Insights   |   November 6, 2015

Transformation at pace – the strategy is delivery

In any organisation undergoing a change in strategy you need a clear, easily articulated vision. Everybody has to understand the new direction quickly because their contribution to its development – and ultimate achievement – is critical.

But to deliver transformation at pace, the organisation needs first to buy in to two things: user needs and iterative development.

Way too many intellectual debates are held in public about this. But in my experience, nothing eats time and prevents delivery more than endless debate over the minutiae. The drivers underpinning a new strategy must be simplified or the goal of true transformation will at best be ignored and at worst opposed.

Once the organisation has bought in to user needs and iterative development, a senior leadership board needs to be put together to support and reinforce the message. This board must have enough clout to remove any blockers to delivery and facilitate the vital cultural change of ’working out loud’ (see a previous blog on this subject).

Letting everybody know what you and your partners are doing is essential to engaging with your users whilse sharing experience and learning with others trying to do similar things.

User needs first

Designing systems around user needs is crucial in all businesses. Costs are dramatically reduced, experience improved, and users will return again and again. It’s different in the public sector because an efficient, low-cost system is of financial value to users, not just shareholders or owners. Importantly, a good user experience enables citizens to interact positively with Government – supporting the democratic system, not eroding it.

In much of the public sector the recent focus on ‘user needs’ has been on the citizen alone, but ‘the business’ and other parts of the public sector are ‘users’ too. For example, HMRC customers would not see paying tax as part of their need but the business certainly would!

However, designing around all our users’ needs is not something we’ve been good at in the public sector. It will get easier. As we do user needs analysis based on solid, standardised data, we follow it with iterative development. That is what gives us the ability to deliver high customer satisfaction, efficiency and ensure that services stay relevant and well used.

But the focus on user need will also bring your organisation a strategic challenge. Service redesign based on user need, data and iterative development may well give us the best chance of a successful service but it willl almost inevitably lead to the realisation that the design of your organisation is not aligned to the services your customer needs.

And that is why it so important that your vision is clear on user need and the organisation is committed to this. Many deeply personal issues emerge when it comes to restructuring organisations, and in my experience, the end game in the public sector has often been determined more by strength of personal will than customer need. Unequivocal commitment to service design based on user need and clear leadership can overcome painful re-organisational challenges.

And then, the technology

So you have your service and organisational redesign in hand, but unfortunately, your technology doesn’t support it.

We are fortunate that today we have user-centric technology that supports iterative development and interoperation that we could only have dreamt of five to 10 years ago. But this is not always immediately at your disposal. A clear vision for technology, therefore, is as important as a clear vision for service.

An understanding of this vision is essential: if you are in any doubt, ask your staff to describe five things that sum up your organisation’s technology vision. If you are really up for an ugly dose of reality, try the same question on your direct reports.

In designing that vision, be clear at the highest level about the components of your technology that can be heavily commoditised and those that need to be bespoke. The more you can put appropriately into the commodity bucket, the better for your budget.

It would also be crazy not to re-use government products too where appropriate, such as GOV.UK, GOV.UK Pay and Verify. There may even be opportunities to jointly develop reusable products in partnership with other public sector organisations. If you have been working out loud, you may have already engaged with others.

You would also be well advised to adopt an open standards approach in order to reduce interoperability problems and allow the greatest exploitation of open source and commodity options.

What about all that legacy stuff? Firstly, understand what is needed and what can be thrown out or mothballed. If its use can be minimised and run down at low cost until it serves no purpose, so much the better. Much of this will be influenced by cost, impact on services and contractual obligations. Again, the vision must be clear.

Commercial commitments will play a key role in the pace of your transformation. While frameworks such as G-Cloud make purchasing simpler, faster and lower cost, it doesn’t fix your old contracts. You will need fewer procurement staff in future, but untangling existing contacts to release cash to fund new development is well worth the effort.

Arguably, the most important component of your vision is skills. It is unlikely that you will have the right capabilities in an organisation transforming at this scale or pace, so you will need to be clear about how to acquire the temporary and long-term skills you need at the time you need them.

But overall, is critical that your approach is flexible. Changing user need and iterative development will not allow for anything else.

This is a reproduction of an article Chris Chant contributed to the Local Digital Campaign.