Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Tiffany St James: How to structure your digital transformation delivery team

Tiffany St James is one of the UK’s most experienced digital transformation specialists, the founder of Transmute and former Head of Public Participation for the UK Government. She is also NDA’s monthly columnist.

Last month’s column we looked at how to prioritise your digital projects, this month we look at how to structure your digital delivery team.

It’s likely that your Technology or IT Team is full to the brim with keeping the lights on in your organisation and the prospect of setting up a new digital delivery team for the first time will feel to your technology leaders that you have just doubled their workload.

If you are leading the transformation of your organisation it’s essential that you work hand in glove with your Technology Team.

Technology Vision and Strategy

Review, create or co-create with your technology leadership team the Technology Vision and Strategy for the organisation. All strategies in the organisation must of course underpin how you will deliver the overall business strategy, but the Technology Strategy itself should define how technology supports and shapes the business strategy, the blueprint of how to get there.

Take a stance on your cloud provision, your inhouse versus outsourced technology now and over the next few years. Define what new capabilities you will need. Have a view on current versus planned capacity.

Bi-modal delivery

Some organisations will prefer to take a bi-modal delivery approach, setting up a Digital Delivery Team whose sole focus is to make the change to digital products and services as well as deliver new services.

The advantage of a bi-modal team is that they are unencumbered by business-as-usual tasks and can focus solely at driving change ahead at speed. They are generally recruited in and fresh to an organisation and can drive fast and deep lasting change.

The disadvantages of having a bi-modal team is that you are creating, even in the short-term a separate team culture which can disenfranchise people in the existing structure.

You’ll have to work hard to ensure your teams do not feel that business-as-usual is less valuable than the new digital delivery team. The common analogy for the two types of teams is the comparison with marathon runners and sprinters: both valuable athletes with different skills.

Team Roles

Whether you have a separate change team or blend your Digital Delivery Team in with your technology practice you’ll need specific skills at the specific stages of digital delivery.

The Discovery Phase is all about unpacking ‘what is the problem you are trying to solve’, you’ll need to understand users needs and what users are trying to achieve, current constraints and future opportunities.

A User Researcher will be key to understand the issues, working in conjunction with your existing Service Owner, the person in your business who has overall current ownership for the existing service or service area or someone who understands the product, and a light touch from a Service Design Lead as user needs start to evolve.

At the Alpha stage, where you start to build prototypes, you’ll need a Product Manager, it is likely that this role will already exist in your business although under a different title.

For example, this would be your Web Manager if making changes to your website; the specific people managing your existing digital product.  

You’ll need a Developer, or Developers and Technical Lead, people to build the prototype and the Technical Lead has the overall responsibility on the Development Team. You’ll also require a Delivery Manager to manage the whole process and Content Designers to effectively communicate in the best way possible working with your UX Designer and Service Design Lead too.

It’ll be useful in Alpha stage to involve your Technical Architect to ensure what’s being designed is supported in your overall infrastructure.

You’ll still need your User Researchers from your Discovery Phase and you’ll continue to work closely with your Service Owner at all stages.

For both Beta and Live stages of the digital development the team roles do not change but you may need more people in the types of roles outlined above depending on project complexity.

Blended Resources

As you may not need all your digital delivery team all at once, its useful to look at a blended approach to team management from existing people, interim resources and collaborative partnerships.

Setting up and running a new digital delivery team arguably takes one or two new skillsets that don’t necessarily exist in the organisation. To design a team, locate, recruit and appoint the right people whether interim or permanent will take people who have delivered digital products before to ensure you have the right skills and capabilities being brought in.

It’s often useful to rely on interim staff to set up the team, set up the governance of the team and start to embed a new agile way of working. You may then find that your initial delivery team is heavier with interims at the start of the set up, and then with concurrent hiring of permanent roles and skills transfer you are able to lessen your reliance on interim support over time.

Some organisations choose to outsource User Experience as it’s a specific skill set needed at the point of Discovery. Some organisations choose to outsource Developer roles which are sought after roles and trickier to recruit and retain.

Your Service Owners and Product Managers will sit within your existing team and can be co-opted, borrowed part time or matrix-managed to work within the Digital Delivery Team for part of the work they do and deliver.

It’s useful to build up your agency, consultancy and interim networks to enable you to deploy flexible, blended teams of permanent, contract and specialist support.

Further resources for you:

The UK Government have put together their service manual which is a comprehensive guide and outlines more of these principles. It’s as relevant to Public as Private sector organisations.