Digital transformation success relies on people, not technologies

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Given all the attention digital transformation gets, it’s shocking that 84% of companies are failing at it. Meanwhile, 85% of enterprise decision-makers believe they have two years to integrate digital initiatives before falling behind competitors. So, what’s the disconnect? Why are most organisations failing at something they know is so important to their survival? It’s likely they are focusing on the wrong changes. It’s not about integrating AI-driven processes or adopting a multi-cloud strategy. It’s about having the right people in the right roles with the right skills to make the right technology decisions. The focus must be on creating a team that understands change as a core competency rather than only achieving some final digital state.   

Start by Building an Adoption Team

Digital transformation impacts the entire organisation, not just IT. You need a cross-functional group of stakeholders who will support digital transformation initiatives. Enter the adoption team.

An adoption team requires people with unique skills. They must be catalysts, drivers, and agents of change—forward-thinking leaders who come from all walks of corporate life. They need to sell your digital transformation vision across the organisation and ensure the process is brought to fruition. 

To start, you need an executive sponsor. Executive sponsors justify the need for digital transformation to the executive team and are the ultimate agents of change, convincing others to embrace digital transformation. No change can happen without buy-in from the top, so this person is a must-have. They're responsible for acquiring budget, getting approval, and showing the value of all things built and adapted.

Then there are the adoption champions, who arguably play the most critical role in this whole process. Whereas the executive sponsor is like a "control board," the adoption champions are the "engines." They must be enthusiastic and persistent as they drive the entire program forward, building consensus with all stakeholders. These are the people in the field every day, watching teams work, identifying problems, challenges, and issues. They can propose solutions, sell a vision, and show people there is a better way. Most importantly, these are people who can participate in a delivery without shaping it. 

This process usually begins with one main adoption champion who eventually creates other champions by getting others such as developers and end-users so involved early on that they become evangelists. Despite their passion and enthusiasm, champions are often new, and they are often put in charge of early projects. So, they’ll need the help of adoption experts—their first line of support, to help them make the most informed and adequate decisions.

Adoption experts should be industry veterans who have done this many times before. Their invaluable experience helps them show the adoption champions how to resolve or even prevent the most common issues. If someone like this doesn’t already exist in the organisation, then go out and find the right person -- whether it’s an outside consultant or a new hire.

The Digital Transformation Development Team

Once the adoption team is assembled, they must assess where to start. It’s best to start a digital transformation with a small project, such as a simple application. Once they find success with one project, it will be easier to sell more projects and start impacting widespread change. 

After the adoption team has selected the first project, it’s time to assemble the core development team. The search for talent can be both within and outside of the organisation because finding the right person for each role is crucial for success.

Naturally, the core development team needs developers to design and build the app. These developers should have at least three years of development experience and should be comfortable using .NET, Java, or JavaScript. Now, everyone knows there is a shortage of developers in the industry, so if an organisation is strapped, it should consider adopting productivity tools, like low-code platforms, to reduce the number of developers needed on the team.

The core development team also needs a tech lead to address architectural and operational tasks, from designing app-level architecture to controlling code quality. This person must have several years of team leadership and customer-facing experience to lead the charge, especially since they will likely meet with some resistance along the way.

Very important to the success of this team are a business user and a product owner. The business user is someone who will use the software or application to share process information and testing if needed. This person will provide the insight to ensure changes are well received by those impacted. It’s vital that this person truly understand the business process being transformed because they will need to provide technical communication. That’s where the product owner is needed to act as a proxy between the development team and the business user. This person should have project management experience and strong communication skills to keep the project on track and make sure feedback is communicated effectively.

Time to Scale: Expanding the Core Team

Once the first project is completed successfully, the digital transformation team will be eager to move on to larger projects, which means it will be time to scale, adding a few more players to the mix.

At this point, bringing on key users to provide perspective throughout the design and development process is a must, as well as a tester who can do performance and cross-device testing. It’s essential that the tester be someone who’s detail-oriented and sceptical. Look for someone who has at least three years of software QA, test planning, and test writing experience.

With larger projects, presumably there will be more business users impacted. Make sure this expanded team includes a dedicated, experienced front-end developer who knows how to get into the minds of users and cares about creating an excellent user experience. This person should have skills in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and responsive web design. It’s also helpful to bring on a UX/UI designer who understands the customer journey. 

Building a Centre of Excellence

If everything goes smoothly with the expanded team and the larger projects go over well, there will inevitably be requests for more. At this point, it will be time to create a centre of excellence. This centre provides governance and control so that digital transformation projects can scale across multiple teams, all set up in the same structure as the first one. As more teams form, there will be a need to create best practices for architecture and UI/UX to ensure everything remains consistent and prevent technical debt.

To keep the Centre of Excellence running smoothly, add a program manager to the team to work closely with business users, the adoption team, and product owners. This person will take the lead in prioritising projects as demand increases.

There should also be an architect to develop the architecture standards. This person must have extensive experience with projects that combine hardware, software, application, customer service, and systems engineering and also have proven knowledge of IT governance and operations. 

Conclusion

As organisations start or restart their digital transformation journeys, they must first think about the people they need, not the technology. People with the appropriate expertise are the integral components for making informed decisions about what tools are truly needed to make this kind of large-scale change. So, find the right people and get started on what should be a successful transformation.

Mike Hughes, Principal Platform Evangelist at OutSystems 

Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock