End note – Keep being ambitious Bath

This post was first published on the University of Bath Digital blog http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/digital/2015/12/16/keep-being-ambitious/.

On December 17th I will be saying goodbye to the University of Bath.

My move obviously creates a number of changes in the Digital team. But the central message is one of continuity. Improving digital communication remains a priority for the University, and the central team has the expertise to deliver on that goal. Leadership of the team and its projects will be provided by Phil and Rich, who are stepping up to head the team as an already proven partnership.

This is my opportunity to say a massive thank you to Bath Digital team – you are awesome and there is much to be proud of in terms of achievements.

Delivery is the reward

Digital is a team with a culture and track-record of delivery. Each member of the Digital team has committed to a set of delivery principles. I set high expectations early on and the team rallied. I think there are few challenges that could be put in front of this team that would overwhelm them.

It has been very satisfying to see the values and capability take root. I am proud of every individual team member for taking collective responsibility to transform what the University is capable of achieving through digital media.

Meeting the need

Our number one Delivery principle is ‘Put users’ needs first’. This principle has been transformative for our team as well as in many areas of digital publishing and service delivery around the University.

We now work on the basis that what’s best for our users is what’s best for the University. So when we are designing, developing or creating content for bath.ac.uk, our users and their need for fast and simple access to information and tools are informing and motivating our every move.

Getting time with users has not been easy but the team has worked and worked away to ensure a steady stream of user insight through interviews, analytics and feedback mechanisms. For me the extent to which we engage with end users mark us out amongst our peers.

Agile for real

We are now a team that uses agile development methods to deliver our work without skipping a beat. It all started with a two-day cross-functional sprint to create a site to welcome our new Chancellor and we have come on so far that we have been invited to coach others in the use of these agile methods. Even still we remain avid students and are always looking to learn and improve.

Agile is embedded across our content, design and development. You can see it all the way from our morning stand ups through to our sprint retrospectives. Establishing agile methods of working has brought structure and flexibility to our delivery and allows Bath to build world-class, user-centred services quickly and affordably.

See through

I think it was unfair but at the time I joined the Digital team was described by some at Bath as an inaccessible ‘black box’. One person’s perception is another’s reality and the situation today could not be more different.

We run weekly new work triage and scheduling sessions, blog about our output at the end of every sprint, we hold a fortnightly Show & Tell where you can meet and ask questions of the team, we issue a monthly roadmapof our scheduled work and our product backlogs are available online for scrutiny at all times.

All of these set pieces, as well as other informal forums make it simple and quick to find out who’s doing what and when. Our openness has been complimented by colleagues at Bath and beyond. There’s always more that could be done, but I am happy that we set a good example for others to follow.

Always aiming for more

We have turned Digital from a unit that simply plugs-and-plays with other people’s software into a team that creates products and runs services. This puts the University in the rare position where it can buy-in or manufacture what it needs based on the objectives and resources to hand.

This is not a luxury, this is a hard-earned and competitive advantage that has involved reskilling and retooling the team, including moving away from a Java based infrastructure to writing applications in Ruby on Rails, establishing pair writing in content and designing mobile-first prototypes in browser. With that power comes great responsibility which we have embraced by upgrading our user support services in parallel.

Judgement by results

The sum of all our new products, services, processes and culture has been growth across all our key performance indicators.

Visits and views are up in the UK and worldwide overseas locations, especially in target overseas markets. Our bounce rates are down and our page level engagements are up. We have launched new sections for Research and first year students and have provided for users’ preference for mobile devices. Furthermore, our volume of incident tickets and downtime have both been slashed.

These results are regularly reported to management and available to staff and students to scrutinise. We have begun to help other teams around the University to supplement their performance reports with digital metrics, which is the beginning of something very important for monitoring return-on-investment and establishing what ‘world class’ really looks like.

Going is good

In an era of pronounced competition across the sector, the hard facts are that Digital’s leadership and delivery has resulted in more traffic and deeper engagement across the University’s activities on- and offline.

It may all sound like a lot of stern, disciplined work but it’s actually been a lot of fun. The Digital team is full of generous, humble and creative people. We all get on well and we bring out the best in one another. There have been laughs every step of the way.

So the going is good. And I will be watching on from my new post in theScottish Government with pride.

Many of the most important developments I have brought in are cultural and procedural. The people who have the technical expertise to deliver on the potential remain in post. All they need now is the reciprocal trust and material support of their colleagues in order to capitalise on the gains Bath has made in the last 36 months. Do so and the collective rewards for the University will be worth it.

So keep being ambitious.

Cue the music

We be shipping #hatday

Delivering a digital strategy for the University of Bath

First published on University of Bath Digital Marketing & Communications blog

In recent posts, we’ve alluded to there being a University of Bath digital strategy. It’s the product of analysis and interviews conducted over the last 3 months, and we have begun taking that strategy around campus to introduce our colleagues to its contents and to get their feedback and support.

