Change Agent in Plain Sight

Need a Leader for Digital Transformation Initiatives? Look beyond IT Departments


By Abid Mustafa

Digital transformation fatigue is setting in. After years of backing tech overhaul initiatives that fail to realize some or all promised benefits, some organizations are losing their appetite for large-scale change.

Many things can inhibit an organization's capacity to produce real digital change, of course. Cultural inflexibility prevents the adoption of new digital practices, and entrenched silos hinder the collaboration and agility necessary to address new challenges. But another problem is that digital transformation isn't viewed as a business change. When this is the case, an organization's leaders usually charge the CIO with delivering the intended benefits of technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, block-chain and so forth. And that CIO has a high likelihood of failure.

Why? Because IT departments are great at making changes to IT processes and practices, but they are hopeless at driving change across the organization. For instance, IT can work with vendors to introduce virtual assistants on various channels such as a mobile app, website or social media platform. But without inputs from business departments on issues like the dialogue flow and the customer experience, failure is likely.

Business departments struggle to deliver digital transformation, too. These departments often have difficulty communicating their requirements to technology departments and have a poor understanding of technical practices. What is required is an execution resource that understands both aspects—business and IT.


An enterprise project management office (EPMO) can be instrumental in managing digital transformation across the whole organization. The EPMO is conversant with the workings of the commercial, support and technology departments. And because it has relationships with stakeholders at every level of the organization, it's able to better deliver targeted benefits.

Being cognizant of the organization's strategic aspirations, working closely with the C-suite and understanding the political dynamics of the management team puts the EPMO in an enviable position to lead digital transformation. Yet in most organizations the EPMO plays a relatively hands-off role—it is not seen as the obvious way to deliver flagship end-to-end projects. The C-suite needs to push the organization past such inhibitions, empowering the EPMO while reconfiguring the organizational structure to permit the office's teams to move freely among silos and reduce friction among departments.

All this takes some courage—but sometimes you have to change before you can transform. PM

img Abid Mustafa has worked with project management offices for 11 years. His book In the Age of Turbulence: How to Make Executive PMOs Successful is available in paperback and on Kindle.



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