So what is digital? Is it IT? Shiny new technology? No, digital is “the application of information, communications and technology to raise human performance. Changing what people do in ways that enhance their ability to achieve their goals. More than a set of technologies, it is the abilities those technologies create.”
So forget about the tech for a minute and think about what could be.
- 1.Start with why. What’s the point really? Why do you want to do this? Efficiency, growth, innovation? What will make that happen? A new website for educating an audience about your subject area or better direct interaction, a database for managing engagement and relationships and tracking outcomes or equipment and tools to make you more productive? Be very clear about the goal and the point behind it all. Is it worth the time and the money? Would you spend your own money on it (remember, grant funding has come from somewhere, it didn’t grow on trees).
- 2.Know what you need. I mean really know. Start from the user perspective – talk to them about what they need and want, create user journeys (how people act and interact), imagine what could be (not just what is and always has been). Don’t assume someone just knows (especially if that someone is the boss). Craft your user journeys (how people act or might act) by talking to users, develop your requirement specifications (what the tool is ‘required’ to do, functionally and technically), work out what skills, expertise and support you’ll need, what things you will need to do differently (doing things better or doing better things). Digital offers a lot of potential but best to change your processes first than fit shiny new tyres to a clapped out old car. Choose your technology and suppliers carefully – cultural fit matters but don’t exchange competence for ‘nice to work with’. Spend money getting it right first time, or waste money getting it wrong and learning from your mistakes.
- 3.Make a plan. If you don’t know where you’re going and how, then how do you intend to get there? Technology can be unforgiving (and expensive to reverse), you can trial and test but that’s not an excuse for making it up as you go along. Have a destination, staging points and outline timetable, a means to evaluate success or failure and a group of people to assess whether it’s worked. You wouldn’t run your organisation by the seat of your pants would you?
- 4.Appreciate change. Be aware of the Change Curve and its implications. However well you prepare and plan, you need to take people through the phases, through the disbelief, the frustration of the new (which may be more painful than the frustration of the old), the pit when things can’t get worse, the experimentation when they get better and finally acceptance and commitment. Lead the change and ride the curve – don’t just be a victim of the rollercoaster. Use your plan to help show where you should be.
- 5.Drive through better. Your ‘why’ and ‘plan’ define the map. Keep your destination clear and focused, know what success looks like and keep going. Make sure someone is driving the project and can get it to its conclusion. Mind-set and attitude matter – don’t give up, this won’t be easy. Never let anyone say “I don’t understand technology”.
- 6.Make sustainability a forethought not an afterthought. How will you sustain your (funder’s) investment? Commit time, money (where necessary), headspace -think this through. Many great projects fail because of a lack of sustainability. Don’t start what you can’t finish – the ‘end’ of a digital project is two or three years after you’ve started to use it. Projects need time to mature.
- 7.Don’t try and do it alone. Find buddies (they might be other CEOs and managers, consultants, similar minded people in your own organisation, even ‘techies’ – paid or volunteers). Plan for help and support and take it. There will be dark days and complications and you’ll need a friendly face and a helping hand (or two).
As they said on Crimewatch, don’t have nightmares. But do think this all the way through – you’re much more likely to be successful (and to get funded).
Dr Simon Davey, is a Consultant at Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness