Building Effective Digital Transformation Teams

Robert Werkema

Much has been said about the impact of digital transformation in the marketplace, and there is no question that this transformation is key to ongoing success and longevity for many businesses. This is the third in a series of posts created to address the crucial aspects of performing a successful digital transformation.

You have your mission statement drafted, and the budget planning is getting close. The next step in a successful digital transformation is to build the team that’s going to be on this journey with you. The right team will have as much impact on your success as any of the other elements.

Building effective digital transformation teams

There are three areas to consider when building the teams that are going to get your digital transformation project over the goal line.

Internal resources: Include the right mix of people

Likely one of the biggest mistakes that I see with transformation teams is not having enough of the right internal people in the mix.

If you are launching a transformation project, there should be a core of internal people representing each aspect of the areas of technology and business that will be affected by the transformation. Don’t trust this part to anyone outside of the organization.

Identify the people in your organization that are much too busy and heavily engaged in the business—then make them your core team. Digital transformation is going to change your organization, and you want the very best and brightest in your company to be a part of that!

The core team should be made up of both business and technology members. Too often, I see IT leading the charge with way too little input from the business side. There is a natural tension between business and IT, which means you have to work diligently to build a cross-discipline team.

It’s never good to have limited engagement from the business sector—if people don’t have a vested interest in success, they are more likely to take pot-shots from the sidelines. Consider at least one team-building exercise before you get into the pressure cooker of project delivery. Bringing everybody together before the start of the project will help form the bonds that you will need down the road when things get tougher.

There is little room for fly-in and fly-out “helicopter participants.” Core team members must be committed and attend project status updates and meetings, as well as give timely input during review cycles. The fastest path to demoralizing your team is having someone show up after missing multiple meetings and demanding that previous decisions be overturned. Don’t let that happen!

I like a core team of 6 to 10 people split between IT and business. The number of people on your core team will be dictated by the size and scope of the effort, as well as the practical availability of resources. The core team should meet at least once per week during the active project. In addition to the core team, it is great to have a broader set of participants who get a view to the project on a regular basis—monthly is often a good target. This keeps the rest of the organization informed of the direction the core team is headed.

Once you have the core team, make sure that they have some level of authority to make decisions. It is maddening and can substantially impact project efficiency to have a team member that must constantly check with their management.

Don’t cede control of the project to any outsiders. It is far too tempting to say that your systems integrator (SI) or technology provider has the experience and manpower, so you can just tell them what to do. It never works out the way you hoped.

Partner resources: Review their experience

It is easy to believe that the partner has all of the answers. The systems integrator will never know your business as well as you do, no matter how great they sound. Make sure you have defined the rules of engagement right up front, and all internal and partner resources are on board.

Partners are critical to your success—bridging a gap between technology and its deployment. As you contemplate which partner to leverage, review the resumes of the people, and meet them to make sure they fit well. Document in writing what level of dedication you expect from that team. There have been too many cases where someone gets pulled away for another project to the detriment of the one they were on. Write critical team members names in the contract.

Take your time selecting the SI you are going to leverage. Talk to their references and the SI core team members that will be part of your project. Do a little detective work behind the scenes on your finalist SI list. Every SI will have had projects that did not go well. Ask them to talk about what happened, how they resolved the issue, and what they learned. It is important to know how the partner will respond when there are substantial problems. You hope it does not happen to you—but digital transformation is a messy and difficult process, even when you get it right! You want to know your partner will be in it with you through the whole process.

Partner commitment is a two-way street. Don’t expect a partner to keep valuable resources on the bench waiting as you work through internal issues. Try to eliminate potential stall points before they ever impact your project. That’s where having the dedicated core team becomes critical.

Vendor resources hold valuable information

Engaging your technology partner during deployment can be one of the most important things you do for the success of your project. It does not make sense to do an extensive evaluation of technology and then assume that your selected SI is interchangeable with your technology provider. As a part of any evaluation process, take a look at your technology provider and what resources are available to you during the project. Most vendors will have some kind of project support you can engage as you deploy.

Staying tight to your technology partner can help avoid pitfalls you never saw coming. It is always good when doing a substantial transformation project to bring in another set of experienced eyes. I used to make a wager with my customers that if we did not find issues that made the investment worthwhile, I would foot the bill. I never once wrote a check…

A frequent problem companies encounter is that they don’t plan for this engagement up front. Often these are expensive resources. You need to build that in up front! A good rule of thumb is to plan 10-20 percent of the SI deployment cost to go to the technology partner for architecture review, code, and performance checks.

Getting your partner engaged serves another goal: ensuring that your SI is deploying to best practice standards. This is the first time through digital transformation for most companies—by engaging your technology vendor, you get the value of all of their experience in addition to your SI partner. It is the cheapest insurance policy you will ever buy.

Building effective virtual teams across your internal constituents, your SI, and your technology provider will greatly improve the odds that you will achieve your goals with a minimum of disruption. All three parts play a critical role in the effort.

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There is no single perfect alignment between the three resources areas. Your answer needs to fit the culture and needs of your organization, but all three areas should be represented.

For more insight on building an effective digital strategy, see The First Step Toward Digital Transformation Is Consensus-Building.

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.