Picking the right team members to drive digital transformation success

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To get the most out of a digital transformation initiative, an organization needs to commit to it for the long haul. It has to follow a plan, execute on specific goals, measure progress, incorporate feedback and keep improving, cycle after cycle, stage after stage.

But to arrive at the project’s later stages, the organization has to get started. It needs to get buy-in for the project at all levels, and this needs to be driven by a hand-picked “adoption team.” Assembling the right people for this team can push a project well along the track. Picking the wrong people, or neglecting to create an adoption team at all, can doom the project before it gets out of the gate.

What roles do the various members play? How do you find the right people? And how far should this team take the project before others move in to drive key aspects of the project in its later stages? Here are some thoughts to guide your digital transformation planning.

Adoption team roles

While adoption team sizes can vary, it’s critical to have passionate, talented people assuming three key roles: “the executive sponsor,” “the adoption champion” and “the adoption expert.” These people handle different tasks in the adoption process, and each role requires a different skill set.

The executive sponsor

Digital transformation requires support from the top of the organization. An executive sponsor has the clout to convince, and sometimes even force people at junior levels to adopt an initiative. The executive doesn’t have to be at the C-level but must have access to this level – the board, the CEO, etc. – in order to maintain the support needed to make the necessary changes within the organization for ultimate success. The executive sponsor must be able to pass the message of why change is required and how it will benefit the entire organization.

This position is responsible for getting the budget, approval, and showing first-hand how things will improve if digital transformation is adopted correctly. Of all the roles on the team, this one needs to be handled by just one person.

The adoption champion

While the executive sponsor acts as the project’s “control board,” the adoption champion is the “engine.” This person is in the center of it all –observing how teams work and analyzing problems, challenges and issues.

From that observation and analysis, the adoption champion proposes solutions and sells the vision and convinces people to come on board. They’re like trainers: They bring people in, works with them and empowers them to join the team. Pretty soon, the effort is growing, and the trainees are training others.

It’s possible to have multiple adoption champions. Usually, there’s a “main” champion who then fosters sub-adoption champions. Adoption champions come from almost anywhere in the organization, as long as they have the passion, the respect and the skills to take on the champion’s role.

The adoption expert

The adoption expert is not someone from within the company. This person comes from outside, with experience and credentials. They will be someone who has a consultative vision of what’s going on.

This role could specialize in adoption techniques or be an industry expert with a larger consultant role. This person has successfully led adoptions before, has experience providing specific solutions, understands best practices and can help the adoption champion make the correct and appropriate choices for the particular adoption. Basically, adoption experts serve as a support mechanism for the adoption champion to validate how to resolve important issues.

Finding the right people

There isn’t one specific recipe for how to structure your adoption team, or how to find the right people. But there are a set of best practices to consider.

The executive sponsor is fairly easy to identify, because there’s only a few roles within an organization that qualify. Essentially, it comes down to which executives are willing to help. Once the executive sponsor buys in, they will be motivated to help. They’re the one who will commit to getting the budget, so their neck will be on the line.

Finding the right adoption champion is much harder. They will need a certain amount of technical ability and knowledge of the business. But it’ll be more important to find someone with empathy, an ability to move within the company, and an ability to sell his vision.

Key traits for an adoption champion can vary by culture. In APAC, things are done much more systematically such as setting the right processes. In Dubai, it’s very important to know the right people and have an established rapport. In London, everything is much more focused on selling the vision, and motivating and explaining.

Selecting a champion has to do a lot with the journey that needs to be made, and the way that transformation is done. Depending on the culture, organizations transform in different ways, and adoption champions need to be attuned to their environments.

Handing off the baton

The adoption team’s primary job is to push the transformation process forward so it doesn’t revert back to its original state. Then it needs to help people deal with the pains of transition, find the right solutions, prove that the new way of doing things works (like every change), resolve the issues that appear, and promote the success that comes out of it.

Much of this team’s job is to just give that initial push and get people out of their comfort zones. If it can do this successfully, it can hand off the job to others to carry the project into the later stages.

Other stages of a transformation project require a broader range of skills. After adoption, the next step is to create a core digital transformation development Team. For this, you need a business user who will use your project, a product owner to connect the team and the business user, a tech lead to address more technical concerns, and a handful of developers.

Later stages will bring on more specialized roles – everything from testers to dedicated front-end developers to UX/UI designers to program managers.

In conclusion, digital transformation are marathons, not sprints. You can generate successes quickly, but the true impact of a program proves out over a longer period of time. Getting the project started and on the right track is critical to its long-term success, and finding the right adoption team gives the project a fighting chance.

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