It Takes More Than a Few New Roles to Transform an IT Org

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At Thought Ensemble, we work with different kinds of technology organizations: software companies, IT organizations, and everything in between. The difference in mindsets, org designs, and ways of working are striking, especially between traditional IT organizations that are enabling the internal operations of a company and technology organizations that are building “products” for end customers. Since the early years of Thought Ensemble, we’ve been working with IT organizations who are trying to transform from a traditional IT organization into an organization that is building products for external customers.

These days, this topic of transformation is hitting practically every industry. Technology leaders must figure out how to build a product development capability, but their IT groups seem to be organized around delivering projects and keeping the lights on, not around delighting their end customers. Most IT organizations are attacking this problem incrementally by adding roles like UX, Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Product Manager as overlays on top of the existing organization. Because product development is such a different mindset, people in these roles have trouble succeeding without the right tools, processes, and relationships with business partners.

This is why the incremental approach to becoming a product-focused technology organization seldom works. At the root of it, it is an organizational challenge, but not one that can be addressed by the addition of a few technology roles. These roles must be tied to new delivery methods, incented by new measures, and supported by a new culture. It is a full organizational transformation, not just contained within the walls of IT, therefore it requires a holistic look.

If I were a CIO with this challenge, I’d hold off on IT role changes or additions until I’d talked with my CEO and other key leaders about how we want product development to work within our broader organization. Then I’d design an optimal organizational structure that works in the context of an end-to-end product development process. Finally, I’d take a hard look at the internal capabilities we have before moving people into the new roles. While some Business Analysts, Project Managers, and Business Relationship Managers can be turned into Product Managers, many can’t. By getting more clarity up front on the overall business and technology goals and how each new role supports them, the organization will be set up for much greater likelihood of success.