Designing a user centred organisation

What can digital teach us about organisational design?

An article by Kit Hunwicks 07-11-2017

You may (or indeed you may not) be amazed at how often we hear the statement (or something like it) that:

“The website’s a bit of a mess, it’s held together with old string and glue, everything’s been built in, and for, silos. No-one really know what’s been implemented, when it was implemented nor why it was implemented.” 

It often turns out that basically: Marketing needed to track CRM, while HR had jobs to promote, the CEO wanted to get their blog out there, Ops had to integrate the site with a logistics platform etc etc etc.... In short, what had driven the website strategy was internal pressure, politics, whoever had the ear of the digital team at the time, and of course, the perfectly reasonable need for everyone to do their own job. Not a great way to deliver a cohesive platform that delivers exactly what an organisation needs.

What we do when we hear this (and what any good consultancy does) is ensure that people realise they’re not alone in this problem, talk with stakeholders, then work to solve it. The solution always begins and ends with user insight. 

So, we establish a strategy to bring the site into line with customer and user need. We understand who is using the website, what they need from the website and how the website can deliver for them. It takes time and lots of smaller tasks (interviews, co-creation, art direction systems integration etc) to make up the whole. The new user centred website delivers what research has shown that customers need and so, for the organisation, it delivers effectiveness efficiency, and ROI.

So far, so standard. 

If you take a step back from it, it’s easy to see how a website grows to be “a bit of a mess” because it’s a tool/platform, and easy to objectify, whereas organisations within which you’re working and embedded aren’t so easy to see from the outside.

At Edo, we find that user centred, digital methodologies translate well into organisational design. Audience insight gathering and analysis can (and should) inform all aspects of organisational strategy. What we don’t hear so often though, what is often equally true is:

“The organisation’s grown according to internal pressure and politics, we’ve made decisions based on assumption and we’re working in silos, to our own ends.” 

Analogously to the website problem - this can lead to an organisation that lacks cohesion and isn’t as effective and efficient as it could be. 

The best way to approach this is again, to identify and listen to user needs. What do customers and users need from the organisation? How should the organisation serve them? How do teams need to be shaped, and people need to behave, in order for the organisation to be better, more effective and more efficient?

Again, analogously to a website, it’s not about flicking a switch to suddenly start being user centred. It takes time, smaller tasks, excellent communication and proof of value to gradually move to becoming a customer centred organisation. Like the website though, every incremental change has value and the benefits once the whole is complete are organisational effectiveness efficiency, and ROI.


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