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Fusion teams: Rocket fuel for digital transformation

Virtually unknown as little as five years ago, fusion teams are now being used by most businesses to accelerate digital transformation and enhance the outcomes. But what are they, and how did they become the preferred way to launch digital initiative across virtually every industry? 

Fusion teams 101

A fusion team is a multidisciplinary digital business team that brings together the complementary expertise of product owners, domain experts, and developers in order to fast-track digital transformation.

Instead of being structured as traditional departments or organizational roles and responsibilities, fusion teams cut across these silos to fuse together the talent and domain knowledge needed to solve a specific business problem or pursue a specific business opportunity.

For companies that are new to the concept of fusion teams, agile teams and scrum frameworks can provide helpful points of reference. A fusion team is lean and focused on delivering value to the customer or the organization faster and with as little administrative burden as possible. Fusion teams are also similar to agile teams in terms of accountability structures, in that a group of interdisciplinary contributors are collectively responsible for the quality, utility, and impact of the ultimate deliverable.

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The rise of fusion teams

The formation of fusion teams has also been accelerated by CEOs and boards who are increasingly demanding faster routes to growth and operational excellence, which is putting increased pressure on companies to streamline the implementation of technology products and solutions that can support these ambitious goals. And when COVID began disrupting business as usual in early 2020, it brought even greater visibility to the business vulnerabilities caused by legacy or siloed technology.

The latest data from Gartner indicates that at least 84% of companies have set up fusion teams, and that even among historically slower-moving government entities, 59% are now relying on these multidisciplinary teams to help them launch technology products sooner. In large part because of this shift, two out of five business workers are now technology producers.

Key benefits of fusion teams

 Digital transformation is complete 2.5 times faster

Fusions teams may be trendy, but they're also demonstrably effective at standing up products and solutions. They get to bypass the long lineup of initiatives patiently waiting for IT approval and involvement.

The right players are on each team

Business technologists are included on each team, so they are equipped with industry-specific knowledge and familiarity with functional processes. This increases the likelihood that the product will deliver the desired outcomes.

Higher product adoption and retention rates

Subject-matter experts who are closest to the customers or internal users who will benefit from the technology are working on the technology, the product or solution generated is more likely to deliver value and support employee and customer-centric experiences.

Applying "fusion" power to business challenges

The power of fusion teams is accelerating transformation across a wide range of key business areas, including product development and platform business models, precision marketing and the customer experience, operational optimization, and data collection, enrichment and distribution processes.

For example, BMO Financial Group (BMO), a multinational investment bank and financial services company, assembled a fusion team to transform the credit-card application process for small-business customers. The existing process required an in-branch visit and a wait of up to nine days to be approved, which was deterring customers from applying and impacting the overall customer experience.

A fusion team made up of one SME and a small external development team were able to spin up a digital application process in just three weeks. By using a low-code technology platform to layer a new, digital customer journey on top of the existing legacy technology, the BMO fusion team was able to bypass IT involvement entirely and skip the lengthy queue for new digital initiatives requiring IT support. The new digital application process slashed processing time to as little as one day, creating a frictionless experience that increased application rates by 3X.

Getting started with fusion teams

Organizations exploring fusion teams for the first time will want to start small and target the right challenge to establish an early success and pave the way for future fusion-driven initiatives:

  • Keep it small. Keep the team lean and keep in mind that a minimum viable team can consist of as few as three core contributors—a product owner, a domain expert, and a developer. Pull in external resources who can contribute time and expertise flexibly, rather than to overload the core team.

  • Maximize using low-code solutions. Low-code platforms are essential resources for most fusion teams. These platforms empower "citizen developers" (non-technical or minimally technical employees) to create a wide array of robust applications that include automation, digital workflows, platform and data integrations, and many other digital solutions—all without requiring IT support.

  • Start with non-core processes. Look for business areas where complex processes are negatively impacting the employee (internal) or customer (external) experience. This could be indicated by a high number of user complaints or by low usage or outright avoidance of the existing interface or processes. These are areas where a swiftly generated, purpose-built solution will be most visible and impactful.

Laying the groundwork for success

As your organization begins to incorporate fusion teams into its approach to digital transformation, these best practices can help to encourage the adoption of this hybrid-team approach and optimize the outcomes these teams are able to deliver.

Identify the right mindset

To respond to challenges and opportunities quickly, fusion teams need autonomy. But if those teams don't adhere to organizational standards around security and compliance, they can increase security and compliance risks. This is a common issue–with 70% of fusion team leaders believing company data and technology standards apply only to IT, not to their fusion teams.1

Organizations can mitigate these risks by appointing team leaders with good digital judgment, which means being willing to question the organizational status quo, work collaboratively to improve it, and take responsibility for their part in mitigating organizational risk. Gartner research indicates that a fusion team leader with the right mindset is more than 5X more likely to deliver outcomes without adding to the organization's risk.

Create the right mindset

In addition to recognizing good digital judgment, organizations need to cultivate and strengthen this muscle in their team leaders. One of the best ways to do so is by encouraging them to take an active role in creating digital governance policies, standards and guidelines. Instead of imposing governance as a top-down process, organizations should seek to co-create those processes with fusion team leads. Fusion team leaders who are involved in this type of co-creation process are 5.4X more likely to have good digital judgment.2

Prioritize knowledge sharing

Fusion teams break down the silos that exist between organizational departments or domains, but because they are self-contained and project-bound, they risk creating new silos of expertise. Organizations need to build in processes for capturing and sharing the learnings and insights acquired over the course of an initiative across all fusion teams. While fusion teams themselves need to remain relatively autonomous and unencumbered, the valuable knowledge they acquire needs to be captured and made accessible to other fusion teams today and into the future.

Rethink digital talent

Organizations that see early success from the outcomes of a fusion team pilot project can quickly become victims of that success, as positive outcomes drive greater visibility and demand for the fusion approach. This can result in the demand for digital talent outstripping the organization's supply. HR and IT must find ways to work together to identify, engage, acquire, and develop the talent needed, with HR bringing expertise in enterprise-level sourcing, acquisition, and training, and IT providing domain-specific insights to help guide these activities.

Taking the next step

The rapid rise of fusion teams is helping organizations sidestep some of the biggest obstacles to timely digital delivery, including legacy technology, scarce digital talent, and overburdened IT functions. Launching a pilot project driven by a fusion team can help an organization explore the potential of this new approach in accelerating the path to digital transformation.

Learn how to identify the complex processes that fusion teams can streamline and digitize

1,2 Gartner, Fusion Teams: A New Model for Digital Delivery - Feb, 4 2021