In the first half of ‘The Four Pillars of Truly Digitised Organisations’ I discussed how the human element, which includes experimentation, flexibility, and the occasional misfire, helps fully facilitate a company’s entry into the digital realm. The first entry also explains how complete comprehension and implementation of Organisation & Cultural Awareness and Process Balance assists companies in securing their own unique structures and becoming totally realised digital operations.
This second part is an analysis of why two other conceptual pillars – Data-driven Models and User-centrism – need to be understood before any institution can truly lay claim to the digital space. Furthermore, I’ll provide a set of crucial questions to be asked for a company to honestly assess if they genuinely exhibit any of these traits and can thus successfully achieve digital totality.
- Data-driven Decision Making: Data and analytics are captured throughout business functions to inform the creation and evolution of products and services, drive KPIs, and identify new models and revenue streams. Machine learning is utilised to identify patterns and tease insights from data.
- Research & Testing: Research, testing, feedback, and response drive the cross-functional team. Live qualitative testing with customer scenarios produces the ongoing data/signal analysis that drives the roadmap, and quantitative testing continually validates hypotheses. Progress is measured internally on delivered code and externally on customer reaction.
Aside from speed, data is the other dominant paradigm in the tech space, and rightly so. It’s also important to remember the human side of data in the context of UX data being people’s emotions converted into numbers. But once collected and put in a jar for observation, you need a way to reconstitute the humanity in the statistics. When collecting feedback, doing user research and testing, recognise that users process signal before content. In other words, they feel something is true before they know it’s true. Data produces a value on a user’s reaction, but it doesn’t tell the reasons that led to a recorded event, and it can’t explain something that’s missing or isn’t tested. A trough at a point in a payment flow doesn’t tell you why it’s there. It could be because there’s a technical bug, an interface oddity, or a cost concern on the user’s part based on tax or shipping. Collect the brute numbers, but also talk live to people.
Practically, people react to an interface before processing the content. Feeling and thoughts and decisions play a huge role in their minds, and each often gets named differently and ascribed varying relative values. During use of a product, they can switch places, wax and wane with interactions, information, content, and time. Analytics don’t reveal emotions users feel inside; how satisfied they are with a product might only be revealed by talking to the users and spending significant time on interpreting results.
Data without a deliberate, detailed examination in human factors and terms is only a part of the story. Continual data capture and aggregation, the collection of consumer insights, disciplined observation, inference, and interpretation are continuing rigorous habits in a digital org and mean that Data Science and UX need to be close allies structurally and need strong seats at the table of driving the product roadmap. While this is happening, on the other side of the two-way mirror, the organisation will want to measure internal progress based on delivered code and shipped product.
Another painfully common feature of orgs that don’t take digital transformation full throttle is around the role of UX and Design. It’s massively useful and insight-provoking to experiment with design. For many orgs, data is about collecting raw numbers and assembling it into reports and maybe even visualising it in graphs and charts… after the fact. To go into any product or experience with more lucidity and expectation of success, spend time testing UI and design before it’s out in the wild. Just because it’s design and emotion doesn’t mean it’s not data.
- Customer Obsession: The business elevates the optimal customer experience above all else and always considers the customer’s journey in its totality to better understand how products and services enhance lives. Business value is generated by a customer-first approach.
- Empathy & Continuous Validation: Viewing experiences from the customer perspective is ingrained in a creative company culture. In service of customer comfort and confidence, rapid prototyping and iteration are valued beyond high-risk and high resource redesigns and reboots.
Customer empathy results in continuous validation: Adequate design prep, rapid prototyping, testing, research, feedback, response, iteration. Clear customer communication through testing face-to-face around flows, UI, journeys, and scenarios is vital beyond the baseline necessity of multivariate testing and metrical capture. These experiments are where one is compelled to confront and hopefully explode biases – those intellectual gremlins that thrive in dogma and overly-ripe knowledge (standards, which are by definition always out of date, per Alan Bennett) or that which is too new (fashion, ‘there's a brand new talk but it's not very clear’, per David Bowie).
Principles and recipes and maps are great, but they’re the beginning of an expansive effort in affecting transformation. Ironically, within the technology and data tableau, what separates success from failure in moving to a fully realised digital organisation is powerfully people driven. The idiosyncrasy of human behaviour is both strength and weakness in our technical realm, but until it’s acceptable to publish lists and How-To’s in the trades around human eccentricity and fallibility, when pushed aside in favour of the empirical, it will remain the maverick factor that confounds the best laid digital schemes.
THREE KEY QUESTIONS FOR STARTING THE DISCUSSION
- Am I able to cite examples of my organisation quickly contending with change and shifting resources effectively to adapt to unforeseen reshaping of the business landscape?
- If I were to interview employees at all levels of my company today, do I think they’d report feeling empowered and listened to in defining product direction?
- Being brutally honest, how would I as leader, and each member of my company or team, rate the company or team on each of the characteristics above on a scale of 1 to 5?
For leaders and valued employees alike, thinking through the features of a fully realised digital org and the realities that affect the path to a desired destination is of paramount importance. And as exemplified in these questions, the need exists to look inward to pressure test where one’s group ranks on each characteristic.
* There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’
—David Foster Wallace, 2005 Kenyon College Commencement