Introducing a new way to do digital: Tech Special Ops

Introducing a new way to do digital: Tech Special Ops

Techdept Special Ops

Digital. What is it? Tech stuff. Business stuff. Strategy stuff. People stuff. Marketing stuff. Operational stuff. Design stuff. Future stuff. Legacy stuff.

It’s basically a lot of different stuff.

So why are so many companies, and teams, “single issue operators”? Marketing and IT are now both about delivering great customer experiences.

But that’s the easy split of skills to see. How many business leaders really understand the tech future they’re being asked to create through their strategies and investments? How many HR’s get the impact of digital on their company culture? How many PR’s know how to use data to tailor messages? How many designers understand the true potential of the code they subcontract?

Rise of the ‘open polymaths’
The future belongs to those that know a little about a lot. Polymaths that can build teams of experts and create open collaboration with partners. Relationships based on a shared set of cultural and technological standards.

In a world of exponential growth we cannot know everything within our own organisation’s four walls, no matter how big your company. Open collaboration and knowledge flows will underpin your future success.

The problem is that the education system, and corporate departments, focus on depth rather than breadth. Of specialisms and silos. And while corporate walls are getting more permeable, this is happening at analogue speed.

Techdept collaborative culture

The role of a Tech Special Ops team
Let us be clear, “Tech Special Ops” is not our new marketing tagline. It’s a new way of approaching digital transformation.

That’s because change comes from constant evolution, experimentation and testing. The scientific method put into action in your company across multiple departments and disciplines. You cannot predict the direction this will take, so the team activating it needs to be prepared to change direction mid flight.

This is challenging for most people, particularly in large organisations. To deal with rapid change you need to install a team which is:

  • Technical
  • Strategic
  • Creative
  • Rapid response
  • Highly-trained
  • Multi-disciplinary
  • Empowered
  • Flexible
  • Culturally open
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Action oriented
  • Focused on getting results
  • Learning by doing

This team can work across your company, connecting diverse departments and external agencies like connective tissue. The glue that makes digital innovation go from concept to reality.

tech special ops

How to make a Tech Special Ops team
A Tech Special Ops Team is built around 6 principles which you can apply to your own company or team.

The principles are:

  1. Breadth of experience
    What is your talent stackWhat are the combination of skills you possess? Remember the digital world is multi-disciplinary. You need creatives AND coders. Strategy AND implementation. All working together in complete sync, and at pace.I went to art school (fine art, painting) and then dropped out to do a history degree. My co-founder Rick studied chemical process engineering, then wrote software for oil rigs. Would you put money on those two graduates working well together?Yet it is diversity of experience which created the DNA of our business, the value we add in the marketplace. The 25 people employed around us are similarly diverse. Take a look around you, how diverse is your team’s experience? Can they cope with the endless change of focus required to compete in 21st Century Digital?
  2. Mindsets
    While a Tech Special Ops Team experience is diverse, the Mindsets are shared. Rather than ‘Values’ a Tech Special Ops Team culture is based on ‘Mindsets’. A Mindset is action oriented. It is the way you approach your life, as well as your work.Our five Mindsets are:

    • Be Yourself
    • Lean Everything
    • Constant Progression
    • Open & Candid
    • Extreme Ownership

    We created these collaboratively with our team over a 6 month period. To read a more detailed description of our Mindsets click here.

  1. Habits
    What is best practice in your company? Is it in the heads of your leaders? Or is it documented in a simple actionable format? Building on the advice of Ben Horowitz in his book The Hard Things About Hard Things a Tech Special Ops Team creates actionable guiding principles called ‘Habits’.As in life you can have Good Habits, and Bad Habits. So we have documented what (for example) makes a “Good Manager” and a “Bad Manager”. This direct clarity helps guide our team to act in the best way for our customers, our company, and each other.For example (taken from Management Habits): “Good Managers positively build discipline. They help maintain focus on the essential, particularly when under pressure. Good Managers relentlessly prioritise. Bad Managers need everything ASAP.”The Habits we have created cover:
  • Management
  • Account Management
  • Sales
  • Studio

We are finalising our Habits and will be publishing them in May 2017.

