‘Critically, digital isn’t about just working to deliver a one-off customer journey. It’s about implementing a cyclical dynamic where processes and capabilities are constantly evolving based on inputs from the customer, fostering ongoing product or service loyalty.’ Karel Dörner, McKinsey
In a previous blog post I touched on the importance of staying one step ahead of customer expectations in your quest for digital transformation. The modern visitor is savvy, busy, and mobile. Your website needs to be familiar, easy to use, and responsive – in short, it needs to be centred around the needs of your users.
This is difficult to manage in a single, waterfall-style project. Even in an immaculately planned and perfectly managed project, there will be features or functionality that aren’t considered or can’t be included because of time or budget constraints. One-off web projects make it hard to respond to today’s rapidly changing business environment and, even worse, they assume you’ve covered every possible eventuality at the first attempt.
This isn’t a new problem. Writers like Paul Boag and Gerry McGovern were bemoaning the inadequacy of one-off web projects well before the popularisation of the term digital transformation. The problem with big bang redesigns and similar, heavy duty projects is that they fail to take into account the constant development of the Web and the habits of the people that use it. Instead, digital transformation demands continual improvement.
The concept of continual improvement, or kaizen, is often associated with successful Japanese companies such as Toyota. Kaizen was in fact introduced to Japan by American management consultants, brought in to help rebuild the country after the Second World War. It encourages staff throughout an organisation to make small changes to processes with the aim of making large improvements in productivity and reducing waste. The influence of kaizen has spread beyond manufacturing to many other areas of manufacturing, business, and even sport – Team Sky famously used the concept of marginal gains in their successful attempt to produce the first British winner of the Tour de France.
Kaizen has also inspired other frameworks for continual improvement. Agile methodology is widely used in software development and project management to promote the evolutionary development of products or services. The idea is to deliver early, and carry on making changes in response to feedback, user input, and changing business needs. Planners, designers, developers, and testers usually work in cross-functional teams and break their work down into small tasks. Teams will create iterations of a product, adding new features or functionality, in a set time frame known as a sprint. At the end of each sprint – which usually lasts between one week and a month – the team will present a working product for review before beginning the process all over again. The review stage is the most important part of the whole process. Feedback, whether from users, stakeholders, or colleagues, is the driver behind continual improvement. By working in an agile way, you can react quickly to the fast speed of today’s digital change. When you need to adapt to mitigate the impact of new technologies, changes to your business goals, or developments in your market, you can do so quickly and easily. That’s why organisations as varied as the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the United States Department of Defense advocate agile methods.
Of course, this is all well and good if you have an internal team of developers – but what if you’re hiring an agency to build your website to a limited budget? You might use purely agile methods, but that would likely prove difficult when working to a set budget. Instead, you can adopt the idea of continuous improvement and deliver your project in stages – with an early iteration of your site delivered as a beta version or minimum viable product. You can then gather feedback from users and use it to improve the design. Extra functionality can be added in further stages of implementation and feedback. This is also a great way of dealing with difficult requests from stakeholders.
Say, for example, that your marketing team want a show a pop up call to action as soon as visitors land on your site, but your UX designer argues that this will turn visitors away. Rather than choosing sides, you can implement the pop-up, test it, and make changes based on your findings.
A culture change toward continuous improvement lets you adjust quickly, and evolve naturally. But, it also cuts down on waste. If your new project is delivered in stages, and includes intentional user testing in its playbook, you only build what you know you need. This stops your organisation from spending on all the features that creep into big-bang projects which your users simply won’t use. You stay up-to-date with the technology you need while also spending wisely.