At the risk of sounding redundant, I’d like to unpack the meaning of my assertion that digital is not just an update but rather a completely new beast. I’ve written about it before as it tends to be one of the hardest ideas for new clients to come to terms with. The harsh truth is that the digital economy is becoming increasingly dynamic with its ability to develop new efficiencies and offer new consumer experiences. Digital survival for every business or organization requires a complete rethink and retooling of business processes, business models, business culture and business thinking.
Simple Digitalization Doesn’t Work
Very often, C-suiters miss the depth of digital transformation and see it purely through the lens of technology. Okay, they say, how can we digitize our product line and become competitive again? Tell us what technology we need to purchase in order to regain market share? These initiatives often fail because products developed before the rise of digital economy cannot serve today’s more complicated customer needs nor can they keep up with the iterative progress model many digital products follow. Simply put, it’s way too late to put an online wrapper on old products or services.
A telling micro example of this small thinking can be seen at many industry trade events. These events often offer an event app which features a booth directory, event times, etc. It’s really just a dressed up digital version of the paper pamphlet you used to get. What’s missing is creative digital thinking, digital technology shaped to offer a completely new experience while providing new value to users. For example, creative digital thinking could have produced a trade event app with a social component that links you to potential partners or a meet-up function which allows impromptu networking at local restaurants or bars. This functionality would provide increased value to members and insure the viability of the event in coming years. Simple digitization of old products denies the transformative potential of digital technology and almost guarantees users will look elsewhere for more digitally savvy solutions.
Entirely new dynamics require an entirely new strategy
At the heart of every digital transformation project is the acknowledgement that digital technology has transformed the dynamics of the world economy and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The way in which the majority of industries now do business as well as serve their clients has completely changed. More importantly, customer needs and expectations are constantly in flux. Old strategies, particularly those developed more than a decade ago, must be abandoned and replaced with strategies developed to serve digital needs. In this climate of constant change, the best business strategy rests upon customer centricity. Always keep one eye fixed on customer needs, build strategy up from there while allowing for constant adjustments.
Total transformation necessitates a cultural shift
I work with clients to instill the lessons of agile project planning methodologies and always encourage them to start to adopt it in their own company or organization. It represents the most effective way to continuously add value in the shifting digital economy. Agile represents a lifeline for many legacy companies struggling to navigate disruption. But again, what is difficult for many is the totality of change that digital transformation and agile methodologies represent. It requires a complete cultural change with flat hierarchies, quicker innovation, a rapid diffusion of information and a focus on customer experience. Your organization or business culture must change to allow for nimbleness.
Despite all the hurdles I’ve mentioned above, there are plenty of reasons for companies and organizations to be optimistic about their digital future. By attacking this new beast in the right way and with the right tools, your organization can become a digital innovator in your space and be as nimble as any startup.
By Len Gilbert
Big projects with big budgets and far-off goals very often fail. Like everyone, I’ve been involved with a number of slow-moving and expensive enterprise projects that consumed thousands of hours and tens of millions of dollars while adding very little true value. The likelihood of large scale project failure has only increased in today’s digital economy thanks to the increase pace of innovative change and the disruption of business models. Oftentimes, the problem that a typical big-budget enterprise project is charged with solving changes enough during the course of the project to make the solution outdated before launch.
An Iterative Approach
As we’ve written about before at dPrism, Agile isn’t just for software. The iterative development techniques needed for software development (like a continuous release schedule incrementally adding value) reflects a software market need, and that same market need now applies to digital enterprises across all departments and functions. The digital enterprise requires nimbleness, continuous innovation, and the ability to digest as well as disseminate new information quickly. Enterprise Agile project planning aims to incorporate all those requirements and allow for adaptation.
So, how would Enterprise Agile tackle a big project with a big budget and far off goals: by working backward incrementally. Like any project, a set of results or end capabilities is decided upon, then a complete list of tasks and dependencies is listed out. Here is where the iterative Agile methodology comes into play: the project plan is elastic … including the end goal. Work is prioritized and divided into a six-week long repeating release schedule design to consistently add new value to the company. Work is also further subdivided into two-week team sprints. Every six weeks, the completed release (one building block of the larger project) is discussed and evaluated. All aspects of the project plan are then reconsidered based upon the results of the previous release, acquired developmental knowledge, and any changes in the the larger scenario. Repeating the six week cycle creates a process which gains momentum by learning from and building upon itself.
