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Nov 8, 2021

Team of Teams and Digital Transformation: How You Should Be Thinking about IT

Written by: Afiba Edwards



McChrystal Group partnered with a state emergency management agency on digital transformation efforts. Afiba Edwards, Chief Information Officer at McChrystal Group, breaks down lessons learned, and offers suggestions to teams as they embark on their own transformations. Afiba oversaw the agency's transformation efforts - which included supporting the launch of the agency's digital transformation, knowledge management efforts, and systems development. Afiba is McChrystal Group's in-house expert on tech enablement, with client experience in real estate development, financial services, and state government agencies.


McChrystal Group is partnering with a state emergency management agency on a tech-enablement transformation project. The agency, though small at 150 people, cross-cuts in who they serve; stakeholders include state government, private sector partners, state citizens, and more.

The nature of emergency management requires an approach predicated on speed and precision. As such, the agency needs to ensure their internal operations match the pace of the environment. The team worked to enhance communication structures, systems, and processes to achieve their mission and build their capacity.


Q: What does your organization need to have in place before it can implement a substantial tech-enablement project?

A: We’ll start with the things that have nothing to do with technology: it’s the desire to change. If you don’t get buy-in, it’s not going to work. It’s not going to be sustainable. There needs to be a big campaign to win hearts and minds. That’s going to distinguish the new digital leader from the old: the ability to win hearts and minds, and to get that buy-in from the staff.

Some of the mechanisms for getting that buy-in is something McChrystal Group does: creating an open forum where we say, “Hey, this is what’s coming up. This is the idea,” and creating a feedback loop to get staff responses. Once you get feedback from executives and teammates, you have ownership into the idea, concepts, product, or new IT service being rolled out.

So, that’s first and foremost: the ability to win the hearts and minds, express your idea clearly, and get buy-in from the top-down and everywhere you can in the organization. That’s the only way it’s going to take hold and be sustainable.

Two, you also need to have the capacity to do it. Having a good idea doesn't mean it’s going to work; you must have the capacity and knowledge in your organization, or a partner to help you implement and flesh the idea out. Having the ability to prototype and wireframe an idea is really helpful. Because the idea, now, is not just words. Teams can sketch the concept out, have the expertise to conduct a real quality prototype, and open it up to the floor and say, “This is where we want to go. Is this the wrong direction? Is there something else we can do?” Getting that additional feedback loop is critical to help you better iterate on the product.


Q: What are common pitfalls that companies fall into? What mistakes do they make when trying to implement big tech enablement/change programs?

A: As said above, I think not having buy-in is a huge pitfall. IT touches most, if not all, of an organization. There is an IT component to any tool that’s developed. That’s where I think we can be really good bedfellows. And this is where IT and change management intersect, where teams must be clear about what the changes are for, what’s their purpose, what they’re solving. A lot of organizations fail to do this, and don’t answer the question, “Why?” They’ll make a change for a budgetary reason – shoving IT changes built into the fiscal year down their teammates’ throats – which will fail every time.

I think IT must have your best project managers inside the company, period. Project management is a critical skill set teammates must develop and foster, because we have to be tactical, clear, and concise when rolling things out. Having strong project management is not just a luxury, but a requirement, for IT and how it affects transformation.

I think it also helps the project to define its charter. Teams should have a clear communication plan, a clear change management plan, and socialize this information across the organization. If you don’t do the socializing part, it doesn’t matter what the tool is. It’s going to fail. It doesn’t matter how bold or ambitious or right the transformation is, it’s going to fail.


Q: Technology changes all the time, and enablement programs take a while to implement. How do you keep on top of those developments, so your innovations are not outdated before they’re even implemented?

A: Digital transformation doesn’t just mean we’re going to now use some funky cool app to collaborate that will transform the organization. New apps have nothing to do with digital transformation; that’s deploying a new tool, and we’ve been doing that since companies existed. When we talk about digital transformation now, it means transforming how IT operates and how IT interacts with the company.

We mean that IT has transformed itself to be a strategic partner to the organization. We mean that IT is not just a bunch of jobs and definitions of roles; there is a true cross-functional collaboration that needs to happen throughout the team. We don't just rely on IT for your computer and phone. The business now relies on IT to deliver and take data points, for example. How are our customers interacting with our website? Are our customers satisfied with our service? What do we need to change? IT needs to interpret and express data to the company so they can keep innovating with their product.


Q: How does IT tap into Team of Teams?

A: Traditional IT structures have your dev-ops here, data architects here, your data scientists over here, your UX folks over here, your UI people over here, kind of doing their own thing. There are lots of siloes in traditional IT structure, and that’s not very conducive to being an agile, always-changing IT team. These days, IT needs to be more collaborative to be more responsive. The UX person may work with the data scientist side-by-side on a new product or change, where they wouldn’t before. That’s where digital transformation happens, in how IT is structured, and operated, and viewed on the strategic level.

IT is a network – and it should have always operated like one. And that’s where the Team of Teams concept was foreshadowing where we would be now. Everyone is embracing this agile, cross-functional way of thinking. Now, almost everyone in IT has new skillsets: everybody is a project manager, everybody is closer to adopting a more full-stack-type mentality, where they need to understand UX, UI, data architecture, identity, security, etc.

I need to be that well-rounded to do my job, and that never was the case before. You always had a specialist to do those things, and now IT, just like the IT person, has evolved to be very cross-functional in understanding all aspects to keep up with the pace of change.