Thursday, 11 September 2008

10 things I picked up about... Digital strategy

Nothing spectacular or revolutionary here, just some common sense tips and insight about digital (or online) strategy.

Research. A strategy relies on solutions to problems. This relies on knowing stuff and knowing stuff relies on research. Build perpetual research into your daily web browsing. Read lots and collect solutions all the time. Pop them into your head and bookmarking tools in case a matching problem arises. Store up a library of shortcuts, RSS feeds and documents for a rainy day. Become the guy who "just knows stuff".

2. Think about your audience. They matter, put yourself in their shoes. Marketing and comms depts require very different strategies to IT depts. Beyond the department, who's the ultimate decision maker? What are they trying to achieve? After you deliver the strategy, what does the client that engaged you need to do to make it work? How can you make it easy for them? How can you make them look good? How can you, a single person, help that organisation make a difference?

3. Listening.
Thinking is hard work. Minimize hard work at all costs and instead listen, really listen. Listen to customers, listen to business
representatives, listen to the receptionist whilst you are waiting for your meetings. Listen to anyone that wants to talk. To fill any uncomfortable gaps between listening, ask questions. Ask
what's bugging people, what they're trying to achieve, where would they like to be in an ideal world. They will love to talk about this because they are sick of banging their heads against a
wall. They have been thinking about better ways of doing things since they finished the morning tea of their induction. Don't do the hard thinking, listen.

4. Enablers and influencers. This is the fun part, research all the good innovative and future-tech stuff and write about any that might have any relevance to the client organisation. At this stage don't talk about the relevance, just tease your audience with news about the good stuff that's available. Get them thinking about what is possible. Later you can show them that you have already thought about the ideas they are forming in their heads, but in more detail.

5. Barriers.
The client (any client that will pay you to look at this) has incredible barriers to innovation. If you listened properly in your research meetings you will have been told ALL about these.
Again and again! Describe them all, from the burden of past legacy to the "too hard bucket". Describe them exactly as they exist. Take care to plant the seed in the readers mind that "this barrier is ridiculous, it's high time we tore it down". Take the reader on your journey.

6. Your strategy. You could just blah on about the issues and anecdotes you heard on your little trips to their headquarters. Or you could list out some random ideas. You could talk about some fancy new technology that takes your fancy. What you should do is quite simply tell them what they need to do. Be pragmatic and practical. Perhaps do the basics first, mix some early revenue earning projects in, get some early wins and target areas of maxium impact first. Meanwhile start a parallel stream on infrastructure for more extensive projects that will take a lot of work. Group various ideas into categories or streams of work, 5-9 streams work well, link them to something sensible like achieving various elements of the overall business strategy or to milestones where the solution evolves to a defined stage. Make sure your strategy seems doable within the context of the organisation, don't do elements too fast or too slow, ensure that all parts of the organisation are included and that various political agendas are met. Prioritise according to the overall business need and not according to who shouts the loudest. Throughout your
strategy development think a) does this help with the overall busines strategy and b) does it help customers. Ensure that each stage that you define in the evolution of your strategy takes the business to a significantly different level of capability.

7. Your deliverable is critical, the process you took to get there... less so.
I'm not a big process person. I think you understand your audience, you understand your task, you think about it and you produce your deliverable. I start my deliverable structure really early on, it helps to focus the research and the work. I write to my deliverable regularly, think about the empty sections constantly and review completed sections when I am temporarily lost.

8. Telling a story. Your strategy deliverables are a story. They have:
  • a beginning - the strategic objectives of the business and the needs of customers
  • a middle - all of your great research about barriers, enablers, competitors etc
  • an end - your application of research to business objectives
Anything else is a diversion, a snore-fest. I know you did heaps of great work that was incredibly necessary. However the client only needs to be reassured that you did it. It's just a comfort blanket that can be tucked away in an appendix for the die-hards that care to look for it. Do not let your pride in your work get in the way of their story.

Narrate your story.Imagine you're writing for one of those dumb TV shows that has ads every 6 minutes. This is what the story is, this is what we just learned, this is what we'll learn next, this is why and these are the main points I want you to take away with you.

Drive things home. Don't just say things, make sure they are heard. Use big numbers, summarise key points, talk about consequences, use pretty statistical charts, mention competitor advantage. From my experience the two big hitters to drive things home are big dollar savings and "x% of the customers we surveyed said they wanted this".

9. Use pretty pictures.
Let's face it, when we read a business document we become like a 2 year old, happy to look at the pictures and make up our own story. We scroll down, absorb the pictures and diagrams and in our minds we make up some words to go with them. Use diagrams to summarise your document and make it easy for the more casual "readers" of your deliverable. Boil your strategy down to a one page summary diagram.

10. Becoming invincible. Bulletproof shields are expensive but don't worry, a good document review will do. Imagine your client giving feedback on your strategy. "I loved it. Fantastic. (wait for it)... BUT..." Find and armour the achilles heal of your document. Do some more thinking and some fancy writing, elminate that BUT.

So this is how it goes...
1. Here is your business strategy and your employees/customers are miffed about x, y and z.
2. The cool guys are using these great little enabling toys and business practices. Their employees/customers rave about them.
3. No you can't have these cool toys because you're not cool, you have all these silly barriers.
4. If you remove these barriers you can have the cool toys that the cool guys have. This is how they would make you cooler than them.
5. Here are the steps you need to take (and the dollars) to be the coolest kid on the block. Yes it's a lot of effort and cost but look at the benefits the cool kid gets.
6. This is why you should do it and most importantly this is what will happen if you don't.

Sounds too easy? Well it is really, there's nothing mystical, mysterious or mind-boggling about it. All you are doing is listening to business problems, listening to customer problems, researching solutions and putting them in an order of delivery that is doable. The basic skills of any business analyst put to work at a slightly different level.