In today’s world, staying competitive and innovative seems to be on the tongues of every board room. The term ‘Digitisation’ is sometimes loosely thrown around as the solution to falling profits and staying competitive in the market. Unfortunately to most companies, digitisation simply means, getting online. To the rest… well it still means getting online too.
But digitisation is more than that. It simply means, the ability to be efficient, rapid and able to adapt in order to stay ahead of the pack using design and technology as enablers. All processes, systems and organisational structures that act against such intentions, will play a huge part in why some digital transformation initiatives will fail.
For digital transformations to be successful, they must permeate through every team and department. The process requires an open minded approach as well as preparation and understanding of how data, design and technology will impact them across teams — HR, finance, purchasing, marketing and even the product team.
One of the most important factors that contributes towards the success of such a transformation is the company’s ability to handhold and guide the entire team across the organisation on this journey, even if that means taking outside help. Even here, design thinking plays a big role in how to engage the organisation towards a common vision and purpose.
After working at the MIT Design Lab in Massachusetts USA, and in one of Sweden’s most successful Digital Product Design companies, The Techno Creatives, I have advised, inspired and helped different industry players on how to use a few principles of design thinking to their advantage. Along the way, I have learned why some succeed and many fail.
Let’s take an example, Company X is successful because they create some of the best drilling tools. They have hired some of the best engineers, researchers, analysts, industrial designers, sales managers, marketing, operations and project managers. Now this company has done for years what it does best, which is, provide the best darn drills one can want. Fast forward a few years to today, smarter drills complete with inbuilt sensors and added connectivity flood the market. This makes Company X look outdated and suddenly they are playing catch up to build the necessary framework, processes and systems in order to produce competitive products. They need to catch up or face becoming redundant. Software and user centric design will soon become a big part of the company’s vocabulary. And with this will come a slow and often expensive learning curve.
In comes an order from top management about the requirement to digitise their existing arsenal of robust drills and hardware. Most members of top management understand the benefits of digitisation to stay competitive.
They are fairly convinced albeit ignorant of the true meaning of digitisation (agile, iterative, experimental, data driven …) But older companies are just wired differently. Their expertise and work process still doesn’t support digitisation, since it is based on broad management validation processes that often works in a completely opposite direction to that of digital product development. It’s slow, requires constant stakeholder buy-ins and approvals, and by the time they come in, the technology and product proposition is outdated. The old adage of “Too many cooks…” seems quite apt for such decision making processes. In the end a project that could have been tested and built in a few months takes two years and a budget best not mentioned aloud.
Some companies bring on board strategic consultants, who try to infuse the various different methodologies such as Agile, Workshop, Design Thinking, and Brainstorming into the vocabulary of a company. All these methodologies and techniques are indeed very important for a team to develop an understanding of what digitisation means.
What digitisation truly means is the ability to go from zero to 100 in a short time, with a small budget but a big impact. You spend more of your time doing and making than only thinking. Don’t get me wrong, however. Thinking is extremely important, but if your process ended there, you’re doing it wrong. Partner with those who can help you think and also take you to a point where you have something tangible. Something of a quick win. Don’t end up with great presentations and concepts that will die in a powerpoint somewhere that no one will read.
Digitisation needs decision makers who are willing to put their ass on the line. And one can only do that if they truly understand what the medium offers, both from a technical and design point of view. Having a deep rooted knowledge of design thinking and technical limitations and opportunities allows strong decision makers to help product development move forward quickly because that method is iterative and mastered through trial and error, all validated by realtime data, linked to product performance as well as looped back into product development.
It’s important to hire the right people to lead the digital expansion of your team. That is usually a difficult thing to do especially if the management team themselves don’t know what to look out for while hiring. The easiest thing to do at the start is working with firms that focus on design driven innovation that can help onboard and train your existing team to get a better grasp of how to build a culture of innovation and design by understanding the possibilities technology and user centric design offers your product offering. This way, over time, you can continue to grow expertise within the team and let the knowledge gained circulate within the team itself.
Rule of thumb while growing your own talent
One rule of thumb for hiring the right team especially within digitisation is to ensure you hire problem solvers, quick learners, doers and makers. This field is changing faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Get a team that’s quick to adapt, change and loves learning new things. It’s the Age of the Generalists.A team consisting of heavy project management goes nowhere. What you want to develop is project ownership where a few members in the team take on a greater ownership for smaller projects, allowing them to behave as a mini startup that runs fairly autonomously, but still has some connections to the mothership.
Your current team was organised keeping in mind the older delivery process and working methodology. It’s almost unfair to assume that the existing team can transform overnight, after all they have been a well oiled machine for a long time before software, data and human centric design came along.
A forceful transformation will only lead to internal resistance to change.
A newer team that brings in new working and collaboration techniques can help infuse a different and possibly faster way of product development. Workshops, stand-ups, demos, prototyping, problem making, brainstorming, testing, sprints will all become a part of the team’s vocabulary soon. Don’t be afraid to fail. Some of the greatest learnings come from failure.
Let’s go back to Company X. Now they provide a drill that is no longer just a simple drill, it is a drill that needs to communicate with it’s owner, advises them about the drill-bits that need to be used, and also help them order spare parts a the press of a trigger.So how does one make that happen? Software of course. But how do you know what knowledge you should build and develop internally and what you should buy off-the-shelf. Along with this, it’s important to quickly realise what actual benefits technology offers your business and what changes are worth transforming for. Not all technology might be relevant for you, and you will realise that not all needs to be developed by you.
Don’t allocate all your budget in a single two year long project the way you might have in the past. Allocate smaller chunks of budget to smaller projects with the intention of achieving small quick wins and proof of concepts. The good thing with technology is that you can quite quickly make something work good enough in order to see if you want to spend more money in developing the idea further.
I’ve identified many reasons, but two stand out as one of the major issues holding companies back.
1 .Trying to innovate using existing work processes. (Internal resistance, lack of competence, organisational structure)
2. Realising you need to hire a team, but then making them innovate within your existing work processes.
And the simple answer is, yes of course, if done in the right way with the right partners and internal stakeholders that are in a position to make decisions. Digital transformations need not be costly or pointless, it’s a process that’s constantly evolving and it is this process that companies need to be open minded about.
Noel Braganza is the Co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Up Strategy Lab and has a background in Interaction Design and research experience from the MIT Design Lab. He uses a design driven approach as a key methodology to develop digital products within various sectors across IoT systems, Connected spaces, Smart Cities, Automotive & Telematics, FinTech and MedTech industries.