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Bethan is the marketing director at Netsells, a software and product development agency based in York, U.K. Formerly a senior manager in the cloud computing industry and founder of several start-ups, Bethan has built her career sitting at the intersection between marketing, product and development.
At Netsells we predominantly work with organizations looking to improve their businesses through applied-technology projects. These can range from manufacturers that want to automate and digitize decades-old quality assurance protocols, to global financial services organizations looking to release new products to keep up with market entrants.
Whether digital transformation is confined to one business unit or spread across an entire organization at an enterprise level, it is never confined to one technology stack or one team. Over the years we have seen how changes in digital platforms, processes and products have multiple knock-on effects on adjacent systems and employees.
Despite this obvious spillover, many organizations plow on with digital projects in a vacuum, ignoring the importance of cross-team collaboration and losing sight of what really matters: their end customer.
Whether you’re part of an organization looking to implement new technologies on its own, or working with an external partner, this is our blueprint to meaningfully including every department in the digital transformation process.
Start with Why*
Before technology is even discussed, it’s absolutely vital the organization is clear on its overarching strategic objectives, whether this includes expanding into new markets, diversifying their product range or streamlining costs. Without a clear understanding of top-level goals and their overall business model, it becomes extremely hard to see how technology fits into the mix, let alone improves things.
You can’t assess whether an investment in new technologies will work unless you have a clear picture of how an organization is looking to grow. We always caution against building something for the sake of building it — like any investment a business makes — technology has to have an ultimate purpose.
Alongside developing this clear sense of why, it’s vital that your goals and the role of technologies in meeting them are clearly communicated to everyone in the organization, not just the development team members who are responsible for building solutions.
The benefits of this clear communication are two-fold: first, you are ensuring you get the benefit of organization-wide knowledge. Second, you will be giving advance warning to all of your employees about new processes or knock-on ramifications. It’s much easier to adapt to change if you know why and when it’s occurring.
Empower All Teams to be Part of the Process with Clear Rules of Engagement
One of the fears organizations encounter when considering implementing cross-functional technology projects is the idea that adding too many voices to the mix will result in a confusing mess of conflicting opinions. This is often why technology projects end up in silos, confined to a small team that is “protected” from the ideas of stakeholders or customers.
However, this can be a dangerous position. This is because siloed teams will undoubtedly be missing out on key pieces of information that could positively influence roadmaps and add real value to development decisions.
For example, it may be that your CX team members have the clearest understanding of where your services should shift to due to their daily contact with customers. If they are unable to communicate this back to your development team, it is easy to see how a technology solution could be designed that doesn’t actually fit the needs of customers.
The solution is to develop clear feedback mechanisms where insights from the organization can be collated, prioritized and fed back into the development process. This should be made accessible to anyone in the organization, ideally through a cloud-based solution accessed by multiple teams and multiple locations.
You can give all employees a guiding hand in developing feedback templates and making clear the processes for reviewing and actioning insights. This could also be integrated with feedback gathered directly from customers, which can be added and prioritized in a similar manner.
The key is to make sure that anyone can contribute while preserving the process and structure to how the information is reviewed. Having a single view of all feedback will also help your team members identify and understand common themes, regardless of their source.
Adopt an Agile Methodology Across the Entire Organization
As development cycles speed up with the adoption of agile processes and CI/CD, the speed of the development process is progressively driving the pace of change in many organizations.
While this increased pace of change has multiple benefits, it can leave other departments feeling out of step and unable to respond in a timely manner to new releases of features, products, services or processes.
An example of this comes from my own discipline, marketing, which has traditionally followed a rigid waterfall methodology. In previous roles, I have had to produce yearly marketing plans that became out of date almost instantly as the development team released features through rapid prototyping and iterative six-week delivery cycles. Our work quickly diverged as they nimbly adapted to new customer demands and the shifting sands of marketplaces — while I became a martyr to a fixed plan that had little room for a build, measure and learn.
The solution is to start rolling out agile methodologies across your organization to compliment your digital transformation strategy. This will give your teams the flexibility they need to adapt to new technologies, along with a greater understanding of the process that sits behind development.
It’s very easy to say any department can follow an agile methodology, which is also true. However, it is extremely important that you invest in training and mentoring your newly agile departments through the transition. Like any organizational change, there will be a readjustment period which must be pro-actively managed.
Working with our clients across the last decade has taught us the importance of people and process when developing technology.
Many organizations tend to ignore the why and the who, resulting in a myopic focus on the what and the how. This results in the development of technology for technology’s sake, resulting in sub-optimal systems that fail to enhance productivity or customer experience.
In the best case, this offers limited performance gains, in the worst-case badly designed systems can frustrate all parties resulting in significant lost revenue and goodwill.
In our experience, the technology projects which deliver a significant return on investment tend to consider their digital transformation process as a holistic exercise, aligning technical and non-technical departments around clear methodologies and transparent goals.
For more content on how to integrate all departments into digital transformation projects or to hear Netsells discuss this topic in full during their talk, consider registering for GitLab Commit SF Jan. 14.
*This is one of the biggest cliches in the technology industry, but one that holds surprisingly true across multiple use-cases.
Feature image via Pixabay.
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