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Successful digital transformation requires strong executive sponsorship that includes accountability for the business results.


The first few articles in this series explained how digital transformation impacts the entire company and, therefore, requires an enterprise strategy that balances culture and technology. We then started explaining how to turn strategy into successful execution. Here, we discuss the critical importance of the executive sponsor and how to ensure accountability for your business results.

Executive Sponsor

The executive sponsor, by definition, is a direct report of the CEO (or the actual CEO) and has the authority to approve the time, scope, and budget for your digital transformation.

As explained previously, Digital Transformation is an enterprise strategy to create a differentiated customer experience that gives your company a sustainable competitive advantage. That strategy will likely result in numerous projects impacting different parts of the organization. Therefore, it is wise to have an executive sponsor for each project and then an executive sponsor for the overall Digital Transformation program, which is the collection of all related projects.

I’m sure we’ve all seen project sponsors that simply gave lip service to the project but were not really involved. That’s a common cause for project failure. Don’t let that happen. Your executive sponsor needs to be emotionally engaged in the initiative. He or she must stay informed, understand issues and challenges, and be involved in decisions that may change the course of the initiative.

The executive sponsor should receive weekly status updates that include a progress report, any issues that may put the project at risk, and a tracking of actual expenses versus the budget. Any changes to the time, scope, or budget of the project must be approved by the executive sponsor.

The executive sponsor, along with the program manager should be well enough informed to provide updates to the rest of the executive team and the board of directors.


The description, above, of the executive sponsor role probably sounds common and benign. But there’s more.

The executive sponsor has ultimate accountability for the business results of the digital transformation.

If you follow my writing, you’ve heard me say numerous times that you never start a project, IT or otherwise, without an executive sponsor’s commitment to the results. How much revenue will we gain and how much cost will we save? There may be numerous metrics that contribute to the return on investment, like customer satisfaction, streamlined processes, improved supply chain, and countless others. But, in the end, the board, shareholders, and other stakeholders want to know the value to be gained.

We typically work with business leaders, managers, and staff to understand the various ways that a digital transformation will improve the business. While the overall objective is to create that differentiated customer experience, that experience will manifest itself in revenue gains and cost savings.

How much cost can be taken out of the sales process? How much faster will we process an order? What new products or services will we be able to offer? Do we reduce legal or regulatory risk?

The executive sponsor should challenge the cost/benefit assumptions, clearly understand the factors that make up the overall return on investment, and track progress toward those results.

The final element of accountability is the financial accounting process. The investments and expected financial results are documented at the beginning of the digital transformation initiative. As parts of the program go live, Accounting should be capturing the actual costs and amortizing them over an appropriate period of time. And they should be meeting with the executive sponsor, at least quarterly, to verify that the new “assets” are still in use and that the desired benefits are being realized.

This financial discipline and accountability provide complete transparency so that leadership and the board understand the value returned by their investment.


The executive sponsor is one of the most important roles in your digital transformation. The level of engagement of the sponsor is usually an early predictor of project success.

The sponsor approves time, scope, and budget, and any changes as the project progresses. The sponsor also approves the anticipated return on investment and tracks these during the project and after completion.

The leadership and accountability of the executive sponsor is a critical success factor for your digital transformation.

What’s Next

In the coming weeks we will cover the following, critical aspects of digital transformation:

  • Measurement
  • Change Management
  • Scope Management
  • Marketing and PR
  • Staff Challenges and Surprises
  • The New World After Digital Transformation

If you’re embarking on a digital transformation, planning to do so, or just don’t want to wait 12 weeks for all of these articles, just email Emily at Emily@WolffStrategy.com and she’ll be happy to schedule a call with me to discuss any or all of these topics.

larry wolff

Larry Wolff is the founder & CEO of Wolff Strategy Partners, a boutique consulting firm specializing in Enterprise Strategy Management and Digital Transformation. Larry has served as CEO, COO, CIO, CTO, chief digital officer, and management consultant for public, private, international, and emerging growth companies. His specialties include corporate and IT strategic planning, technology led business transformation, business and IT turnarounds, merger integration and large-scale project rescues. His methodologies span industries and scale to companies of all sizes.

LWolff@WolffStrategy.com                     https://WolffStrategy.com

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