Digital strategy and transformation in public sector: the power of outcomes and iteration

22 March 2022

Published by: Bill Mitchell, Director - Digital, Risk & Advisory Services

Delivering a successful digital strategy with the power to transform your organisation begins with establishing clear outcomes from the start. But how can you define outcomes that fully realise your organisation’s aims and avoid unintended consequences? And once those outcomes are set, how can you use an iterative approach to refine your strategic plans and keep moving towards your desired transformed state?

Achieving well-formed outcomes

A well-formed outcome avoids unintended consequences or costs and resistance to achieving the goal. Here are some suggestions for achieving a well-formed outcome that achieves your organisation’s desired digital transformation.

  1. Be clear on what you want to do and why you want to do it.  Ensure that your organisation, its stakeholders, and those in charge have clear and unified views about the what and the why.
  2. Consider what the outcome will look and feel like for all concerned.  Thinking about what it will feel like to work in the new Digital environment, at all levels, helps to ensure that any cultural implications are properly understood.
  3. Set the context and boundaries.  Context is the positioning of the outcome, content, storyline or purpose that provides value to the audience or recipient of the transformation. Setting a clear context helps to ensure the transformation programme is properly understood and in sympathy with the surrounding organisation and stakeholders.  Boundaries ensure the programme doesn’t creep in scope and morph into something that isn’t right for the context.
  4. Ensure the outcome is compelling and reflects where the organisation is in terms of existing processes, personnel, risk appetite and culture.
  5. Consider and understand the wider implications or ‘ecology’ needs – whether the change really is in tune with the organisation’s values and the perceptions of its customers and stakeholders.
  6. Clarify when the organisation will know it has achieved its transformation goal.  Separate solutions, including digital solutions, from the problem or outcome.  Too often, the destination of a transformation is defined in terms of the solutions that are available.  This narrows the thinking on what the outcome could look like and the range of possible (digital) solutions available.
  7. Break down the transformation into sequenced, bite-sized, logical steps. This makes it easier for your organisation to absorb changes and consolidate implementation, without anyone feeling overwhelmed.
  8. Consider whether your organisation has the right level of resources, capabilities and skills to complete each step of the transformation, monitor progress and then sustain the transformation. 

Enabling iterative digital strategy development

Strategy informs what digital needs to do, but digital can inform what strategy can deliver.  The development of the two occurs in a continuous virtuous circle, feeding off each other.  

This iterative approach needs start during the feasibility and planning phase, not while your digital transformation is ‘in flight’. More detail and clarity then develop with each iteration of your digital strategy.

The key steps are:

  1. Consider what you are trying to achieve – ensure you have defined well-formed outcomes.
  2. Establish what digital innovations can do to extend your mission, vision, values and strategy.
  3. Develop a concrete set of user epics – high-level descriptions of the end-to-end experience of a customer or stakeholder, when they interact with your organisation.
  4. Develop and iterate user stories – involving more detailed steps of a customer journey.

Each stage requires Executive ownership and buy-in, up to and including the board. At the end of the process, you should find that your organisational strategy and digital strategy are aligned. The two strategies can then be translated into practical programmes of change.

Hints and tips

Digital strategy is fundamentally about embedding digital into processes, systems, ways of working and the user and customer experience. Below are some key considerations to help maximise success:

  1. Have clarity of the business benefits and goals from the outset and keep engagement levels high by planning and delivering ongoing ‘quick wins’.
  2. Conduct comprehensive stakeholder, audience, or customer research – take time to get this done properly and ask the right questions.
  3. Be flexible and be prepared to change course if there is good reason to do so.  It’s ok to realise ‘we missed something’ or that assumptions or circumstances have changed.
  4. Understand that embedding digital strategy in daily work requires a cultural shift as well as changing processes and adopting new technologies.

Common pitfalls

What can go wrong with transformation projects? Common issues include:

1. A lack of ambition

We do only what we know. This links back to the framing and ecology points of well-formed outcomes:

  • If it doesn’t affect your approach to what you do and stakeholders’ exposure to new digital ways of working, the digital strategy has probably fallen short.
  • It isn’t just about a website or technology changes – too many organisations stop at that. Digital is about embracing process and cultural changes.

2. Not defining what digital means and what is ‘in scope’

The definitions are crucial. The definition of the term ‘digital strategy’ can be surprisingly different from one organisation to another – from a rebranded ‘IT Strategy’ to a fully-embedded and integrated business strategy.

3. Insufficient skills and not taking your people with you

  • If a digital strategy is to be effective, it probably affects everyone.
  • Provide the right knowledge, training, and ongoing support. Given that digital projects affect everyone, those without knowledge of new Digital ways of working and/or Digital tools and processes will struggle.
  • Brief your audiences on the purpose and use evidence‑based rationales for the changes brought about by your digital transformation – it should always be about growth and improvement

4. Failure to commit to an agreed approach

Be clear on the project approach to be adopted to deliver Digital and stick to it.  We have seen many transformations that are not clear and flip between Traditional and Agile methods.

5. Loss of momentum

Digital strategy is for ever – it doesn’t stop at the end of the first project or phase and requires commitment and belief (and of course successful delivery). Supplementary projects might be dependent on the successful outcome of earlier projects or simply consume too much resource for the change programme to be delivered in one go.  If you need to break your programme into ‘bite-size’ chunks, then do it – but keep momentum going.

To discuss your digital transformation aims or any of the issues raised here, please get in touch with Robert Noye-Allen or Ross LeCarpentier