Transforming hearts and minds: the evolution of digital delivery
“Every company is now a technology company, it’s just that most don’t realise it yet.” In this blog post WORTH CEO and co-founder Mark McNally reflects on the Digital Transformation journey of the last ten years and the ongoing challenge of delivering business value in a relentless and fast-changing world.
The goal of WORTH is to help companies execute business impact quickly and more effectively. The rapid acceleration of digitisation provides opportunities and challenges for companies of all sizes, but the biggest obstacles by far are often found in organisational intransigence.
My main goal on setting up WORTH was to improve organisations’ execution of change. Technology might be an enabler of this, but ultimately it’s the human mindset and human interactions that fuel this - the willingness to try, fail, learn, pivot and then repeat all these actions again, constantly learning and improving as you go.
To borrow the famous Nike slogan here seems appropriate “Just Do It.” Start running – half a mile today, a mile tomorrow. That’s how you improve.
Each and every Worthie I hire understands the fundamental importance of this, and more than that, they genuinely enjoy doing it. I believe it’s this culture that sets us apart. So as I reflect back on the last ten years of WORTH, here are my thoughts and learnings to date.
#1 Change is inevitable and relentless and necessary
We live in a rapidly changing world. Continuous and evolutionary change is required for survival, in fact it’s required just to maintain position. A lot of businesses fail at this first hurdle. They favour the traditional route of an upfront long term strategy, failing to grasp that the context and situation it gets written for changes everyday. Inevitably with this approach, by the time the product or service hits the shelves, the customer needs have changed, and you end up losing market share to innovators who are moving with the times.
Risk is not a word many big organisations are happy throwing around, but the simple truth is change requires innovation, innovation requires variance, and variance requires risk.
When I set WORTH up I wanted it to be a company that would deliver value over productivity, risk exploitation rather than elimination, and a place where people were unafraid to orient towards problems (& opportunities) rather than align to solutions.
Another way to look at it is the project vs product focused mentality:
With a project-focused mentality, execution of change might be understood as creating and managing a backlog of work, and success is measured by the ability to deliver a project on time and within budget.
With a product-focused mentality (and the way we like to handle things!) execution of change is focused around creating business impacts, which has to be directly related to customer needs and creating value for the end user.
The project vs product mindset
#2 Make decisions faster
I decided early on that WORTH would never be a consultancy that delivered big five-year strategy plans. I wanted us to have an approach that was realistic, user-focused and would deliver value immediately. For this we use the OODA (observe–orient–decide–act) strategy loop. With every execution of the loop, you are learning more about the situation through data and analytics, which enables you to make better strategic decisions about what needs to change, which in turn means you can apply resources and make decisions that will ultimately bring you closer to the change you are trying to enact. But the key point of an OODA loop is you just need to start somewhere! The faster you get started and make a decision, the sooner you can learn from the experience, re-apply it to your practice and evolve.
At WORTH we take the attitude that a working prototype and real user feedback is worth more than thousands of pages of business plans. So we try things, move quickly, and then are willing to course correct and try again, all to ensure that we deliver true value to our end users.
#3 All problems are communication problems
Solving business problems is a social endeavour, and product development is a problem solving exercise like any other. It requires sharing and transferring various conceptions of needs and constraints between all the people involved. By nature, people have different insights, different experiences, different beliefs, different assumptions. All of which provides lots of different ways to miscommunicate.
Recognising and optimising for communication is the difference between having a problem-solving powerhouse of diverse resources and skills at your disposal, or a kingdom divided against itself and unable to move forward.
At WORTH we achieve this by applying multiple well-known practices that aid communication:
Gherkin & Behaviour Driven Development
Automated tests and pipelines
Event storming workshops
Flattened organisational structures
Minimising work in progress
One key practice we major in is building collaborative working environments by using multidisciplinary T-shaped teams. This avoids handovers between different disciplines and enables teams to own the whole problem, contribute to everything and learn as they go. The very mix of experience and inexperience across a broad range of areas creates the conditions for diversity and challenge, and therefore radically better outcomes than a production-line of individual specialists alone could ever achieve.
#4 There is no one-size fits all solution
Disruptive markets, global pandemics, evolving user needs… Change is always ongoing, technology will continue to evolve, and we will always need to change and adapt our ways of working to go with it.
The bottom line is you can expect to always be learning and improving in this industry. The concept of finish lines and being ‘done’ can’t and won’t ever exist, and that is something to celebrate rather than be overwhelmed by.
I decided early on that I wanted WORTH to be an agency outlier - a company that did things the right way, even if it meant challenging the status quo, or occasionally the client brief. To enable this I have also had to run my company in a wholly different way. WORTH is deliberately built on a flat management structure. Individuals are informed, empowered and enabled to experiment with different approaches, pitch ideas and make mistakes without fear, in the understanding that they lead to learning and growth.
We apply the same principles to our client projects. We seek to be open, adaptable, and willing to experiment with different approaches. We also know that this can change even within the course of an engagement. It’s not just about using the right technology and tools, it’s about using the right technology and tools at the right time. The same goes for autonomy levels - as a project progresses and matures, we scale our project support up or down as appropriate to meet the needs of the client.
Digital delivery is complex. All meaningful things take time to create, and change is no different, but i’d summarise my key learnings from the last decade as the below:
Just start somewhere. Learn by doing, failure is never final, and remember that you're aiming for the unknown, so experiment!
Know what matters and what doesn’t - Produce something the user really needs. Major on customer satisfaction, quality and simplicity. Avoid getting hung up on output metrics - the number of tickets raised, lines of code written etc
Build better products by building better teams. Quality requires collaboration, collaboration requires safe spaces where people are willing to fail, learn and try again. Invest in a culture that supports this and the tech side will take care of itself.