Yesterday marked the formal start of user research in the latest project, a business change programme to help the people in a government body to take advantage of new cloud-based collaborative technologies.There’s a lot that has been done in the UK public sector over the past seven years to instil agile approaches into the way technology projects are run. This has made significant improvement into how many services are delivered. But agile is an approach for the development of software, and I’ve always been troubled by its relevance when the end game is a product to be bought rather than built. Iteration is great, but how can it work if your starting point is a decision to buy the whole thing? Sure, you can iterate the components that you release, but is that really Agile? 

In the new project we are thinking about this slightly differently. There is a significant decision to be made about which platform is most appropriate for the organisation, something of a Hobson’s Choice between Microsoft and Google. But that big choice, something that needs to be done fairly early in the programme of work, is hardly something that lends itself to iteration. And it’s not something that we ourselves are designing.

What we are designing, however, is the business change approach. Whilst the software is generic, how we go about encouraging people to adapt to the new platform, take advantage of the new software tools and change their ways of working is unique. Where we will need to iterate wildly is in the techniques we use to promote different ways of working.

And within the organisation one size will not fit all. We have teams across the organisation with very different working patterns, collaborative structures, external stakeholders and appetites for change.

Not only do we have to design a set of process that will be unique, but then we also need to adopt new working models to keep that spirit of change alive on a permanent basis. Buying into the new world of evergreen software requires a change in organisational mindset that promotes agility (or possibly nimbleness is a better, less loaded term) everywhere. The platforms won’t stand still, and neither will the world around us. Change, to get extremely clichéd, is the only constant.

That’s going to be unsettling. We have to acknowledge that emotional fact. We also need to keep in mind that whilst we are replacing much that is old and clunky, it’s also familiar and we cling to the familiar in times of upheaval.

We also need to try to change expectations of the support of such services from a break/fix world to that of constant learning and coaching. We need to develop resources to support the curious and promote curiosity of the potential of technology throughout.

It’s going to be an interesting journey.

One thought on “Change as an design challenge

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