Forget your platform; build a strategy first

  • Posted on August 8, 2017
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
client management

This article was originally written by Avanade alumn Harriet Copeland.


It’s a hard word to say. Harder to hear, especially if you’re a client forking over hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new website only to be told by a group of design nerds that actually, you might be wasting your cash.

We’re hardly so blunt. But the point stays the same: for any business, it’s often worth pocketing your money now, foregoing that platform you think will deliver a silver bullet, and instead focusing on the longer-term strategy that takes a little more effort.

Let’s back up: over the past few years, there has been a distinct shift in the winds, one that’s been driven by the rapid pace of change in technology and business as much as anything else. Without a strategic, data-driven roadmap in place, a project can be outdated within six or 12 months.

So, we’ve adapted. We don’t like to think so much in terms of distinct briefs anymore, and instead we prefer to ask the client the hard questions when they come our way. Hard questions like: Do you really need this?

For the client, this can come as a shock. But it’s necessary, because we still see clients come through our doors who haven’t spent enough time dealing with the various stakeholders in their own business. They don’t really know what customer problem they’re trying to solve. Sure, they see the visible elements that need work — the website, an app or something else — and opt to get that finished first. But they haven’t gone deeper.

A website is just one part a modern business strategy, one that incorporates so many different touch points including apps, retail experiences, social media and more. Not to mention the idea that in your digital ecosystem, you need to set up elements like tracking, analytics and have marketing plugged into each of those specific points to help guide yourself into a data-driven future.

This is a huge deal. Our job is not just building websites or platforms — it’s building products that get used and improved. Failure for us is when the first phase of a project launches, and then the objectives change. The client moves on.

And the client moves on because the website was built without the input from the various groups of the business, so their project is being led by what they want, rather than what they need. Often, it just ends up not working. Either because the market has moved on, or the various different parts of the client’s business have.

When someone comes to us and says, “we need a platform”, we don’t respond with “sure!” We respond with:

  • Is that really what you want?
  • What are the objectives of your business?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What about the rest of the business — what are their issues? Where do they touch the digital experience?

It’s about looking at the roadmap of the business, from the perspective of every single department, and then asking the question again: what do you want, based on everyone’s values, and what customers think about you?

It’s harder, no doubt. It’s harder to make people take a step back and look at their entire business. Not only because it’s confronting for a client to be forced to self-reflect, but also because it’s time and resources. For us it also means we might not get that piece of work.

But it’s more successful because the client gets a strategy that’s future-proofed and anticipates change, rather than one that simply acts as a patch-work job. It also means you don’t have to change gear mid-project because all of a sudden the client has some change requirements which means the entire thing has to pivot — and you don’t have to go crawling back to leadership for more money.

The other main reason this works better is because once you ask these questions, all of a sudden you start working with a business as a whole rather than one small slice of it. That gives you permission to ask questions about the customer, or to test assumptions, or to challenge bias.

You reframe the conversation about being about the organisation and not just a website. This isn’t easy, and it’s a conversation that happens over time. We had one client that came in asking for a new build — an entirely new project — but we weren’t sure it was the best approach. We asked them all the questions I’ve just mentioned, and it turned out that actually, a new build right now wasn’t the best strategy at all.

They still needed to validate some of their assumptions. And that’s often a better method. To spend a little bit of money now, to go back and convince the board later on that you need the bigger cheque to complete the rest of the project.

That means you get the entire strategic arm of the business behind the project, it’s been validated with a business case, and you’re fully funded. You’ve frontloaded the hard work, and no one is going to question you midway through a project.

Someone recently asked us what would make a project fail. We responded that it would fail if they treat their platform build like a digital project, and not like a change management project — to not get everyone on board, and to not consider the bigger picture that the platform is a part of.

So, briefs? We’re increasingly leaving them behind and looking at a client’s overall business proposition. It’s harder, for sure. But worth it for everyone.

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