Having worked with complex IT transformations for the last decade I have come to realize that what truly sets the successful projects apart from the less successful is not about having the best plan, the biggest budget, the best technology or the most dedicated management. Those factors can be important contributors to complete the project and to reach the strategic goals of the project – but succeeding with complex transformation is always about the people. Bringing in the right people to design and drive the transformation and bringing the right people together in the transition.
Large scale IT transformation projects – consolidations, carveouts or significant strategic changes – are highly complex by nature. These projects often span significant parts – if not all – of the IT landscape, covering a wide array of technologies and domains, but also many business processes are impacted and will need to adapt. This makes it necessary to bring in a number of different domain and technology specialists to work with the companies own IT function and business domain experts in order to succeed.
Having a project team that is largely made up of dedicated specialists within specific areas is necessary, but the real differentiator is to be able to orchestrate and guide the team throughout the transition. In other words knowing which experts to utilize when and bringing in the right people to solve critical tasks and issues along the way.
So where to start?
Given the complexity of large scale IT transformations setting the right team is key. Due to the span of expertise required you will often not be able to engage with one or even a few vendors – but rather you should look to cherry-pick the team members to ensure the best people for each function starting with the core:
- Getting the right architect(s)
- Choosing your driver
- Picking the experts
Getting the right architect(s)
The starting point to any successful IT transformation is an architect or team of architects that can not only grasp the breadth and depth of the transformation, but also understand the business context in which it takes place. I know – they are a rare breed! The architect(s) will be responsible for drawing up the end-state in details and will be the trusted guides throughout the transition. For just that reason it is important that the architect(s) are not made part of the hands-on implementation – but are instead allowed to roam the project more freely – in close coordination with the project management – to ensure progress, compliance to design decisions and that issues – both technical and business related – are dealt with quickly and efficiently.
Choosing your driver
The second step to a successful IT Transformation is to find an experienced driver with solid people and orchestration skills. It is critical to find someone that both understands the business context and value drivers of the change and also has a fairly deep conceptual understanding of the technical transformation that he is driving. Close coordination with the architect(s) is key, but the driver needs to be able to navigate on his own to involve the right resources at the right time. Not least the driver needs to bridge the gap between technology and business to be able to present often very complex issues in a way that allows key stakeholders – both with and without a technical mindset – to reach decisions on an informed basis and understand the potential impact.
Picking the experts
When the architect(s) and the driver is in place, focus needs to be on getting the right technical and domain experts onboard. They are the skilled craftsmen that will tend to the details of your transformation. Without them – no transformation! To continuously bring in the right people – and to bring them together to solve tasks and issues – is essential to succeeding with any transformation.
The right people in this context should be able to adhere to some key characteristics;
- First and foremost, they should be experts in their field with a proven track-record – preferably also having worked with transformation projects before
- They should be able to truly grasp the context of their work, i.e. be actively aware of how their deliverables fit into and affect the overall transformation
- They should recognise that they have a crucial responsibility in knowing when and how to raise critical issues, conflicts, misalignments, non-compatibilities etc. before they escalate and have a domino effect on the project. There is no place to address them more efficiently than at the source – and no one to deal with them better than the experts
- Finally they should understand that they are all part of a team where the success of the project means the success of everyone involved
It’s all about the people
Getting the right people onboard is not easy – nor is it a guarantee of a successful transformation. It is however my experience that getting the right people onboard – and enabling efficient collaboration throughout the transition – is far more decisive for the project success than technical complexity or organizational impact.
So, succeeding with complex IT transformation is really all about the people!