  1. Standards
    What are the common standards that you operate? Can you identify them? And if so can you quantify them? And not just technology standards, because culture is the central component of a Tech Special Ops ‘standard operating system’.Tech Special Ops Team Standards have 4 parts:
  • Cultural
    These are your Mindsets and Habits. Your day to day work is guided by these principles. The glue that holds you together when process fails, or you need to create results under pressure. It also makes your team a great place to be.
  • Operational
    You need an operating process to guide your work, orchestrating your team and reducing mistakes. Building on The Checklist Manifesto we are focused on our Techdept Bootcamp™ process (see below), which generates continuous improvement. However Tech Special Ops Teams are made up of people. So a People & Wellbeing plan is critical for operational success. You want to create intrinsic motivation.Techdept’s People & Wellbeing Standards include; 6 weekly feedback in 1 to 1s; annual PDP & 360 feedback; share options; monthly dinners; quarterly  socials; weekly free food; free beers; tea & coffee; commitment to having a world class working environment; open business management, encouraging feedback from which to iteratively improve the business. 
  • Technical
    A Tech Special Ops Team acts as a single unit across disciplines (copy, design, UX, front end, back end, engineering). We have created a ‘One Studio’ concept for technical team members. Within this we have documented all our skills (and the skills we need) in a Skills Grid. Each team member grades themselves in the Skills Grid, which is then validated by other team members. This helps us identify skills gaps and training needs.It also stops the assumed silo’ing of people’s capabilities: “I can’t do that, I only do front-end code”. It may be that one of the developers is a dab hand at copywriting. Why ignore those talents?
  • Brand
    If your work is world class but the way you communicate is second class, you undo all the effort invested to make your Tech Special Ops Team. People DO judge a book by its cover. We have standardised documentation, copywriting approaches, fonts etc.
  1. Bootcamps
    If your customer had the choice they wouldn’t hire you. Think about it, do you want to employ your car mechanic, cleaner, or lawyer? No, you want the benefit of what they bring. A smooth running car, a calm home, reduced risk. No-one wants a new web site. They want more enquiries. More sales. Better communication.The problem is that many people start a digital project with – ahem – unfocused aims. The work then creates questionable improvements for their company. But what if you could ensure that every digital project you ever did created improvement? Continuous improvement. Little and often. Creating transformation over time.Techdept runs a unique process called The Techdept Bootcamp™ which does just this. A focus on improvement. Not on technology, or UX patterns or design concepts. We focus from the start on what we will improve, asking a single question that cuts to the heart of what you want: The Bootcamp Purpose. We then move heaven and earth to achieve that purpose, never losing focus.At the end of the Bootcamp we give you a one page document with a handful of things to track. We call this a Bootcamp Scorecard. Tracking these things will indicate the improvement that has been achieved (or not). In Silicon Valley this is called ‘actionable metrics’. It is the building block for continuous improvement.
  1. Iteration
    A central part of the Tech Special Ops Team approach is that all aspects must be open to evolve.Positively improving based on what happens ‘on the ground’. Mindsets, Habits, process, documentation, whatever. And the people that propose these changes? The team themselves. Your team leaders should lead not spoon-feed.A Tech Special Ops Team should only contain the best people. People that are very capable of observing where to get better, operational change from the bottom up. But to facilitate this you need a structured feedback process. A Tech Special Ops Team meets regularly to talk about how to do the work. Not simply the work itself.We recommend an anonymous feedback platform like Tinypulse to give people the chance to say things that are awkward or sensitive. This should go to the most senior person in charge of operations. Similarly after a Bootcamp, for customers to give feedback on the work.

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Tech Special Ops Manual
All of your thinking should be documented in a Tech Special Ops Manual. An operations manual that’s been sent to SEAL Training. Ours is being drafted and will be published in May 2017.

It should be short, to the point and simple to understand. All of this work should free up your team to create the future, not be bogged down in unnecessary process and corporate documentation. You want principles of action, not prescribed ways of doing specific tasks.

The alternative?
You may well be thinking “that sounds like a lot of hard work. Why bother?!”. And you would be right in thinking that it’s hard work. It takes a lot of effort and discipline to forge this kind of team.

And of course you could simply hire specialists to do all this for you. There are digital transformation consultancies, and innovation labs, and digital agencies out there. But be prepared for a lot of management oversight, a lot of cost and a lot of paperwork. If that sounds good, then a Tech Special Ops Team is probably not for you.

You should only hire or create a tech Special Ops Team if you want to see rapid change and get results.

Over to you.

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