In the latest of our digital transformation article series for Manchester Digital, we were inspired by a recent client discussion about being disappointed by digital.
This is a common starting point for our conversations. Despite the increase in digital marketing and transformation budgets, the execution of digital projects remains a struggle for businesses.
Why is this? What can you do differently to deliver your next great business idea through digital?
A Tale of Digital Disappointment
I had an interesting meeting with a new client recently and it made me wonder how familiar this story may be to some of you.
The client had a great healthcare business and approached me to discuss app development. However, as the discussion progressed it became clear there was much more to this discussion than an app.
He had already spent considerable time and money working with a digital supplier, but was disappointed with the outcome. As I delved in further, it was clear that the relationship between them was significantly impaired - not only was he disappointed with how things had gone, it was clear his supplier was too.
It was a difficult but familiar situation - a dynamic business owner with great ideas on one side and an enthusiastic digital supplier on the other. What went wrong?
Delivering Great Ideas Through Digital
The conversation really made me think.
In this client’s case, an app wasn’t the right solution at that time, but lacking the experience to translate their ideas into a brief left the supplier unable to develop the solution or offer alternatives. In short, neither side was able to truly understand the other.
This situation is being repeated in businesses across the country. I’ve lost count of the number of clients and friends I’ve had tell me how disappointed they are with the outcomes of their investments in digital.
The Layer Between Thinking and Doing
I believe what's missing is a layer of understanding and detail between businesses and their digital suppliers.
Any piece of digital work needs a plan. Not just a plan for the outcomes of your idea, but a detailed piece of thinking that outlines how you will achieve those outcomes, that any supplier could work with.
I've got a few practical thoughts for anyone poised to invest in digital work:
Making the space for digital planning
1. Make Time for the Critical Thinking
Not allowing time and space for the important thinking upfront is a key area of risk in digital projects, and where your project is likely to stall before it even begins. It’s imperative you extract all of your understanding and insight to contribute to a digital plan that can translate ideas into reality. You should be aiming to create a piece of lightweight but detailed documentation that can be taken to any supplier, who can develop it as necessary. This part is so often overlooked and yet I consider it to be the most important part of any digital project. If you can’t communicate your overall vision, you can’t expect your digital supplier to offer you the right solution.
2. Invest in Project Management
With the thinking done, only then can you begin to visualise timelines and costs - the actual ‘doing’. At this point and speaking from experience, a skilled digital project manager will be the best investment you can make. A good project manager should be able to take your ideas and break them down into requirements, resources and timelines, on both sides. They should also take the lead on delivery, dealing with issues as they arise and keeping on overall grip on how the project is progressing. This investment should mitigate common communication gripes and ensure everyone understands what they are working towards.
3. Agile Approach
Taking an agile approach to digital work can help ward off a disappointing final outcome. Keep lightweight but solid documentation, and allow for constant iteration, communication and room for creativity to flourish. I’ve found this to be the most cost and time efficient way of delivering projects successfully.
4. A Meeting of Mindsets
For thinkers and doers to come together, it takes effort to understand each other. If you’re a business owner and you love to develop ideas and get them off the ground quickly, understanding that digital comes to life in the detail is key. If you’re a digital supplier, understanding what your client wants to achieve overall is your biggest responsibility. With this understanding, you may be able to develop a better solution than they’ve asked for, and bring their idea alive.
Your Next Digital Opportunity
When a client tells me they’ve been previously disappointed with digital, I can often visualise exactly what went wrong and when. As a business owner myself, I know only too well feeling as though you’ve been let down by a supplier on whom you’ve spent time and money. However, working in digital, I understand how much time and insight digital projects need to be successful.
Don’t be disheartened if you’ve been in this situation. If you can fill in that missing layer between thinking and doing, you’ll be delivering your next great idea through digital.