One of the first lessons we learn in the school playground is that moving targets are hard to hit. But speed alone won’t save you from becoming a target. It takes skill to know when to accelerate, or change direction. Lose focus or hesitate, and you’re out of the game.
Determination, purpose and skill define the entrepreneurial mindset. And it’s this mindset that helps businesses stay relevant. It’s always been a part of our company culture, and it helped us stay out of the crosshairs in 2014.
Recognise the need to change
We were organised as a standard digital design agency at the time, but ventured into offline work when the need arose. We had some hits, and a few misses.
But despite some great people doing good work, there was a growing sense of frustration with our working process. And a lack of in-house developers meant we had to rely on external parties to build what we’d designed, with varying degrees of success.
Our agency legacy locked us into the traditional practice of taking briefs and focussing on billable hours. The result was a distinct gap between our desired quality outcome and what we delivered. To move forward, we had to change — but how?
Focus on what you’re best at
The first thing we did was to look at what we did well. Our quality work was our digital product and service design. This was where our core competencies lay and where clients found our greatest value. And it became clear what we had to get rid of — work that was off strategy.
The high profile awards we’d recently won made it clear to those in the boardroom where our strengths lay. But the digital projects we were working on at the time were running at a loss, high write-downs were common place, and the standard of delivery fell short of the envisioned product.
Enable creative expression at all levels
To tackle these issues, we asked some of our best people to redefine how we work. The team was given complete mandate to imagine what the perfect process could look like.
When other skills were needed, we brought in people to implement process, provide design expertise, and monitor company spirit. Management’s role was to align the rest of the company, and clear any roadblocks.
You won’t have all the answers
We couldn’t have done it without external help. Jeff Gothelf, co-author of ‘Lean UX — Designing Great Products with Agile Teams’, showed us the value of close collaboration, and provided fresh inputs and guidance. And we constantly revisited our task list to ensure that change could occur in an agile manner.
As method and process are intertwined, each project we tested it on informed the next. And sharing experiences between the teams strengthened our cross-team interaction. This took it way beyond a prescriptive process, as everyone felt a sense of ownership.
Create momentum and remove inertia
At times, we did lose momentum. It took approximately 10 client jobs to really acid test the process and formulate it. Then we had to bring our sales team up to speed so they could talk convincingly to clients about how the process would feel for them.
People were concerned about how the new process would affect our culture, but we had nothing tangible to communicate, or show. This led to frustration, and in retrospect we could have been better at checking in and sharing progress, but we were experiencing massive growth in our pipeline, and had to on-board new team members without losing our unique spirit.
But these are some of the challenges you face when you’re onto something good, but it’s a constantly moving work-in-progress.
Teams, types and culture
Now that our process and method are established, we’re securing projects that require a highly flexible and creative multidisciplinary group to deliver what the client now craves, in a very short timeframe.
This pressure means that team chemistry is our highest priority. A team must gel, which takes intuition and trust so that they can deliver as a group. Everybody must contribute, and everybody has a role to play.
Recruiting people with the right skill sets, and the right characters, will be the most important aspect of ensuring that we deliver on the promise of our process, and the rigour of our methodology.
Question your mindset
We realise that we’ll never be ‘done’. We are, and always will be a moving target. To stay relevant and meet client needs, we’re continually iterating and building new tools and approaches into the process. This is all in the spirit of agility and the need to accelerate, or change direction as market conditions demand.
Now and in the future, this will be every company’s challenge. Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock and The Third Wave, sums it up:
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
If a company culture denies these cycles of learning, then it needs to change. Change is the necessary step that all companies must take to avoid the crosshairs.
There is no time to hesitate — or stand still.