Organizations usually let problems fester and grow over time until it’s time to finally make big changes. At that point, there’s so much pent up demand and frustration that the team usually approaches the problem as primarily technical (and as a laundry list of problems with the current setup rather than a more forward-looking stance). When big changes are needed, it's time time to define a vision.
Can you skip visioning?
You only have one digital property or you aren't making any big technical changes
You aren't adding a one-offAlso see our microsite checklist
You already have clear alignment between all teams
You understand what it's going to take to make the changes and you have the commitment to do it
You are approaching the problem as "getting the bones right" for long term quality rather than just what it looks like upon launch
Three things need to be defined, early
There are three primary questions that should be answered in early strategy:
How much of the digital presence are we talking about? For bureaucratic, political, personality, or other reasons it may be easier to just consider changes within a sphere that is easy to control. But perhaps a key problem from the site visitor perspective may be a disconnected experience. How much of the digital presence should be changed to achieve goals? Note that this means you may do less glitzy changes in the near term.
What disciplines are needed? Is it really primarily a technical issue or are there a variety of disciplines (potentially from different teams or companies) required to take things to the next level?
What is our vision? See the checklist below.
When to consider early strategy to develop the vision
Early strategy is important any time that a disruptive change is being considered. More specifically, this is when to do early strategy:
At key events. The most obvious events are things like upcoming replatforming projects or redesigns. But another key disruptive change is one-offs, with the most obvious being microsites. Over time, one-offs are more damaging than redesigns.
Before narrowing the scope. Organizations often presume that a problem is a particular discipline (such as a CMS problem) and over a particular extent of a complex website suite (such as narrowly looking at the main site). It’s important to do early strategy thinking before reaching out to potential implementation teams for example.
With enough lead time. Some of the most important decisions may require the most time, and waiting just before you are ready to send an RFP is not ideal.
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that sometimes disruptive changes are required. I have written an entire book on managing change over the long term, and think we should be doing everything we can to extend the time between redesigns. That said, especially when looking at your digital presence through a long term and broad lens, sometimes more disruptive changes are required.
Getting the vision right
Getting the vision right is tough, but important.
Why is the vision crucial?
Aligns internal teams
Provides clarity for external partners
Forces difficult decisions earlier rather than later
Allows teams to be creative about resolving the important priorities rather than churn on laundry lists of problems that are more backward-looking
But defining the vision is tough. Perhaps one of the biggest problems is to go beyond a purely inspirational vision to one that is both understood by everyone and also implementable. Overshooting on the vision does not lead to good results, and instead leads to disappointment. Mismatched expectations also arise when teams do not really understand what they are agreeing to in the first place (for instance, extra burden on them or less control).
Do you have a strong vision?
Only your org could have this vision
Vision is implementable
Focused enough to force prioritization
Most stakeholders say it is compelling
Stakeholders understand the implications
Vision considers the long term
Vision is simple to communicate
Avoid bottom feeding
Any potential change we can make to our digital presence can be narrow or broad and disruptive or not disruptive. In this diagram of the four types of change, we aspire to be on the left side, making non-disruptive changes both narrow and broad. But often teams are stuck in the bottom, only making narrow changes that are relatively easy to make, for instance only making easy publishing changes and spawning microsites or other one-offs. One of the goals of early strategy is so 1) we avoid making one-off changes and 2) when we do big changes like redesigns then it’s done to maximize the impact (and push out rather than accelerate the next redesign).