If digital transformation is a journey, when does it end?\n\nThis is a question I am asked often by IT leaders who prefer slowing down the pace of transformation and technology innovation. Others who believe the term digital transformation is watered down take a more cynical tack, viewing it as a phrase leaders use to garner support for technology investments and vendors use to sell their newest capabilities.\n\nBut digital transformation remains a vital endeavor for today\u2019s enterprise as it is about evolving the business and operating model and not just about modernizing technologies.\n\nIt is driven by changes in customer expectations, opportunities to evolve employee experiences, and building differentiating capabilities with data, analytics, and artificial intelligence \u2014 all of which have no clear end point, nor are exclusively technology-focused. As such, organizations must evolve their digital strategies with market changes, such as the shift to remote work in 2020, the evolution to hyperautomation in 2022, and how generative AI will now require CIOs to overhaul their roadmaps.\n\n\u201cYou will always be transforming, and organizations must drive digital transformation as a core organizational competency,\u201d I wrote in Digital Trailblazer.\n\nTo do so, CIOs must close execution gaps in their digital transformation strategies, as execution too often lags behind intention, with only 35% of board directors believing that their organizations are on track to delivering digital transformation objectives. Another study of 4,000 global organizations found that only 44% had a high digital maturity.\n\nTo help close this digital maturity gap and drive digital transformation as a core competency, CIOs and their leadership colleagues must establish and enlist digital transformation leaders across the enterprise. These digital trailblazers, as I call them, are vital for digital transformation success, as they can be delegated leadership responsibilities such as the planning, execution, and change management of your digital initiatives.\n\nAfter all, evolving the organization\u2019s culture, processes, and technology practices is something the CIO can\u2019t do alone.\n\nProduct and delivery leaders: Agents of change\n\nWhile there are many ways to charter a program and define leadership responsibilities, I recommend leading transformation initiatives with these two key roles.\n\nThe product leader, sometimes called product manager or product owner, ensures that a transformative initiative is strategic and customer-driven. Initiatives that prioritize wish lists from high-ranking stakeholders or ones that express requirements as solutions fail this test.\n\nProduct leaders must define a vision statement, research end-user needs, and propose roadmaps. They must collaborate with execution teams on an agile process that adopts continuous planning, delivery, and transformation practices and seeks customer feedback to adjust priorities. \n\nProduct leaders are most responsible for a digital transformation initiative\u2019s scope, priorities, and change management. They partner with agile delivery leaders responsible for delivering releases on time and meeting quality standards, including non-functional security, performance, and reliability acceptance criteria.\n\nProduct leaders define the opportunity and problem statement, while delivery leaders establish the solution\u2019s architecture, execution plan, and support model. There\u2019s a tension between the product leader\u2019s goal of delivering more capabilities faster and the delivery leader\u2019s quality responsibilities that extend into operations. \n\nDomain experts: Specialized standards bearers\n\nProduct and delivery leaders guide self-organizing, multidisciplinary agile teams to deliver reliable releases, capture end-user feedback, and demonstrate business impacts. The agile methodologies and tools differ by organization and sometimes by team, but what team leaders really want is the autonomy to make quick decisions around priorities, solutions, and technologies.\n\nTherein lies a tradeoff for CIOs, product leaders, and delivery leaders. Provide teams with too much autonomy, and they may not have the knowledge and skills to implement or make optimal decisions. Even when they do, the aggregate of multiple teams making independent decisions can result in significant technical debt and high costs in maintaining a hodgepodge of platforms and implementations. \n\nOn the other hand, creating bureaucratic processes and rigid standards slows and demoralizes teams. Few technical leads want to create and present a ten-page deck to an architecture review board, and teams automating their releases with CI\/CD and other devops automations are slowed down if they must review releases with a change approval board.\n\nTo address these gaps, product and delivery leaders must rely on domain experts, including solutions architects, user experience (UX) specialists, Six Sigma analysts, information security leaders, and data architects. Most organizations can\u2019t afford to staff domain experts with active roles on agile teams, so they consult with teams on their requirements and solutions.\n\nMore importantly, CIOs should challenge their domain experts to propose, define, communicate, and evolve self-organizing standards. These are bottom-up standards crafted in partnership with agile teams, have applicability to how other teams operate, and ensure that best practices continuously evolve.\n\nIt\u2019s these self-organizing standards that help organizations build digital transformation core competencies. Examples include:\n\nCIOs should meet with domain experts regularly, and a best practice is to establish KPIs demonstrating the adoption and value delivered by self-organizing standards.\n\nAgile PMOs: Connecting execution with digital strategy\n\nCIOs must also present to their leadership teams and board directors the status of their digital transformation initiatives, the financial impacts, and roadmap changes. For larger enterprises with multiple running initiatives, relying on product and delivery leaders to perform consistent reporting can be time-consuming and distracting.\n\nCIOs should look to revitalize their program management offices (PMOs) from top-down compliance drivers to bottom-up service providers. It\u2019s a similar and not-easy transition program to how program and project managers had to learn when transforming from waterfall to agile methodologies.\n\nAgile PMOs close the loop on digital transformation as a core competency through several activities. CIOs can tap PMOs to communicate compliance requirements, drive learning objectives, and promote hiring practices that meet diversity objectives. When working with teams, they should simplify vendor management and reporting, including financial and other KPIs. Agile PMOs take on these responsibilities and reduce the frictions that slow teams down.\n\nDigital transformation isn\u2019t dead \u2014 it\u2019s becoming table stakes. Boards and business leaders expect CIOs to continuously guide and deliver competitive technology and data capabilities. What teams delivered last year is old news and will require ongoing modernization. Digital transformation as a core organization competency is an evolution of the IT delivery model, and creating a team of digital trailblazers paves the way for delivering innovation and continuous improvement.