In our last article in the ‘Twelve Shifts of Digital’ series, we took a look at the ideal cultural characteristics an organisation needs to thrive in the shifting digital world. This week, we turn our attention to method, and investigate what it takes to move at the rapid pace of the market, and embrace experimentation and rapid pathfinding. 

In a mature and predictable market, strategic planning and execution against long term plans create the best results. Non-digital businesses often rely on time-bound projects where ‘the business’ hands requirements over to ‘IT and change’ functions to deliver, resulting in long lead times, increased delivery risk, and an ever-increasing divide between the ‘business’, ‘IT and change’ and ‘run’. However, in a dynamic and rapidly changing market, digital-first organisations are increasingly looking to start-ups for lessons in how to adopt a lean / agile approach to bring more customer-centric offers to market faster. 

To enable rapid delivery, businesses need to combine Doing the right things with Doing things right.

Doing the right things: focus on proposition excellence

This dimension aims to ensure you are aligning your change and delivery activity around the things which are most important to your business. To do this, there are four activities to help you work out what to do: 

  • Discover: Determine what areas your business should go after to improve performance; 

  • Set the frame: Align propositions with your business strategy, set the bar high and look to identify the game-changing customer outcomes you can drive towards; 

  • Measure: Create a deep understanding of your customers and the performance of your business; and 

  • Design: Gather ideas and design engaging, compelling and innovative propositions that can be progressed into development 

Building on our recommendations on culture, and while you are looking to do these four things, there are key challenges to overcome. For example, how can your organisation systematically obtain timely customer insight? Do you have well-structured and rich data sets to achieve this? If the answer to these challenges is ‘no’, you could follow the example of Unilever: the company used its “People Data Centre” to analyse data from all customer touch points to understand trends and opportunities. This enabled Unilever to rapidly pilot and produce the millennial shampoo in just months. Look to the data you can harness from your business which could be as diverse as social media sentiment, customer survey feedback, online reviews, operational performance insights and the usage and adoption of your digital channels. 

You should also look to see how you can create the frame and guardrails to empower your staff to experiment and iterate, and create an organisation which builds agility, experimentation and a test-and-learn mindset into its DNA as we recently talked about in our Organisation and Talent Twelve Shifts blog. 

Methods such as Google Sprint aim to take a multi-disciplinary team from problem to customer tested prototype in five days. It doesn’t provide 100% of the answer, but embracing a fail fast attitude while testing with real customers helps organisations progress much faster towards their vision and strategy. It’s this implementation focus which forms the second dimension to explore. 

Doing things right: focus on flow and efficiency 

Many leading digital organisations are adopting an agile / lean approach to drive innovation and change. This is characterised by creating a product hypothesis based on insight, rapidly building a solution and testing with customers, before iterating and developing the product. 

Typically there are four stages in this rapid method: 

  • Develop: Rapidly create solution options and evaluate their potential contribution towards your desired objective; 

  • Deliver: Deliver solutions using a slick, efficient flow of work with a process that works for your business; 

  • Run: Get the initiative live through rapid and iterative deployment. Then manage performance and optimise as needed; and 

  • Enhance: Evaluate what has been delivered through customer testing and data gathering and then iteratively enhance the solution to drive further customer value and benefit 

Alongside all of this, leverage accelerators to make this process even more effective, e.g. venturing or partnering with start-ups, or using investment strategies to gain access to talent or technology from specialist businesses. NatWest for example created a venturing function that focuses on rapid development of agile challenger-versions of some of their core processes such as retail payments. This has improved its agility in the market and gave it valuable insights to transform its wider operations. 

It's important that you find a method which works for your business and put the right environment in place to both encourage this rapid delivery, in a safe and controlled way –the move to continuous delivery / DevOps is a complex one. Understand the risks you’re willing to take to move fast, and explore the things which might be available to help you, for example regulatory sandboxes for experimentation like that created by the FCA. 

Above all, build on the talent and core strengths of your business! Combined with the characteristics of the method we described, you will be able to build a customer-led, entrepreneurial way of working that will make you a winner in the shifting, digitally influenced business world.

… And repeat! 

The most mature Digital Transformations move organisations to a state of constant change as your delivery maturity increases. We help leading organisations do this and they exhibit a number of common attributes: (1) there is less emphasis on projects and more on perpetual product-based teams; (2) a firm organisational commitment to hypothesis-driven experimentation and iterative product releases; and (3) customer and employee continuous feedback loops are developed to respond rapidly with minimum investment and failure acceptance.  

In our final blog, which will be published next week, we discuss the importance of Risk and Resilience in the digital era.  

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