As an example of how this can work in practice, we helped one of our clients implement Agile Enterprise to spearhead a complete digital transformation. In this case, the transformation occurred physically as well as via process change. A large room was dedicated to the Agile Enterprise team with stakeholders from Product, Technology, Marketing, Operations working side-by-side with dPrism staff and other implementation specialists. All attended the daily scrum meetings and worked together on the repeating release cycles. The team has been able deliver incremental, measurable value while staying on-time and on-budget.
The common work environment broke down walls between all the groups. It encouraged the team effort and information was easily shared between individuals. The analysts/developers had easy access to business owners for clarification on requirements while stakeholders were woven into the process and had an active role in evaluating completeness of the product at various phases. The feedback allowed for errors to be caught and corrected early and gave everyone ownership of the end result. By recognizing the iterative process of agile, a product is able to be completed and released quickly. Improvements are made from feedback of actual users of the products instead of from the organization “guessing” at what the customer wants.
Transforming Work Culture
Agile enterprise incrementally transforms work culture, encouraging stakeholder buy-in because the iterative process is more democratic. Agile project plans are not a decree passed down from on high.
Through engagements with dPrism clients and our own work experience we have found that the iterative, adaptive approach of Agile Enterprise we are able to deliver the sort of large scale game-changing initiatives that used to so-often fail when attempted in waterfall fashion. Please share any thoughts you have on how this approach has worked or failed in your business!
You’re a senior executive, or even the CEO, but you feel powerless to rein in the publishing anarchy. You need some rules – some kind of process – that will keep staff feeling empowered and motivated but also singing your organization’s tune in some sort of harmony and rhythm.
You need content governance.
It’s a phrase you’ve probably been hearing more often recently, as all types of organizations – for-profit and nonprofit, private sector and governmental – realize that the breakdown of the technical barriers to publishing means they may now, must now, take themselves more seriously as publishers in their own right. And if they’re doing it well, they might even become “thought leaders” in their line of work, allowing them to build an engaged, loyal audience, which of course leads to new clients.
Content governance is important because it ensures there is a strategic reason for everything an organization publishes. It reinforces brand message and consistency, reduces duplicative efforts and improves decision-making. It also reduces risk, including the risk of publishing something that makes the organization look bad, or worse, is legally actionable.
But these are just the advantages to the organization. The best reasons to adopt some kind of content governance regime have to do with your reading audience, who after all are your current and potential customers. For them, content governance reduces inbox clutter, improves their appreciation of your message and leads to more engagement and action.
Every content governance regime includes the following elements:
- A statement of roles, rights and responsibilities for managing how content is published and promoted. There are generally four types of people involved in a publishing operation: authors, editors, producers (including designers, copy editors and web production) and publishers. Each should have specific duties and limits to their powers. As with any type of governance, checks and balances are critical. Larger organizations with many departments may want to consider a centralized production hub that owns content governance. Modeled after newsrooms, this model empowers the hub to set and enforce editorial style and branding standards, have sole publishing rights and set and monitor goals for each piece of content using web analytics. Each department would operate like a section of a newspaper, with its own authors and editors who would work closely with the centralized desk.
- An editorial and branding style guide. You’ll need a document that governs how your authors and editors should speak to the various user types who make up your audience. Are they writing primarily for an initiated, professional audience, or the general public (many organizations seek to reach both). An editorial and branding style guide sets the rules for how your organization uses words and images – your organization’s “voice,” in other words.
- An established workflow for every type of content published. Most content will originate on your website, but the way you promote, via search, email and social media, is as important as the message. You should document every step in the process of authoring, editing, adding photos or graphics, tagging and publishing every type of content.
- An editorial calendar. It’s surprising how few organizations have a comprehensive calendar of each piece of content it produces for its website, email and social media outlets. A calendar forces managers to slow down and ask some key questions: what is the audience, what user needs does the piece meet, how does it relate to larger organization goals, when should it run and through what channels and how will its success be measured?
- A way to measure results. Before publication, each piece of content should have at least one goal – it could be a desired email open rate, or a total for unique visitors, time on page or number of social media likes or shares. The staff in charge of content governance should keep track of all metrics and report it to the editor-managers frequently.
When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of world peace, he quipped “I think it would be a good idea.” Content governance is like that – easier said than done. You’re likely to get resistance from managers who feel their control is being usurped, or who worry about new layers of bureaucracy slowing down their messaging. The trick is to set up a structure that allows department heads to feel supported and empowered, rather than blocked or bypassed.
Moving from anarchy to governance isn’t easy. But the results – bigger audiences, more engagement and loyalty and more sales conversions – are well worth the effort.