In 2010, I was the delivery leader reporting into the technology business of a modern, progressive brand – times were good! The project manager for the delivery of a technology platform implementation, who I had a dotted reporting line to, was given an approved business case from the investment committee, a budget and a target go-live date, and off we went to change the world!

The project team was awesome; we quickly created a detailed Business Requirements Document (BRD), had it approved and steamed ahead into delivery and business testing. Then we got the shock news: what we had built didn't completely solve the customer problem and the business case no longer stacked up. All the effort was a waste.

But something unexpected happened next. Technology leadership didn't stop the project and return the unspent funds to the business so that business value could still be achieved. Instead we were told to hobble along, in the process delivering a fragmented, partially valuable experience. This was purely for financial reasons – the expense could be capitalised over multiple fiscal years.

So what happened here? A few things went wrong:

  • Technology drove the business case process, the business (and the customer!) was absent

  • Business case process was too internally focused, too much navel-gazing

  • Business and end customers weren’t engaged

  • Cycle time between idea and execution was too slow (quarters, not weeks)

  • There was no opportunity to pivot funding decisions (because we hadn't deployed to production and realised value)

The result was poor team morale, a frustrated business and customers that didn't get what they wanted. But we did have an approved 200-page business requirements document!

Sound familiar?

In my experience, this type of mistake is all too common. So how do we avoid it? We have an untapped resource to emulate: our most successful customers, our Trailblazers.
 

“Trailblazers consistently and rapidly release business value through the creation of compelling customer experiences - all on the foundation of a high-performing culture.”

 

Let's talk about how they do it, and learn from them to design organisations that execute flawlessly.

1. Be CX-obsessed

 

80% of customers rate the experience a company provides as important as its products and services, and 52% of B2C customers say they will switch brands if they feel they’re not receiving a personalised experience.

What’s more, over a 10-year period, leaders in customer experience (CX) design saw a 211% improvement in company value compared with laggards.

Simply put, your level of focus on CX will determine your rate of growth or rate of decline.

CX isn't simply adding an experience designer to your development teams and hoping for the best. It's a company-wide obsession with understanding customer insights and executing change off the back of it. This involves changes to people (leadership, business, technology), process (strategy, intake, development, training, adoption) and capability (adding the right mix of UX, design and leadership).

The most progressive companies are using Human-Centred Design (HCD) techniques to deeply understand their customers’ needs, guide investment decision making around customer journeys and, ultimately, execute technology changes to create journeys that satisfy those customer needs.

Back in 2010, if we'd leveraged HCD techniques, we'd have executed with the customer in the driver’s seat, not with that seat filled by technology or a proxy business role.

Here are some tactics our Trailblazers use to bring customers to the centre of decision-making:

  • Be a data nerd, but also talk to customers: You have an ocean of engagement data already – what do your customers do with your product, what are they clicking on, what are they saying, how long do they spend in certain processes?  Now go and talk to them to understand their wants, hopes and fears.

  • Win over leadership: Work with leadership to choose a small project to prove out the value of Human Centred Design – seek investment, baseline results and show improvement. Win their hearts with customer stories, and their minds with the resulting business improvement. Scale from there.

  • Have a process: Use tried and tested methods to creating customer value. At Salesforce we start with the human experience and then blend in business strategy and technology (Salesforce) capability - the intersection of all three is what we aim for.

  • Hire professionals: Hire people who have done it before and who can teach your teams to execute customer-first. This needs to be baked into your processes and culture. If Salesforce is a large technology enabler for your change, maximise your investment by hiring people who have designed for Salesforce before.

  • You’re using the best Customer Success Platform in the world - make Lightning Design System (LDS) your friend: Don’t waste time re-designing standard components, we’ve already done that. Invest effort in custom designing experiences that differentiate your customer experience.

     

 2. Create a modern digital operating model

 

Modern technology companies are designed ground-up to deploy ideas to market as quickly as possible – both Amazon and Netflix deploy thousands of times a day. But how do you make a start if you're not the next Amazon? This is where modern digital operating models come in.

‘Digital operating model’ is just a buzz phrase for the people, process, culture and technology that sits between business strategy and operations. The most progressive companies purposefully design their digital operating model, putting the customer front and centre, co-locating the business and technology (no more them and us) and revisiting funding to create agility and avoid the CAPEX-trap I found myself in.

Check out these tactics from our Trailblazers:

  • Actually (re)design your operating model: If your current approach isn’t working, bring your business and technology leaders together around a shared vision and shared goals, and purposefully co-create a new model that everyone buys into. At a minimum it needs to include strategy, governance, intake, standards (technology, business, customer experience), execution and adoption.

  • Challenge yourselves to deploy daily: This is a useful exercise to workshop all the cycle-time impediments that can be challenged, automated, removed or reduced. Ask how much risk is mitigated by the governance processes that slow down cycle time, and whether the business is prepared to take on this risk for the reward of agility.

  • Co-locate business and technology: CX obsession is impossible if technology and the end customer are separated by many layers. Co-locate your business and technology teams, with shared accountability focused on the customer and business value.

  • Fund value streams over projects: Big projects are appropriate in certain cases (for example, infrastructure, outsourced risk), but do they work for your digital experiences? Take a venture capital-style funding approach by regularly revisiting whether funds should be directed towards 'value stream A' (the status quo) versus 'value stream B' (somewhere else). To support this approach, cycle time needs to be short and you need accountable product owners willing to report ROI.

  • Add expertise to your teams: Is your transformation largely enabled by the use of one technology? Make sure you have people who have delivered successful, value-generating change on that technology stack before.
     

3. Build a high-performance culture

 

Companies that proactively manage their cultures can see 516% higher revenue growth over a 10-year period. Yet only 30% of leaders say that culture is being managed effectively. How do we help close this gap?

A high-performing culture is not maintained just through hiring great people, world-class training or value statements on a corporate website. Culture is created through leading by example, and designing a system that encourages desired behaviours and actively suppresses others.

An example of leading by example: alongside implementing a new service model and service technology, the CEO of one of our airline customers put the customer service team directly outside his office and a 'customer sentiment' dashboard live on his office wall. And every day he connected with his frontline team. Nothing says ‘I expect you to value customers’ more than visibly and regularly doing so yourself.

Let's quickly explore how our Trailblazers start this journey:

  • Apply a holistic framework: Building a culture requires more than training. It requires consideration of how leaders communicate and what they do, what training you provide, how you reward people, what social settings reinforce desired behaviours, and the physical environment you provide. A holistic approach to change needs to consider all these dimensions to succeed.

  • Identify and reinforce the behaviours you want to see: Do you want to see controlled risk-taking? Then think about how you reward wins and punish failures currently, and whether that encourages controlled risks. Identify those behaviours you want to see so you can amplify them and side-step existing 'cultural debt'.

  • Leadership must lead: Do you want your sales staff to keep opportunities up to date? How motivated do you think they'll be if the sales leadership has never logged in to look at those records? What if leadership sourced their forecasts from the CRM, and shared across the company some of the big opportunities and achievements the team has recorded?
     

Learn from the past

 

After my experience on a failed technology implementation, it took me some years to fully understand what had happened and why. Don't fall into these traps. Educate your leadership through examples, start small and show progress.

Make CX your north star for strategy, execution and adoption. Purposefully design your ways of working to reduce cycle time and design a culture that enables innovation and controlled risk-taking while removing behavioural impediments. Then you’ll be on your way to success (and being a Trailblazer).

For more advice on executing a successful technology transformation in your business, download the Advisory Services e-book: Transforming business through strategic technical guidance.