The methods of user-centric design approaches have increasingly permeated the consciousness of software development teams in many sectors. By no means universal, but the general idea that you start by understanding the needs of the user before you start to build things to meet those needs has increasingly been adopted as good practice.

But what about the services that are provided to deliver technology? This might be a bit meta, but all too often I see operational business people absolutely bamboozled by the machinations and processes of their technology or digital teams. At the core is, I think, a simple problem. Methods have been adopted by tech teams not because they are clearly adding value and delivering to identified user needs, but rather because “that’s the way we do things”.

I see it in UK government organisations, where “Doing GDS” has become now too often a “Following processes without thinking” because the origins of why a particular process or approach is followed has been lost in the mists of time.

I see it in private sector organisations, where too often we also will see methods and even tools adopted because of conformance to some notional idea of “best practice” rather than because of evidence that that approach provides value to its users.

This is important. If a technology team cannot articulate why it does things other than a vague “Because that’s what we do”, then it won’t be able to express where there is value in how it operates.

If you can’t express yourself in terms of value, you are a cost.

If you are a cost, you will be cut.

I did some experiments with this last year, and am exploring the concepts again a bit at the moment. How might technology teams be able to take a step back to take stock of what does or doesn’t add value to their users? How might technology teams actually clearly understand who the users of their services (rather than their technology) actually are? How might, as a result, technology teams slim their operations to those things that clearly add value to develop and deliver performant, reliable, secure and accessible technology to their internal and external users?

Information technology today is intrinsic to all organisations. We cannot function without it. But context is more important today than ever – when I started in IT, the patterns by which it was delivered could be pretty much transported from organisation to organisation. Today, however, what technology is needed to run a business is contextual to size, sector and maturity. In turn there isn’t “one way” to run IT across all of those dimensions. It needs in itself to be designed.

And if you need to design things, you can’t do much better than start by designing around the needs of the users.

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