Lessons learned about digital transformation

A few months ago I was looking to curate some advice for a client. Their organisation was in the early phases of digital transformation - by which I mean the to move to using technology in a more strategic way for the entire organisation. The organisation was large, extremely complex, and in some ways quite unwieldy. I am an advocate for learning from others where you can, and so I reached out on Twitter in the hope of arranging a virtual coffee with some of the people who were at the Government Digital Service (GDS) at the very start. It was both the scale of the organisation that the GDS looked to support with digital services, and the incredible impact that its creation has had on the way that public focussed organisations work today that drove me to reach out and learn from those that were there.

Initially, these virtual coffees were arranged to inform the advice I would give to my client and the work that we would do together to keep the organisation's transformation moving. After the first two calls, I knew that these lessons had to be shared more widely so others could find inspiration and guidance from them too. For some, it may seem close to impossible to start to think about digital transformation. Your team may be small, it may even just be you. My hope with this blog is to give you a selection of tools and techniques that you can try in your own organisation. Try not to feel as though all of these must be done at once, rather look to these as ingredients that you can use to fuel your journey. 

While no organisation has got digital transformation 100% right (please, if you know of one do share that with me, I will happily stand corrected), GDS has been one of the pinnacle examples for many years, and the learnings from its creation are now being shared through the support of organisations like CAST and Catalyst, as well as in teams across the charity, social enterprise, and public sectors. 

What is a digital service and how does it differ to what you might have now? 

It is important to note that GDS first had to agree what ‘digital service’ was - and could be - in government. For this team, the ‘digital service’ they planned to create would enable and empower government professionals to use digital tools to deliver their services. They aimed to get to a point where the wider organisation could use digital as a means to do their work, instead of relying on limited resources. For this to work, minimum standards and frameworks* were developed for everyone to follow. In your organisation, this might be a standard to check that all web content is to an agreed reading age (you could use Hemingway Editor to check). This blog post will explore the tools and techniques used by the founding GDS team to build their standards and frameworks, and most importantly what worked when they moved to embed these across their large and complex organisation. 

*I am running a free workshop as part of The Curve in June to help you plan and consider what else should be included in the standards and framework for your organisation. Strategies to excite leadership / encourage the problems to be solved. 

Evidence, evidence, evidence… 

Value / Return

Show the value / return on investing in strategic digital activity - this doesn’t have to be financial! The value / return of the work done could be emotional - reducing the workload of a team member - or practical - making information more easy to find on your website. It’s easy to see that financial savings have been made, but how do you evidence the value / return when it’s emotional and or practical?

To do this, I often turn to a problem statement; here’s a template that I use: 

As a [insert a description of the type of person that has the problem]

I [insert information about the problem]

When [insert information about when the problem exists]

We will have solved this problem when [insert what an improved experience for the person might be - try to make it something you can measure]


And an example of it in use: 

As a charity administrator

I find much of my time is spent moving information from a paper form to a spreadsheet

When I’m reviewing the applications to our charity summer camp


We will have solved this problem when the charity administrator no longer has to type up the paper forms into the database and the errors in applications are lower. 


This is just one example of how you could track, measure and evidence the progress that your organisation is making; there are many, many, more (but that’s probably another article!). 

Journey mapping

For those of you that have heard of a journey map, you probably have been reading a little about user experience (UX) design and research. But, it doesn’t have to be an exercise reserved for the person you’re creating for - it can really help to highlight gaps in your organisation’s set up, or simple services that people are trying to access. 

An external facing example: 

A visually impaired person is trying to access the support that your charity provides. They (or a supportive person) go to your website to find out more. They want to book a workshop; they have to email you to do so. 

By journey mapping this experience, you and your team can see where the gaps in this service may be - and in turn the problems needed to be solved. The idea is the same for an internal facing audience. When drawn out in a story board (illustrated below) you can begin to empathise with the person looking to access the charity’s service and start to see what can be done to reduce their anxieties and explore how they could be better supported on this journey. 

A storyboard of the user journey for a visually impaired person looking to access a charity’s support service. The journey is described in the above text

For example: What if, the person looking to access the charity’s services was told by their friend that the charity’s website could ‘speak to them’ and read aloud what was on the screen? Or if the support event was just two clicks to book? 

Remember, this activity can also be used for internal journeys. Think about the way that teams request holidays or learning activities, even how they get their expense claims paid.

Be aware of ‘post it note fatigue’

Change can be tiring, think about all the change that you and your organisation has had to go through in the past 12 months in order to manage and transform to remain resilient in lockdowns and a reduction of face to face activity. You feel pretty tired of change now, right? In organisations where ‘change has been coming for some time’ many members of the team will have fatigue. Being aware of this fatigue will help you to continue to make positive change in your organisation. It helps you approach the challenges that this brings with humanity and empathy.  On top of that it is often helpful when shared with others for inspiration, as in the case of my conversations with GDS. CAST and Catalyst have been doing some inspiring work with charities across the UK throughout 2020 and into this year (explore this work at their Festival of Learning) to highlight the benefits of re-use, developing Service Recipes, and supporting charities to use open source technologies, and no or low code systems to test and develop ideas.  

Be the change that you want to see

If you want to see change, you must first prove the value of it. The best way that I have found to do that is to be the change yourself. If you would like others to think about the people they are creating content or building a service for, then lead by example.

Work in the open

Working in the open helps to remove the fear of creating without others knowing. Weeknotes, ‘Show and Tell’ events, public project plans, and other open ways of working can help tell the story and be a helpful tool of reference if / when your project receives push back from people who ‘didn’t know about it’. With this, you can’t just post a blog; you have to publish widely. Not only does it help to remove fear in your organisation, working in the open can help to inspire others, not only to do more, but to try and experiment on their digital journey. 

Be user-led

This does not just extend to the way you develop the services and content for the external audience; in order to lead by example you must look at ways you can be user-led in the internal facing work you do. It is now widely accepted that working with those that will use the service helps to make sure the service is valuable and helpful to them. Now, I advocate for taking the same principles and facing them inwards, allowing those that will be involved in the development or administration of the service to be involved in the design of the processes that they will be expected to follow. Making sure that your teams, supporters, and the people you support are involved in the transformation process can make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone - and ensures that they come with you on the journey, and will want to use and adopt what comes from it.  

Train and empower others in the organisation to follow your lead

You can’t achieve change alone; you will need to empower others to come with you on the journey. Build in learning opportunities for projects for everyone involved, and coach them (where you can) through managing complexities. Below are a few examples of what might work for your organisation:

  • Lunch and learn (other times of the working day are also allowed, and encouraged)
  • Show and Tell sessions or even a show and tell board
  • Online learning pathways, courses, and learning communities
  • Documentation and user guides

These are the highlights from my conversations, and experience. They are by no means exhaustive, but I hope that they help to inspire you or give you the confidence in the work you are already doing to help move your organisations forward on their digital journeys.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay


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