Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Our digital transformation - 2 years in

It’s been 2 years since we began the hub and spoke model to start Cancer Research UK on the road to digital mastery. Our aim was to stop the central Digital team being just another service team that acted as gatekeepers to change anything on the website. We adapted our operating model, so the next time a team approached Digital saying “I want to change this”, we said “rather than do it for you, we’re going to do it with you. Then afterwards you can do it yourself”.

The idea is that this empowers teams to make their own changes, and leaves the digital team free to focus on higher value activities like engineering and UX. The organisation would then be in a better position to deliver initiatives and technologies towards the fight to beat cancer sooner.

The hub and spoke model was adopted to be the mechanism to help us become digital masters. I, along with one other colleague, went into a secondment in a new role called a ‘proposition manager’ to test it all out. This was back in October 2015. We had a ‘spoke’ each, and the proposition manager joined with someone from the area of the charity who requested the spoke, who took on the role of ‘business owner’. The proposition manager and business owner decided on what they were going to deliver during the time they had together. The first time doing this was successful, and so it continued.

It’s now been my amazing job to be part of this for 2 years, and we’ve come a long way in that time. Here’s some of the biggest changes, and the biggest lessons.

You have to have buy in at every level

The model was signed off. We had a team of proposition managers. We had an initial list of teams that had things they wanted to achieve. But when we got to working with those teams, they didn’t know they’d be working in partnership with us (not just giving us requirements), that they had to give 50% of their time, and that we were training them up as we went. So we spent the first 6 months explaining the plan at different levels, rather than executing it. Now, you can speak to most members of staff and they’ll know what a spoke is. They’re excited about getting more ownership of their digital experiences. And they’re experimenting without much input from us.

There’s no rules to a spoke

The only rule of a spoke is there are no rules. Each team is different, has different remits, is made up of different roles, and has different needs. So each spoke is going to be different. There’s no set structure for how they should run, and the team can work to figure it out together. There’s also no set type for roles that need to be in them. Some need a content strategist, UX designer, developer, and every specialist from the hub. Some just need a proposition manager, a digital producer and the business owner with some light touch support further down the line. And it’s ok that all the spokes don’t match. We know that now.

It’s not just about editing the CMS or checking Google Analytics

Digital Transformation means many things to many people (or organisations). For us, it’s a little about the technology, but a lot more about the skills teams have. We learnt very quickly those skills needed to be different for every team. Some would need to set up complex A/B tests, some needed to write user stories in BDD format, and some had to optimize their content for search.

But all those teams needed to be exposed to a ‘digital mindset’ that doesn’t just apply to digital. We’ve written before about how we define a digital mindset. When it comes to linking this mindset to delivery we helped teams recognise that every idea is an assumption that needs testing (with set success criteria). And, once you have the results of your test you can learn and iterate accordingly. This test and learn approach can benefit any person, any team, and any place of work.

3 months for a spoke is best

Although there isn’t set rules, we did find that, in terms of timings, 3 months is about right. It’s long enough for a team to come together and say “what is the value we are trying to deliver to our users?”, short enough to mean there’s a drive in momentum, and not too long so that time drags on without anything being done.

Value needs to be added

Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Some of our early spokes took 8 months to unpick an idea and articulate it in a user centric way, rather than as a business centric, delivery focused idea. Now, we say that the team needs to come to us knowing where they are trying to add value. The finer details like KPIs can be set at the beginning of a spoke.

What's next?

Two years on, and great swathes of the organisation has had a spoke. Some have had 3 or 4, and won’t need more going forward. Many of these teams are springing up their own digital hubs, consisting of generalists at different levels. New ideas are being given the test and learn treatment. Stand ups and huddles happen at desks across the open plan floors every morning. And there’s a shift in the language used - agile isn’t just a buzzword, and experiments aren’t something just our researchers do.

Now we’re busy working on what the next stage of the model looks like. And that’s really exciting. But before we do that it’s nice to take a moment and reflect on just how much the whole organisation has achieved in their journey towards digital mastery.

Ellie Budd
Digital Proposition Manager

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