Executive sponsorship is key to successful IT Transformations:
No ceremonial job but critical success factor!


The pressure and demands from the business on IT are increasing, budgets are shrinking, time to market is becoming shorter and project resources are very scarce nowadays. Also, projects require a high first time right commitment and cannot be done twice. This is especially true for IT Transformation projects because they effect the entire organization and involves changing ways of working, people and processes.

IT Transformations required more than “usual” IT projects, extra commitment from the executive project sponsor and this project role has become a critical success factor. In this blog I will share some best practices and theory why the executive sponsor role is indeed a critical success factor and share some tips for those who want to accomplish IT transformations successfully.


“Traditional” project executive role
It is generally known that the project executive is an important role within every (IT) project. PRINCE2 even indicates that there is no project without a project executive. “Traditionally” the executive must keep an overview of the project and make key decisions. He (or she) chairs the steering group and is ultimately responsible for the project result, budget and scope.
There are extensive descriptions available online to which a good executive must comply. Obvious cases (e.g. monitoring the goals and results and making decisions) and lesser known things (e.g. selecting and supporting the project manager) are all often in the picture, but in my opinion often a few fundamental things are missing when it concerns the role of the executive in IT transformations.
Providing organizational commitment is crucial for IT Transformations, because it is actually an organizational change. For example with the introduction of a virtual workplace also involves a new way of working. Here the “Why, What & How”, the stakeholder involvement & commitment, communication and mobilization of the organization is key to manage a successful transformation.
I noticed that many clients struggle with IT Transformations. Far too often, a client has a current issue and a supplier responds to this by offering and implementing a quick fix as a solution. In most cases, the technical solution is often chosen without defining any requirements and use cases. More important, this is not being discussed with the stakeholders and their expectations are not met or heard in the first place.
I realize that this can sometimes be a project in itself, and therefore takes time and money to map the use cases in advance. However, the alternative is that you, as a project manager, are flown in by the client to implement a quick “fix”, and gradually find out that the solution does not meet the end user requirements and they will ignore the solution or are at least highly disappointed. Either way, this IT Transformation is doomed to fail.


Succesfull IT Transformations, how?
I went looking for some tips from experts to help executive clients on their way to successful IT Transformations.
• Do not put digital transformation teams in a separate isolated silo within your organizational. This is a big threat because true transformation comes from the current organization and touches the core processes of the organization. So, let transformation be part of the existing organization and ensure it is embedded properly with multi-disciplinary teams. This is especially valuable with transformations that involves the layoff of colleagues for example. Siloed IT Transformations are doomed to fail from the beginning;
• Sponsorship at the highest level is indispensable, so take care of an enthusiastic executive in your board of directors. Moreover, it requires a sharp and alert management that knows how to sustain and is highly committed. Digitalization requires an infectious enthusiastic executive who is able to build bridges with difficult integration issues;
• Do not get involved in the IT Transformation hype and don’t jump “blindfolded” in new technology but do thorough research on the "WHY" and what problem you really need to solve for the future readiness of your organization;
• Beware of DINO's! (Digital Transformations In Name Only). Again, don’t become part of the hype and avoid just running the "show", instead of being intrinsically convinced that you really need to change and fight for agility, future readiness or even the right to exist;
• Transforming is more than digitization. It is about building new relationships with customers. For example, Philips started with selling their HUE lamps directly to consumers, instead of the traditional retail channel. This involved a cultural change and a completely different market approach. Also, don’t forget the internal organization, because often a digital transformation means that work processes and working methods change as well. Take the time to hear the internal "customers" and take them with you on your journey;
• "I also have to push myself to keep learning," says Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans. Continuous development of yourself and being open to new matters, just as a client is a success factor for digital transformations. Practice what you preach is key to be able to transform the organization at all. The question remains whether you can really "push" transformations. I think it must be the intrinsic motivation of the team to form a strong guiding coalition that expresses the vision intrinsically from within the organization;
• Put your own habits on the side and make no assumptions. An most important thing within digital transformations is that teams and therefore people come into close contact with each other and truly understand each other. This is both valid within the organization and beyond with (external) customers and partners. To be successful, you have to put yourself beyond the limits of your own habits and invest in the areas of expertise around you;
• Prevent a data fetish, so don’t drown in collecting all kinds of data, but focus on the information you really need to be able to serve your needs. Only collecting data for collecting has little effect and is also a lengthy and expensive exercise.

Digital transformations go hand in hand with trial and error. Despite conviction and dedication, many IT Transformation attempts fail. Experimenting is part of this journey. As it turns out: sometimes things just need time before they can be changed. In other words, take time to involve the stakeholders and get to know the “WHY” at an early stage. Furthermore, allow people some time to get used to the change, especially when it comes to IT Transformations.
Want to know more about how you can really make a difference with IT Transformations and how you can manage this successfully instead of joining the "DINO" (Digital Transformation In Name Only) hype? We approach IT Transformations differently and manage them successfully. We are happy to guide you on your transformation journey.


Ewoud Melis
IT Transformation Manager @ ITQ

• Twynstra & Gudde: De opdrachtgever
• Financiële Dagblad: Dossier Transformatie 2018


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