Six things I’ve learnt on my journey from transformation to digital…. and back again

Written by Emma Collingridge, Programme Manager for Stockport Council’s Digital by Design Programme

I’ve been involved in digital transformation for a while now, but I’m by no means an old hand, a guru or a unicorn. I am however someone who’s gone from being a jobbing data analyst and researcher to someone ‘doing’ traditional public sector transformation – managing the process of change and balancing increasingly tight budgets – and on to leading a large-scale digital transformation programme.

This has been an amazing baptism of fire and one I’ve loved every moment of. I have been lucky enough to work with and learn from some of the most inspiring people who are leading the digital revolution. The digital disruption caused by the opportunities technology now gives us is unprecedented, but it is about the transformation of services and products to deliver outcomes, not about digital on its own or for its own sake.

Last week I attended the Digital Leaders group, it was a great chance to discuss with peers tricky topics we are all wrestling with. And after perhaps letting my passion lead me to be a little too vocal I was asked to write a quick blog! After much deliberation I couldn’t choose just one topic so, fresh on the heels of the publication of the 2017-2019 Government Transformation Strategy setting out where the next three years might take us, I thought I’d reflect and summarise some of the most important things I’ve learnt in the last three.

1. Don’t think people won’t be attracted to the public sector

People care, and more money isn’t everything to everyone. The public sector as an employer has a great offer: it just needs have more self-esteem, to be more proud of itself. If it can focus on using best-of-breed technologies and creating great user experience (as well as efficiency for the taxpayer) it has it all. Flexible working, great passionate people and an unbeatable mission.

2. Spread the love

Give a bit of love to the people doing the unsexy jobs, because those jobs REALLY matter to delivering great new experiences. Without Operations, Development’s vision of continuously delivering great software is merely rhetoric. And value your helpdesk, support and admin teams too: getting the value out of the software you got out of the door is impossible unless everyone is bought in.

3. Agile is a verb

Change and transformation starts with you. Agile is not a noun: it is not a set of artifacts, tools, and templates to be professionalized and traded, it’s an open culture and a mindset that you can benefit from without spending a penny. The tools and techniques can help you get so far, but you’ll never optimise your team, your delivery, and your organisation if the learning culture is not at the heart of all you value and do. Ditch the dogma. Be agile with agile.

4. Support the business to drive the change

In a service organisation, like a council, the services that are delivering to citizens or customers should be partnering and pulling on IT services and digital development teams. Too often IT, seeing the potential of digital, tries to push through digital change or worse tries to independently improve the ‘IT’ side of services on its own. Every digital service change is service redesign, not IT redesign. To make this work the traditional walls between IT and service delivery need to be demolished, and I meant that work to sound extreme. Spend time together, talk, get to know and understand each other’s world and problems. And then develop a shared mission of how you can collectively get to where you need to go – it is no surprise that (in my experience) this remains the best way to make the case of the business value of digital and get your change funded.   

5. Be brave, and humble. But mostly be brave.

Don’t be frightened to create the future you want to see. You need equal amounts of courage, common sense and humility to create sustainable change at scale. You need the courage not to wait to be told what to do, the sense to realise when you’re doing things wrong (because if you’re being courageous enough you will get things wrong), and the humility to accept failure as a learning opportunity and chance to improve. Be passionate. Make things happen.

6. The only strategy may be delivery, but delivery is all about the team

Show the thing, is still very much the thing. Strategies, visions and goals are not a destination or a deliverable in themselves, and the best strategy to get stakeholders on board is to show them what the future looks like – by delivering it. To focus on delivery, focus on the team. Don’t get me wrong, delivering in partnership with stakeholders is vital, but it’s the team that’s doing the heavy lifting. This is where all the management science used in Agile comes into its own. A team is more than the sum of its parts. Well executed activity around goals, planning, role definitions, pastoral support, workflows disciplines and a relentless focus on communication, learning and improvement pays back very quickly. And then some.           

Stockport Council are currently recruiting a range of role at all skills level and are developing a great training programme – Stockport’s Digital Academy. Join them at

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