People, Process, Product

Digital Change in any organisation can be a complex and often daunting prospect.  With the advancements in digital working solutions for staff and the ever increasing options in the tools available to facilitate such change, many find it difficult to determine a suitable way forward; however, it is an exciting time nonetheless and with the correct approach, focussing on purpose and rationale for change, it can revolutionise the way in which teaching and learning evolves.

In January, the Aspire 2Be team attended BETT, the biggest education technology show in the world.  As a Professional Development Partner for Google and Microsoft, we were invited to attend and showcase their solutions on their respective stands.  It was a fantastic week and we had the privilege of meeting a host of fantastic educators looking to transform the use of technology in their schools.

If you haven’t attended BETT,  it is well worth a visit. Having said that, this single event can encapsulate the aforementioned problems in one place – a plethora of solutions for organisations to sift through and analyse.  As a statement, I appreciate that may sound negative. It’s not meant to be: my first visit to BETT was truly inspirational and one which draws me back year after year.  

The issue with Digital Change is that most approach this conundrum from the wrong angle.  Many focus on the tool and the associated features – some of which sound amazing but in truth, are either not required or a distraction.  Rather than ‘Digital’ being the core focus, it should be much more around the ‘Change’ itself. Instigating new ways of working and facilitating outstanding teaching and learning is so much more than the digital solutions (Products) you choose as two important elements should come before, namely ‘People’ and ‘Process’.  Why? The reason being that these two elements should direct your thinking and be analysed long before choosing the ‘Product’

Let’s take a look in more detail.  As an organisation, you are likely to find yourself in one (or more) of the following situations:

  1. Your people have received the necessary professional development and strong processes are in place; however, your products are not suitable/reliable – FRUSTRATION
  2. You have excellent processes and products but people do not have the necessary skills or have not been given time to develop – INCONSISTENCY
  3. Your people have received the necessary professional development and products are reliable/well provisioned; however, basic underlying processes cause issue and/or are not well thought through – DISENGAGED 

Fig. 1

Admittedly, these are open to interpretation and many of the categorisations are interchangeable but it highlights that in order for successful change to take place, an effective blend of all three is required.  

Taking this a step further, it is important to ensure your requirement for a new solution is based on how you want to work as opposed to how you are working now.  For example, you are presented with a solution either you’ve found or has been given to you. What steps have been taken beforehand to identify whether it is the correct solution aligned to your desired way of working?  Has the desired way of working been thought through? How much has the existing process been analysed? Is it actually a people/process problem as opposed to a product problem?

Typically, there will likely be a need of some sort and that need drives decision making – you would think that as a course of action, it’s a reasonable path.  Where it can be problematic in the long run is when a need or statement of requirements has been identified in an already flawed system. The image below explains in more detail:

Fig. 2

As a typical cycle, the product drives any process and ultimately, the opportunities or limitations within that product dictate the extent to which a process can be changed or adapted.  Subsequently, people are developed to work within said process (remembering this has been driven by the product) and any ‘at the coalface’ issues are fed back into the process to as part of continual change.  Development of people (training follows) and the cycle continues. Whilst this may appear to be a satisfactory approach, it is fundamentally driven by the product and not a desired way of working. An initial period of design rarely takes place to stand back and ask, ‘how do we want to work?’.

In a teaching and learning scenario, a classroom workflow solution is often chosen based on features, processes are then adapted to fit in with the limitations or opportunities of the solution.  Training is provided for staff who, when implementing the solution, discover issues with either the process or the product. The result? Workarounds are created. Before long, all staff are engaging in complex work arounds as a result of not enough time being given to identify how they want to work.  Assessment is a good example of this as it is often driven by how the data will be analysed and the information that can be gathered as opposed to the manner in which it is collected in the first place. Obviously workarounds are often required as finding the perfect solution is nigh on impossible.

It is far more beneficial to start with the process as thinking can be applied to the desired way of working before identifying which digital solution can facilitate or even better, enhance it.

Starting with the process, step back and ask, ‘how do we want to work?’.  Engage in discussion with stakeholders from all levels and begin a design process.  Often this helps if you can start with the ‘why’. What is the rationale for change?  What is the purpose? What benefits/outcomes are we looking for? Here you begin to assimilate a statement of requirements long before choosing a product and as a result, you start to form the beginnings of your digital strategy.

Fig. 3

In fig 3, the desired process will inform the product/s you choose and will be far more tailored to your actual needs.  You can cut through the noise of possible features having already identified only the features you need. Naturally, there is a learning curve and options/limitations within the product will feed back into the process for small changes; however, people can then be developed around the process whereby the product is purely the vehicle to get you there.  

This approach has various benefits – it can reduce workarounds and streamline processes from the start and focus attention on outcomes as opposed to features a product may have.  Most importantly, it changes the direction of conversation away from the technology itself as the driver and more around how technology can enhance the way in which you wish to operate.  As technology can be a daunting prospect for many, it allows leaders to engage all stakeholders and benefit from their expertise without constraint against a feature list.   

To summarise, the biggest mistake around digital change is when organisations focus on the digital and not people or process.  Events such as BETT provide you with a great opportunity to engage with like minded professionals and to take a ‘pulse check’ as to what the market has to offer.  Above all, use this as an opportunity to inform and educate, not buy and implement. Staff will be far more engaged in eventual change if they can understand how decisions have been made and pivotally, that resulting change has been a collective process involving more than technology.