Platforms not projects

OPINION / 30th July 2019

When ORM started out 20 years ago, we were designing and building websites, apps and interactive media on a project by project basis.

PROJECTS were the core of our business.

These projects tended to be run in silos, and most of the time our focus was on getting something to ‘go live’ or to ‘launch’.  Our clients considered their investment, and the intended website or app build, as a one-off or something they would revisit in three to four years time. They tended not to plan for continuous improvement or an ongoing iterative evolution of the website or app.  

Today our approach has changed.

Our customers are now digitally mature. We no longer do big bang, monolithic projects and our approach to the creation of digital destinations such as websites, apps, or services has evolved.

Now, we partner with our clients and help them to think of the bigger picture. We work with them to define what digital products and services they need to thrive in this new world, and how they need to evolve over time. 

We now create PRODUCTS and PLATFORMS, not projects.

If you take a look at the largest companies in the world such as Alibaba, Amazon, Netflix, and of course Uber, what they all have in common is that they are all platforms. These underpin their business operations and facilitate sales into the millions of pounds of revenue. Why? Because their platforms have been designed to serve their customers. This is the approach we take with our clients too.

A product mindset

We’ve been evangelising about adopting a product mindset for several years, and there are four key elements to this approach:

1.    We align business objectives with digital technology

We recognise that every business is going through some form of digitalisation. We are helping our clients to digitise their products / services / operations or even helping them to create entirely new digital platforms, in order to compete in the evolving business landscape.

We align our clients’ business objectives with digital technology. The products we help them to create are customer-centric. We always think about the customer’s needs first. We then use the technology to build platforms or products, ensuring that the customer and their experience is at the heart of them.

2.    Forget the MVP, we’re all about the MLP

You’ll have heard digital people talking about the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – something you get to market as quickly as possible, with a basic functional set of features.

But we prefer a different approach: we believe in creating a Minimum ‘Lovable’ Product (MLP) – something that priorities the experience in order to drive emotion and attracts passionate followers.

How do we get there?

First, we apply a strong user-centred ethos in the design of our products. We immerse ourselves in their world. We learn what they love, what they loathe, and why. We get into their world, we understand their needs and we listen. Then we take their sentiments and create a product that they will love to use.

We won’t stop until we know they love it. That’s why we always take our live prototypes out to customers and ask them to test it. 

Again, we watch and we listen.

From interviews, testing hand-drawn wireframes or basic black and white clickable prototypes that don’t have any imagery, right through to concept testing. We do it all, with the users, right from the start.

It doesn’t stop when our MLP goes live, an ongoing release train supported by a vision and backlog of enhanced features and functionality continues to ensure our product stays relevant and evolves with the customer and the business.

3.     We focus on ‘the why’

We’ve all been there – stuck in a rut. Doing it the way we are because “we’ve always done it this way”. Or because the legacy technology we’ve got is forcing us to do it a certain way. This is a challenge we encounter time and time again. The technology we’ve all inherited is no longer fit for purpose in Web 3.0 and beyond.

Many systems have been built in silos. They operate in silos, too and they don’t connect or talk to each other. They require people to input duplicate information and force people into adopting lackadaisical processes.

Of course, people didn’t set out to build them in that way. In their time, they were useful, but we’ve moved on, and so has the technology out there. If you were to build your business from scratch, your IT and digital roadmap would be entirely different from the one you’re working with today.

So, that’s where we come in. We work with our clients to not only adopt new technology stacks but to switch their mindsets too. Rather than focusing on BAU and legacy processes, we help them to concentrate on their outcomes.

Being outcome-driven means taking a customer-led approach, making sure that what is being built and developed is what your customers want.

4.     Engaging with stakeholders

‘Agile’, ‘Lean’, ‘Sprints’ are all digital practices of our day. These methodologies, or lean teams, help accelerate the process, getting to the answers faster.

Yet, for many businesses we work with there is one obstacle to allowing these to work effectively: the stakeholders.

Often, stakeholders are housed in their own departments. They don’t know how to talk to each other, or how to be involved in the process. We believe engaging stakeholders and bringing them to the table from the get-go, is one of the fundamentally important elements of digital success.

Making sure that the right cross-functional stakeholders are involved, and embedded at the right times, is crucial. In practice, this means inviting clients to work alongside our teams in our office, or us going onsite and working side by side with them.

We also use products like Jira and Confluence to manage our documentation, and remote working tools such as Zoom and Slack to help everyone be in the room, even when they physically can’t. For example, we’re working with a client in the US where we’re split across continents: their teams in their office in New Jersey, our Strategy team in London, and our UX Research team placed in Texas.

But, all of this doesn’t just happen. It needs meticulous planning and programme management. It’s all the SCRUM / agile ceremonies that give the cadence and structure – its sprint planning sessions, daily stand-ups, reporting against milestones, ultimately providing process and strong governance.

So, to summarise, here are our nuggets of advice to takeaway:

  1. Think Products and Platforms, not projects. Create experiences that your customers want and that drive successful business outcomes
  2. Aim for an MLP that gets your product to market, with a strong roadmap and release cycle to support you to iterate and optimise once live
  3. Don’t let processes drive your decisions – keep your eye firmly focused on the outcomes
  4. Remember, ensure you’re constantly seeking feedback from your customers and stakeholders to inform your design. That way you’ll end up creating products that people love

ORM's view

No more “Big Discoveries”, no more “Big Processes”, no “Big Timeline” that spans 9, 12, 18 or 24 months. No “Big Bloated” Teams, no more “Big Bang” with every feature, or bells and whistles that you don’t need or want.

We believe speed to market is key to driving business advantage and that choice is also important.

At ORM, we know that digital channels can offer businesses four key opportunities today:

  • Stronger engagement – through a better CX with your customers
  • Faster growth – increased market share and revenue opportunities
  • Clearer savings through operation efficiencies, automation and better workflows
  • A better understanding of the customer – gathered from data and insights

Come and talk to us about how we can help you own your digital freedom. We’ve done it for the likes of Arriva, Artemis and Transport for Wales, and we can do it for you too.

Peter Gough Peter Gough Managing Partner & Founder Peter Gough
Clare Lambert Clare Lambert Senior Account Director Clare Lambert