Aligning digital development with business goals
How aligned are your digital activities with wider business objectives, and what difference does this make to you?
In Japanese business culture, they have a term for it: Hoshin Kanri. It’s a method for ensuring that everyone from the shop floor to the top floor via middle management is aligned at a strategic, tactical and operational level.
Following Hoshin Kanri brings coherence to an organisation, with the aim of improving communication and, ultimately, enhancing productivity and profitability. While it sounds great, sadly for many digital teams, Hoshin Kanri hasn’t found its way into common parlance for many UK businesses.
Managing different agendas
As more companies get to grips with transformation, digital teams sit in an increasingly pivotal position and are often in high demand. But being popular can sometimes be a lonely place. Project briefs can be fired in from various directions from a wide range of paymasters and mistresses, all competing for the limited time, attention and resource on offer.
To complicate matters further, these requests can often contradict each other or, worse, they are out of step with the overarching goals of the business despite corporate efforts to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’. The result? Confusion and wasted effort for the digital team; frustration among project stakeholders; and compromised productivity for the business.
Establishing a sense of order among the chaos is more complicated than simple task prioritisation because of the variety of factors at play and the fact that digital teams are often not equipped with the necessary information on which to base their decisions. The sensible place to start, therefore, is at the top.
Sharing the strategic vision
At a fundamental level, the digital team must be fully plugged in to the company’s senior management. Without visibility of the overall business objectives, the chances of making the right decisions are seriously diminished. They must be given sight of the company vision, be guided on the company’s direction and get confirmation of the timescales at play.
The more accurately these elements are defined, the clearer the journey. It is the difference between plugging a postcode into your satnav and heading in a general direction, armed only with a compass and the stars. Vague, grey areas can become a breeding ground for uncertainty and doubt, which in turn can encourage questions and confusion.
Closer integration between digital teams and the business can be achieved if regular meetings are the norm rather than the exception, creating healthy lines of communication that can only be beneficial at a time when markets and customer demands are evolving at break-neck speed.
For the digital team, this vital link paints the colour on the bigger picture. It provides the background context that is fundamental for faster, more accurate decision-making, laying the necessary groundwork for enhanced efficiency and productivity.
Putting systems in place
At a practical level, digital teams can use this intelligence to establish a scoring system that dictates how projects should be prioritised. Questions should also be asked around the level of technical difficulty they present, and the necessary resource required to deliver on time and within budget. This applies an objective filter that can help give new perspective to the importance of projects in the mix, which may be front of mind for a certain individual, team or department but might be lower down the list for the business overall.
And while in some cases your scoring system will help reinforce why a project should be prioritised, by the same token, it will also highlight where your response should be “no” – or certainly “not now”. Inevitably, these conversations can be difficult, but they are made an awful lot easier when you can refer to a robust scoring system that is rooted in common business goals. It’s like having senior management in the room with you, nodding along in agreement.
The power of communication
There is also definitely an art to delivering the negative message of rejection. Stakeholders are never going to relish the fact that their request has been declined or perhaps deferred, but a clear explanation goes a long way to softening the blow. It takes any emotion out of the situation, replacing it with logic and reason and rooting the decision in the greater good of the business as a whole.
Beyond this reactive communication, it is even better if digital teams are able to maintain visibility through a consistent flow of proactive communication, and a wide variety of software tools have emerged in recent years to provide an answer to this problem. Many have been quick to take advantage of such functionality, embedding these tools within workflows and aligning them to corporate structures to accelerate tasks across teams and departments.
Trello, ProdPad and Asana are just some of the tools that can be deployed with relative ease to provide a collaborative approach to project management, task scheduling, road mapping, document creation, messaging and chat. Getting colleagues to embrace these tools may present a separate challenge but the first crucial step is to provide an environment for good information to flow around your business.
Talking the talk
That’s not forgetting the importance of stepping away from the screen and connecting with people IRL. It may sound straightforward, but regular ‘show and tell’ style workshops can be incredibly effective, providing an open platform to share details on the projects you are currently working on, how they are progressing, why they are important to the business, and where your future efforts will be focused.
These measures all help create strong internal alignment around the central business strategy. It brings a collective sense of direction that can generate impressive results, like all parts of an orchestra coming together perfectly in tune to create a clear, harmonious and powerful sound.
So, perhaps by adding a little more Hoshin Kanri to digital project development, there is a chance we can collectively sing from that same hymn sheet after all.