I’ve spent the last two weeks musing on how new-to-digital organisations develop and specifically how this is reflected in their structure. There are near-infinite nuances for each company, but I’ve attempted to boil them down to three generic stages.
Stage One – Genesis
Digital enthusiasts and champions appear in largely isolated pockets across the company and cling to each other to drive forward an agenda of digital-first ideas.
They form clusters of original thinking which is usually expressed by one or two ‘hero’ projects that are not explicitly visible to management. These projects are often experimental in nature with a clear idea of where benefits might be realised but without the mature roadmap and security of knowing exactly how or when. These projects are difficult to drive through as the organisation has no developed capability or process memory to help delivery. Each part of the project from concept and rationale as well as production techniques, methodologies, technologies are often brand new. In short – they’re hard miles.
Two – Directorate
The success (or potential) of new digital initiatives attract a senior manager or director. The organisation re-organises to centralise digital around a single unit.
Merging the digital talent into one place is contra-intuitive to today’s digitally enabled companies – but to an organisation that has no capability, strategically or operationally, it can be the right move. The emerging digital strategy can be nurtured without being challenged in the cross company forums that it wouldn’t be ready to survive in. Mistakes will need to be made, corrected and learned from.
Operationally this is doubly true. The unit needs to build a memory of how digital products and services are made. The techniques, process and skills needed need to be brought together and tested with projects increasing in size until they’re ready to be taken out to the wider organisation. Trying to get this production chain working across departments with skills that are as unfamiliar as the job titles leads to confusion or worst still territorial battles.
Three – Dispersion
The organisation accepts digital as a core skills and distributes talent into each element
Startups jump to this stage on day one. Digital skills are found in all departments across the organisation but it is in the strategic and visionary elements of the service that they show real value. Not by gratuitous overtly digital solutions – exactly the opposite. Taking digital for granted and being able to exploit great ideas for what they are with the digital strategy being driven by the customer.
The digital production chain can be distributed across the organisation without disruption. The workforce understands how to interact with it and get products and services delivered. At this point ideas, initiatives and value is generated across the organisation as the wider workforce starts to think about what digital can do for them.
This process is happening right now at a macro level in Government. The GDS (Government Digital Service) began at Genesis with the Lane-Fox review. The GDS is the directorate model right now – but you can see the transition into dispersion happening. The publication of the Service Manual for digital departments, their open approach to standards and *how* they’re doing things is showing the direction of travel.
For a non digital organisation this all needs Leadership – Top Down. With, all things are possible. Without, you’ll never get past Genesis.