IAC Wrapup: Are You and Your Organization Ready for Design Transformation?

   Customer Experience

To successfully undergo an organization’s digital transformation, companies must evolve their approach to product development leadership, elevate their design maturity, and explore their culture and structure to better understand where to prioritize what must change first.

I presented that case last month at the Information Architecture Conference to design and product development leaders for 45 minutes in Orlando Florida under the title “Are You and Your Organization Ready for Design Transformation?”. In this presentation, I argue that many of the practices and methods of design and product development leaders are so critical to large-scale digital transformation efforts that these engagements cannot be successful without rethinking how companies prioritize, build, deliver, and market their products.

Broad digital transformation efforts are underway at some of the largest companies in the world and as such, their biggest risk factor in 2019. If digital transformation is loosely defined as an adaptation or evolution to using more digital tools to run the business, design transformation is how we evolve our approaches to product development—such as the teams we work with, when we work with them, and the cross-channel journeys we prioritize and design—to enable an organization-wide digital transformation. In other words, if digital transformation is an umbrella term that covers transitioning to Agile, committing to DevOps, and rethinking the organization’s relationship with their clients to be more customer-centric, then design transformation is likely the umbrella’s struts, ribs, and shaft.

Design transformation isn’t just giving designers a seat at some executive table or appointing someone who identifies as a designer to a board seat. Rather, design transformation is creating space for widespread innovation and design methods. Design thinking, systems thinking, critique, customer interviews and observation, and frequent feedback loops throughout the product development process will likely lead to more useful, sustainable products that customers will love. Unfortunately for many product development organizations and the design teams within them, this is a significant difference from how they operate today.

The presentation draws from a number of industry trend reports, such as Altimeter’s The State of Digital Transformation, McKinsey’s The Business Value of Design and Unlocking Success in Digital Transformation, and InVision’s The New Design Frontier that reinforce the role of customer experience and design in modern successful organizations. However, before any designers are hired to lead transformation efforts, these reports all conclude, many organizations have to get their own house in order by rethinking how projects are funded, approved, and ultimately deployed. Culturally, organizations need to transform from prioritizing predictable, risk-averse, efficient outcomes to hypothesis-based learning. Embracing early-term ambiguity in the product development lifecycle will ultimately improve the odds for late-term success, but this new approach requires shifts in how leaders align their teams, how managers prioritize resources, and when different teams and roles get involved.

During the post-presentation Q&A, one attendee asked what types of quantitative metrics will show executive teams that their customer experience and design transformation investments are paying off. In almost all cases I’ve been asked this question, my suggestions are usually consistent: find out what’s most important to the business and then show how these investments in design are helping those priorities. I also advised that attendees heed the advice of the conference’s opening keynote presentation where leadership coach and author Donna Lichaw explored the power of storytelling. It can be too easy to gloss over quantitative patterns without a compelling story that fundamentally shows why these patterns are valuable.

The present-day internal design teams of organizations undergoing digital transformation efforts likely would likely struggle with the additional workload, but the methods familiar to designers can more appropriately scale across the company.

Another attendee asked if these digital transformation efforts are too widespread and far-reaching in large organizations to be only staffed by designers. I suggested that in many cases people with the job title ‘Designer’ are ill-equipped to handle these new mandates to change organizational culture. There are certainly designers who are fulfilled and engaged with their work to design a thing that wasn’t there yesterday and will help someone tomorrow. That’s why I regularly and intentionally phrase these transformation efforts as using design methods, not designers. The present-day internal design teams of organizations undergoing digital transformation efforts likely would likely struggle with the additional workload, but the methods familiar to designers can more appropriately scale across the company.

The Information Architecture Conference is a unique event in part because the programming spans library and information science and modern issues confronting product development and user experience. It’s a fantastic forum to hear established and first-time voices sharing their perspectives. Attendees expect to hear not only high level ideas about where the industry is going, but also tactical suggestions to everyday work. The slides are available for download on LinkedIn’s Slideshare. See you all in New Orleans in 2020!

If you and your organization are interested in discussing how Modus Create can lead a product development maturity assessment, evolve into a more customer-centric company, and unlock more value and innovation from your customer experience practice, schedule a call today. If you’re interested in Modus Create presenting these insights to your executive leadership and product development teams, let’s talk about that, too.

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