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'Heavy lifting' ahead for mobile digital transformation: Forrester

Forrester analysts interviewed 40 digital business leaders about their paths to mobile digital transformation. The verdict: It's not an easy road.

Nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard, go the lyrics to Coldplay's hit song "The Sci...


IT executives may be echoing that sentiment following the release of a recent report by Forrester Research in which analysts interviewed 40 digital business and technology leaders from Fortune 500 companies to learn how they're driving mobile digital transformation at their companies.

Some of the advice is what you'd expect: start small, adopt Agile methodologies, be customer-centric, make data-driven decisions and embrace company-wide collaboration. But it doesn't end there.

"Digital on its own is running out of runway, so to speak, in terms of its benefits," said the report's co-author Julie Ask, principal analyst at the Cambridge, Mass.-based firm. "Now heavy lifting has to happen to get the benefits."

Julie Ask

That heavy lifting includes making changes to work processes and physical spaces, she said, with emphasis on creating a single, collocated, cross-functional team that speaks a common language and uses shared metrics. According to the report, this team also must be freed from the constraints of legacy organizations and waterfall processes.

When it comes to talent for a mobile team, the report advised companies to early on find "sprinters" -- creative, experienced developers and/or mobile natives -- and add long-distance athletes later. Early hires help set the strategic vision.

Some of the findings around securing new talent surprised Jeffrey Hammond, Forrester analyst and co-author of the report.

"The hardest role to hire seems to be good product management," said Hammond in an email. "I expected it to be mobile designers or experienced mobile developers, but it seems everyone is looking for the product owners that can understand the business, understand the technology, and bridge the gap between them."

Jeffrey Hammond

Along with product managers, the report finds that more and more C-suite executives are bringing in experienced senior leaders from the outside to lead the mobile digital transformation charge -- with great success. As Hammond said, these incoming leaders are folks that have delivered at high-velocity, understand how to craft high-performance delivery teams and have the autonomy to form cross-functional teams and drive real change.

Ask puts it simply: "Outsiders bring less baggage. They also have more leverage coming in the door. [They can say] 'I'm not joining unless I get the autonomy' and 'I've done this before. This is how it works. This is what I need.'"

What else about the findings did Hammond find interesting? The shift away from wholesale project outsourcing and toward staff augmentation.

"Digital groups are interested in building their own internal skills sets, especially WRT [write text] to front end development and analytics, but they still look for help as they round out their delivery teams," Hammond said. "They are looking as much for change agents and partners as they are straight implementation partners."

This is as much, if not more so, a cultural transformation in how software is built and delivered.
Jeffrey Hammondanalyst, Forrester Research

The report also advocates for a "2-in-the-box model" in which a product manager from the digital group and a project manager/scrum master are responsible for project delivery. As Hammond puts it, the product manager owns business-based success metrics like revenue and engagement. The project manager owns schedule, quality, security, performance. That, he says, creates conflict and requires daily scope management, and trade-offs "in the box."

Unsurprisingly, the cultural aspect plays a key role in mobile digital transformation. Mobile technology is changing metrics, processes and the way people work. IT executives need to communicate these changes to everyone early on, according to the report.

"This is as much, if not more so, a cultural transformation in how software is built and delivered," Hammond said. Those who don't adhere to some of the principles laid out in the report will have a "hard time cracking the process and culture barriers that slow flow and reduce delivery speed."

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