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Digital goals are often best discovered, and achieved, through the process of making – not upfront strategic planning.

There’s a deeply-held attitude that management involves the head and not the hands, and that strategy is a rarer, more valuable commodity than execution. This is the big cultural blocker in the way of bringing digital to the heart of any business.

Strategy, planning and investment practices have become locked into theoretical models that belong in the past; the new practice needs to be grounded in the process of actually making things in order to build the evidence needed to make good strategic decisions.

Made by Many’s client programmes are founded on the belief that making real things is the best and quickest way to discover the right strategies and build the new culture a business needs to be successful in digital.

This belief has led us to adopt a different set of values to those held in traditional business, technology and design thinking.

As far back as Summer 2011, we were in the ITV Newsrooms running a prototype of what was to become itv.com/news. It was critical to understand early on not only how ITV’s target digital audiences would take to a service presenting news as it evolves, but also how journalists would adapt to creating content for it.

Testing the concept of a news stream and what that might entail with users was central to the creative process. It was through understanding use cases and user needs that we were able to develop the key design principles that underpin the stream: 'tell me what the world's talking about today' and 'whenever I come back show me something different'. We needed to make change highly visible.

It teaches you how to change, and motivates people to want to change. It also allows people to become more comfortable with uncertainty and take a different, more realistic view of risk.

It was by showing what could be done quickly with existing infrastructure that it really created an appetite internally for scaling that up and seeing what bigger and ambitious change could lead to.

Kati Price, V&A

In digital, measurement often changes by orders of magnitude. What is measured and the scale of expectations should be adjusted continuously according to what we learn — not predicted upfront by an entirely speculative strategy document. Adaptive planning also requires adaptive strategy and budgeting as new opportunities become apparent.

In established businesses, organised around a norm of reasonable predictability and the pursuit of incremental efficiencies and known and repeatable goals, the highest value is placed on long-term strategic and financial planning and on very precise definition of the ‘requirements’ and ’functionality’ of delivery — a blueprint that presumes to mitigate against risk, but in a transformative situation is at best unambitious, at worst irresponsible.

Digital businesses succeed when they are supported by a very different set of values. We value the ability to evaluate a complex system of production, exchange and consumption and spot an interesting product opportunity.

We value the ability to know when to stop talking or researching and start building so we can learn quickly. We value skill and speed in making and the facility to adapt as we iterate through multiple facets of product design: not just customer need, but also technical facility and business viability.

Rapid prototyping can help you explore the viability of a product, but it can also teach you how well your organisation is equipped to innovate in this area, much more effectively than a theoretical strategic document can.

Want to chat more about innovating in your business? Get in touch at [email protected]

William Owen

William Owen Founding Partner

William founded Made by Many in 2007 as a truly interdisciplinary product consultancy that would bring together the best of design, engineering and business culture. William advises senior executive teams on digital strategy and product innovation.

@wdowen

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