How 7 Strategies Lift the Top Digital Companies

How 7 Strategies Lift the Top Digital Companies
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What makes a truly strong Digital organisation? This recipe for success has certainly changed over the last 10 years. From the days when Digital was a sideline team focused on intranets and websites, today Digital has a primary place in top organisations.

Over the last year I’ve been reflecting and studying what makes a Digital organisation great. This has been a process of re-considering past experiences, interviewing current digital leaders in their fields, and reading books that exemplify digital practice.

Through this process there are 7 strategies that stand out of the world’s best Digital companies. Whether it be “pure-play” digital operators or established organisations that are doing more than ever with digital, these competencies separate some organisations from the pack.

#1. Focus on The Customer

Building a capacity to focus on the customer is fundamental to doing digital well. This goes beyond talking about customers. It involves developing a deep understanding of customer wants and preferences by involving them in listening processes (whether this is using focus groups, interviews or observational research).

The best digital organisations connect the design and development of digital products directly with customer insights. How does this work on a day-to-day level? We would know we’ve reached this point when any developer building software can pick up the phone or write an email to a customer and seek immediate feedback on their work.

This connection is so important because it links the act of product development directly with the audience the product is intended for, and it does this in a meaningful way. This has become one of the principles for how Digital companies create extraordinary products.

#2. Service Design

Service Design has been around for some time. In the last few years we’ve seen this discipline develop new energy. I personally believe service design (including Human Centered Design) will be one of the largest growth trends for organisations in the next five years.

To do service design well involves developing specific competencies in this area. It involves taking an entire view of customer journeys throughout the cycle of product purchase and use (both online and offline), putting ourselves in the shoes of people we’re trying to reach, and developing deeper insights about the needs serviced by the products we create.

Service design also involves building multi-disciplined teams that have the remit to explore and innovate on what is present today.

#3. Digital is Everyone’s Role and a Specialisation

As more and more customer interactions migrate online, digital is becoming central to organisational strategy. Whilst previously digital used to be the role of a single team, now all areas of an organisation need to think about ideas. This is a much needed shift in organisational behaviour. In the past we have seen the same trends emerge in other areas – marketing, operations, fulfillment – all have surfaced as disciplines in their own right. Today Digital is also making this journey.

It’s important to distinguish between how ideas are conceived and how work gets done. While all areas of businesses can conceive and contribute ideas for digital, doing digital work does require an aspect of specialisation.

Mature digital organisations leverage many areas of expertise such as release planning, user experience, visual design, coding, development, and so on. While these specialisations can be established in pockets across an organisation, they can be accelerated by centralisation.

As a result, the hallmark of a mature (or maturing) digital practice is evidence of these competencies being centralised.

The concept of centralisation does not necessarily mean people sitting in the same place or reporting to the same person. Modern work-practices (eg. remote working, collaboration tools, etc) lend to far more fluid interpretations of centralisation. An example of this is a Guild within Agile frameworks. Guilds bring people together that share common interests so they may share knowledge, tools and practices. In so doing Guilds centralise knowledge across potentially geographically dispersed teams.

#4. “Agilification”

Agile has become a buzz word in many organisations. But beyond the hype there are several principles embodied in Agile that make a real difference to how teams work.

These principles are: i) breaking down work into discreet chunks of activity, ii) structuring work based on dedicated capacity, iii) making work (and progress) visual.

The characteristics of Agile are important because they respond to three very ‘human’ questions about how attention and feedback is structured:

– what do we need to work on?
– how can we ensure we are focused on the work at hand?
– how can we receive feedback on our progress (particularly with complex projects)?

When organisations help their people know how to respond to these questions, teams are generally more focused and fulfilled.

#5. Focus on “Ways of Working”

Every digital team adopts tools and frameworks to get their work done.

Sometimes these are new training programs to educate new staff about which methods they’ll need as part of their day-to-day activities.

There is an important difference though between learning a method from a text book and learning how that method is used within a specific company.

‘Ways of working’ go beyond the method, looking also at the cultural nuances of the tools and frameworks used in an organisation.

For example, ‘backlog’ is a tool. But whether backlog is captured in software or handwritten onto cards and stuck on the wall, has as much to do about an organisation’s way of working as the theory of managing a backlog.

In the best digital companies, theory and practices are enriched and kept alive through meaningful ways of working.

#6. Blend Process & Creativity

Getting digital done right involves left brain and right brain activities.

Structuring releases for new mobile apps can be relatively complex, requiring detailed process and planning skills. But developing new interface designs for a mobile app requires creativity.

Almost all aspects of digital work require a blend of ‘creativity’ and ‘process’. When organisations try to structure digital teams with too much process, design can become hamstrung and bland. But when there is no process, creativity can become whimsical and design lacks alignment and focus.

For this reason, the best digital organisations blend process and creativity; from the environments they create for their people, to the way work is approached.

#7. People as a Strategic Capability

In the last decade, digital has grown rapidly as more companies shift operations and selling processes online. This has been further accelerated by a groundswell of adjacent trends, including the shift toward mobile handsets (compared with desktop internet use), a surge in mobile apps and changes in human behaviour.

Fortunately, with all this demand for digital, we’ve seen new career types emerge. Social media managers, paid search specialists, digital product owners… many of these roles did not exist some time ago. Right now there are more opportunities than ever for people entering the workforce to consider a career in Digital.

The downside for organisations is that the growth in talent does not always outstrip demand. So in some industries and geographies, it’s increasingly difficult for organisations to attract and retain strong digital people.

The best digital organisations recognise that ‘people’ are a strategic capability. As such, in these organisations people strategies look beyond recruitment alone, to also consider how people are engaged and grown so they have the greatest chance to connect their skills with the unique opportunities and challenges of the business.

I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, digital and mobile app strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GlaxoSmithKline. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.
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