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Digital, Strategy and Design

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 26, 2019  |  Comments Off on Digital, Strategy and Design

Digital leaders have salient views of the future based on a deep understanding of the customer.  They create approaches to engage customers in that future.  In consulting terms, digital leaders activate build competency in strategy and design.

Leaders place their need for strategy and design in high demand.  The combination is required, along with operational excellence to meet the challenges:  consumer expectations, market disruption and relentless advance of technology. Achieving that combination within an organization and among service providers is challenging.

Strategy and Design have much in common. Each has discipline specific skills and tools.  Each has a specialist workforce.  Each operates at the ‘front end’ of a transformation.  Each is essential for success.  Both are right and both are wrong.  Wrong in the sense that they see one as exclusive to the other, while both are engaged in an intellectual and project land grab. If both are required, yet neither view themselves in combination, then how can they possibility work together?

Similarities between design and strategy drive much of this tension.  A brief description of each discipline highlights their similarities.

  • Strategy involves determining the company’s intent. Strategy is expressed in an understanding of the environment, an expression of ambition, decisions regarding the allocation of resources and plan of execution. Strategy provides a perspective on where and how the company will win from the inside out.
  • Design entails understanding and expressing customer intent. Expressed in terms of persona’s, needs, journey maps, touchpoints and prototypes. Design provides a perspective on how and why customers win from the outside in.

It’s a paradox, the strategy chicken vs the design egg.  Which comes first?  It’s a silly question when it comes to digital transformation.  You need both.  Experience has taught that one without the other is just a pattern for mediocre results at best.  The following are gross generalizations based on observation.

  • A strong strategy with weak design produces under whelming results for customers, exposing the company and its strategy for further disruption. Industries where this is prevalent include hospitality, automotive, communications, among others.
  • A strong design with a weak strategy too often focuses on the fringes of the business and their customers. The result is innovative and award winning experiences that fail to move the needle for the business.  Industries where this can be found include consumer products, healthcare providers, among others.

A strong design with a strong strategy creates consistency between customer and company intent.  Consistency originates from a fresh look at customer wants and needs and a fact-based understanding of the market and the company’s competitive position.  These provide the context for digital reinvention and the basis for a high potential vision.

If this description causes you to say – well not really or even no – then think about why you have that reaction.  Is that a manifestation of a strategy or design bias?

Here are a few observations concerning how to bring strategy and design together

  • Drop the dogma, the principles associated with design and strategy are not mutually exclusive. Principles should define the basis for collaboration not justifications for separation.  If you are having heated discussions about what is design and what is strategy or that design is strategy, then you are falling into narrow ideology based camps.
  • Look to the client outcome which requires creating the right combinations of customer and company value. Combining personas with channels opens the door to growth.   Connecting touch points with business processes and skills generates experiences at scale.  Experiences that are noticed and valued generate repeat and growing revenue.
  • Understand your own and each other’s limitations – no one discipline alone can create success. The power of our solutions lies in how well we bring things together not in how we divide each other along customer, innovation or other lines.  If strategy cannot talk with design or strategists listen to and appreciate design concerns, then you tend to create solutions that fit neither.
  • Be more open to blending teams and processes to create client value. Recognize that there are real challenges between blending studio and client site work practices and disciplines.  There is also real benefit to engaging the client on multiple sides.

The power of combining design with strategy is undeniable.  The practices required for that combination are developing.  Strategy and design are each distinct disciplines, but like any powerful thing, they are more valuable in combination than in separation.

Category: design-thinking  digital-edge  digitalization  leadership  strategic-planning  strategy  

Tags: design  digital  strategy  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

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