees up certain team to focus on their areas of expertise.

For technology leaders, the scenario we’re painting may feel like an unpredictable exercise in juggling a number of organizational moving parts. There’s some truth to that. But keeping all of the teams and processes in alignment with goals isn’t a matter of luck; it’s about having digital transformation as core organization competency. Assemble the right team and you should be well on your way to digital transformation success.