Digital transformation: 11 habits of successful teams

Digital transformation: 11 habits of successful teams

Say no to innovation theater. Quantify what success looks like. Encourage widespread agility. Consider these practices of teams beating digital transformation challenges

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Every technology leader knows that transformation is difficult, and digital transformation is especially so. While nearly all IT leaders (93 percent) recently surveyed by Hanover Research said that their enterprises are undergoing some kind of digital transformation, almost half of them (42 percent) indicated that they are struggling to achieve success as they fall behind schedule or their efforts stall altogether.

Those teams with a better track record of success for the digital initiatives, however, offer a blueprint for other teams seeking to increase the likelihood that their digital investments will deliver returns.

11 things successful digital transformation leaders do

We asked IT leaders and digital transformation experts to share some things that successful teams and their leaders do well, so you could learn from their experience. Consider how these apply in your organization and where you need to focus the most:

1. Seek progress rather than perfection

Perfection is the enemy of the good. And that certainly holds true when it comes to digital transformation. “Solutions, requirements, and technologies change so fast during digital transformations, leaders trying to deploy every requirement end up never moving forward,” says Pace Harmon managing director Andrew Alpert. “Set your base requirements with the understanding that you will learn and evolve over time."

[ Is your team tiring of transformation work? Read also: How to beat digital transformation fatigue. ] 

2. Quantify success and track it

Articulate the value that digital initiatives are expected to deliver. “The greatest hurdle digital transformation efforts face is neither the technology nor its implementation,” says Prashant Kelker, partner for digital strategy & solutions at global technology research and advisory firm ISG. “Rather, it’s the ability to clearly define and predict the value being created coupled with a way to track that value accurately.”

As much as possible, digital transformation leaders should directly correlate inputs to outcomes.

As much as possible, digital transformation leaders should directly correlate inputs to outcomes. “That is where enterprises often fall short,” says Kelker, noting that there is increasing discussion of new revenue generation enabled by digital. “Almost 60 percent of organizations are actually using digital transformation to optimize operations,” Kelker adds.

3. Say no

Leaders succeeding with digital initiatives take hard lines. “They keep the scope manageable,” Alpert says, “and refrain from allowing additional requirements to expand beyond the project objectives and increase the overall risk to a successful implementation."

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

4. Be transparent

“In order for digital transformation to be successful, your team must operate with complete transparency," says Jay Ferro, CIO at Quikrete. "Communication needs to be consistent and flow up, down, and across the organization – whether it’s good, bad, or just informational. When bad news needs to be communicated, your team should feel empowered to deliver it without fear of repercussions.

"CIOs and IT leaders can help create this culture through consistent celebration of organizational ‘wins,’ as well as rallying around the ‘losses’ with a positive focus – and figuring out how to fix them together,” Ferro says. 

5. Encourage teams to be agile – in every way

“Teams will need to be agile far beyond the concept of software development,” says Cecilia Edwards, partner at Everest Group. “Given the accelerated rate of change in digital transformations (and especially during this time of COVID-19), no one can predict the specifics of what will be needed even a year from now.”

Successful digital teams shore up foundational elements that support most initiatives and then implement transformation in stages to meet current requirements. “They then need to constantly assess the requirements and make adjustments,” Edwards says.

6. Prioritize data governance

"Digital transformation success requires data governance to ensure processes and leadership commitments are aligned with the transformation,” Alpert says. Often, IT leaders will establish a data council of stakeholders and also institute streamlined processes to ensure corporate data is accurate and the source of truth is maintained, Alpert says.

Let’s look at five more best practices, including an iteration mindset:

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Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.

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