Digital Transformation Starts With Graduated Growth by Design

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Written by Digital Surgeons,
• 8 min read

As our world continues to transform digitally, businesses are more challenged than ever to adapt, innovate, and grow. A nimble organization of ten employees can quickly roll out the latest CRM, adopt a bleeding edge CMS, or learn a new design methodology.

But when a startup begins to scale, it can become a big challenge to release new technologies and collaborate with internal stakeholders since:

  1. Current customers must be willing to embrace a new product or technology.    
  2. A business’ workforce must have the organizational alignment so that divisions within the company will be able to support one another in reaching a long-term strategy.

Iterative design is an important component of smart product design, which allows an organization to make many small changes to a design over time while preserving features of the original concept.

But businesses must think about smart product design not just in terms of their customers but also in terms of their employees, managers, and VPs.

If companies understand that customers need time to adjust to new designs and products, shouldn’t businesses also empathize with the challenges faced by their workforce when they roll out organizational changes?

Empathy and cross functional collaboration, whether horizontally between divisions or vertically between VPs and managers, can be the difference between graduated growth and stagnation for your business.

Simplified Smart Product Design

When it comes to delivering a new product that a company rapidly iterated and gradually changed to accommodate their customers, Apple’s iPod is the paragon.

It seems like it was a generation ago when Apple rolled out its iPod in 2001. I still remember how Apple took the world by storm when it showed how entire libraries of music could be stored on a device with 5 GB of memory. The iPod’s sleek design had a colorless screen and a scroll wheel surrounded by buttons.

But over 15 years later, it’s easy for us to forget how much the iPhone’s predecessor evolved from where it was then to where its successor is today.

Colorless? Hard to imagine.

Scroll wheel? It looks like a distant artifact.

Buttons? The supremacy of the button has yielded to the touch screen.

Apple could have unleashed a design that was closer to where the iPhone is today when it initially released the iPod. The touch screen technology was available. Yet Apple chose to go with a more familiar, more comfortable design in its first generation product.

Drawing on the tenets of smart product design, had Apple rolled out an iPod that was all touch screen customers would have been more resistant to purchasing the product. Touch screen technology existed for years but it wasn’t sticking to the market.

Apple understood that consumers have to be ready to adopt innovations. Smart product design is about accommodating the user’s reluctance to test new technology. The onus is on the business to release the technology in a way that makes it gradual and familiar. Each new change builds on a larger product strategy.

Graduated Change within Your Organization

Businesses are sensitive to the needs of gradual change for their customers, but they often overlook the importance of gradual change for their employees.

Marketing and sales must support one another. Furthermore, changes must be fast enough so that an organization’s goals are being met while also giving their employees enough time to adjust.

Companies need an organizational alignment in which the internal stakeholders are onboard and capable of meeting a long-term, 5 year strategy. We are trained to think about the user experience design of a product. But organizations often ignore the user experience of business itself.

An effective strategy is to begin where you envision your organization will be five years from now, and then work backwards.

Rolling out radical changes over a short span of time can be a recipe for internal acrimony, feet-planting, and ultimately failure.

But growth hacking your organization is an effective way to institute many small, rapid changes. The sum of these minor alterations level up to an organizational shift that your workforce has been able to gradually, yet swiftly, adopt.

To growth hack your organization, you have to build empathy between the different divisions within your business.

Empathy for Your Workforce Is as Important as Empathy for Your Customers

Until our entire workforce is automated and replaced by robots, your people are your biggest asset. Start with conducting in-house interviews with your sales team, marketing team, and any other divisions that are connected to the delivery of products of services that will help you identify immediate pain points and points of friction that can be addressed.

Once you have interviewed your internal stakeholders, a purpose-driven design thinking workshop with a mix of staff ranging from executives, VP, and managers as well as constituents across departments will help you discover quick victories.

A classic example of that is the tension between sales and marketing. A great way to relieve that tension is to employ a design thinking workshop to kickstart a new way of thinking and a new way of working. In a design thinking workshop, you are able to flatten the room out, since participants from all levels within the organization are able to get on the same page through collaborative, co-creative exercises. This takes the ownership of an idea out of one person’s hands and shares it with all members who are involved. As a result, the workshop creates psychological buy-in and allows people to rally together to form an effective team.

A rapid exercise for discovering quick, low cost wins is to meet with executives and their teams and plot ideas on an X-, Y-axis chart on a white board. The X-axis represents the time and costs to implement an action whereas the Y-axis corresponds with the economic impact.

In this exercise, which is a variation of an Eisenhower matrix, we look to identify actions in the top left quadrant that have a high business impact (as the goal was defined at the start of the workshop) but don’t carry heavy costs. The more goals that we are able to accomplish through graduated change, the more we can start to absorb a large number of incremental changes over a one year period. The sum of all these initiatives will add up to brand growth and success with all your organization on board.

For example, say you want your marketing department to produce more high-quality leads for your sales teams to act on. That’s a long-term goal that you might not necessarily be able to achieve in the time that you have allotted for it. One thing that we have had success with through connected sales and marketing programs is the ability to create two-way empathy between two distinct departments that have different organizational mandates and personnel with different backgrounds. After a 20 minute exercise in which members of your sales and marketing teams write up post-its on the chart, you’ll discover quick victories in the top left quadrant.

By arming your teams with a shared language in a framework for success, the two divisions are able to work together towards the same vision. Collective buy-in will help unlock growth in your business.

Design thinking workshops allow your marketers and sales teams to understand all aspects of the product and experience journey, from the time a customer places an order till it’s in the customer’ hands. This will allow everyone involved to appreciate not only these steps but also the challenges that each faces as a respective business unit.

Understanding points of friction throughout the consumer journey will allow you to identify pain points in the funnel. Maybe you will discover that your sales team needs a better CRM system since you are having trouble keeping track of your customers. Do you need to buy a new CRM system or do you hire consultants to determine what’s the best way to roll out a lightweight CRM tool that causes a minimal amount of disruption to your day-to-day operations?

While every organization’s workforce is different, the onus is on the business’ leaders to “smart work” their workforce.

Graduated change by design will allow your business to formulate a pathway for roadmapping where you want to go (with as few mistakes and as much transparency as possible) and then working backward to implement the necessary steps to take you to the goals that you are trying to unlock.

The problem that many organizations are facing with the notion of digital transformation is that it is viewed as a silver bullet to their business challenges. But in reality, a thousand small initiatives will equal the small graduated change that an organization needs to succeed. These micro shifts allow a business to transform from the inside out, making the workforce, the executive team, and, most importantly, the customer feel like they are approaching familiar terrain.

It worked for Apple’s touch-screen strategy and a number of other products, businesses, and services all across the globe. Why can’t it work within your organization?

Let's have a conversation about how design thinking can unlock graduated growth for your organization.