Our strategic goal
The University’s goal is to have a world-class digital domain developed around the needs of its users. This digital goal is framed by the actions set out in the University of Bath’s strategy for 2013 – 2016.

Users of our digital domain include students, academics, corporate staff, businesses and the public. While the majority of our digital users are here on campus, we receive high volumes of traffic from elsewhere in the UK and increasingly overseas. Our website serves in part as a marketing channel but our users are mostly task-driven and view our digital domain as a collection of services they use to get things done.

We want the people who use our site and associated digital channels to regard them as informative, trustworthy and useful. We believe that the manner in which we meet our users’ needs sets us apart from our peers and when we perform well it has a positive impact on the reputation and visibility of our research and teaching.

Continue reading “Delivering a digital strategy for the University of Bath”

Trialling delivery principles for the University of Bath Digital team

First published on the University of Bath Digital Marketing & Communications blog

The University of Bath has an in-house digital team. There are currently 11 of us and we are a mixed-discipline team of designers, developers and editors.

In recent weeks, the Digital team has been taking a hard look at what we do and how we do it in the interests of being more effective. We’ve run retrospectives of our work, been in conversation with folks we do work with and for around campus, and we’ve studied the way other digital teams work.

Our team provides digital products and services related to study and research, which are used by the University’s students, staff and partners as well as by the general public. When we looked at other teams in the digital industry (who provide products and services), we saw some had written down a set of principles that they worked to and this practice resonated with us.

From what we understand, delivery (or design) principles have many benefits. They draw a team together and provide a common thread throughout all its work. They help end-users understand the efforts that have gone into content, designs and features, and how the team might develop things in the future. And, they serve to manage the expectations of delivery partners and senior management about how the team is organised and what motivates it to work to the best of its abilities.

As we have reflected on our past work and the sort of team we want to be, we have zeroed in on a set of beta (or trial) delivery principles of our own. Here’s what we are starting with:

1. Put users’ needs first
The products and services we deliver should be driven by the needs of our users, not what suits us as providers. This means investing the time and effort to regularly engage with users and the contexts in which they interact with what we produce.

2. Make decisions based on data
Simply stating a user’s needs is insufficient, we must have evidence to make it compelling. We have been hired because we have good opinions and instincts based on professional experience. But we need to counsel these with sound qualitative and quantitative data, and use that data to make objective decisions about what to deliver and when.

3. Release iteratively and often
We will not store up ‘big bang’ releases because that is frustrating for the users and risky for the organisation. We will start small with the minimum viable product, we will test it and we will release it as soon as possible on a timescale of days and weeks, rather than months or years. We will repeat the process many times over, adding to our products and services based on feedback, tests and changes to technology.

4. Keep it simple and consistent
We run a big site with many supporting many channels, which draw in a diverse set of users who have an expectation of quality associated with the University of Bath domain. We will do the hard work not to over-think or over-complicate things. Whether a user is new or experienced, task-driven or browsing, they will able to get started quickly, flow through the process with ease and trust the integrity of the results.

5. Do the hard work behind the code
The success of a great digital product or service doesn’t rest entirely on what  appears on screen. To deliver accurate, pleasing and sustainable products and services means investing in simple instructions, efficient workflows,  accurate monitoring and great support. Often this can all be provided by the Digital team directly but we also expect to work hard with our partners on getting this right.

6. Work in the open
We will share what we are doing as often and as freely as possible because we believe that scrutiny makes us a more effective team and our products and services better. This extends from our product backlog through to the data generated by our output. We will ensure that we provide updates, explain our actions and demonstrate where and how we have taken on board feedback.

Now that these principles have been written down and shared, the hard work of putting them into action begins. We will apply these principles regardless of the scope or scale of delivery. We will apply these principles to our delivery regardless of whether we are a designer, developer or editor. We will apply the delivery principles regardless of whether we are working completely within Digital or with people outside our immediate team. And you can hold us to account when something we produce seems to be falling short of these principles.

There is no orthodoxy or set of rules to follow when choosing principles. Delivery principles are context specific, based on who’s in the team, what the team is having to do and over what period of time. Our principles are based on best of breed examples in the wider digital industry but have been adapted for the specific circumstances of this University’s Digital team.

As we develop as a team and work our way through our backlog and goals, we expect these principles to evolve. They will change based on our own direct experiences and on the feedback we receive from our users and co-producers. As and when substantial changes take place, we’ll keep you updated. Please also check back for posts capturing case studies of these principles being applied to real products and services that you can click on and use.

We’ll always keep the latest version of these principles published on our wiki.

My first week as Head of Digital

First posted on the University of Bath Digital Marketing & Communications blog

It is the end of my first week as Head of Digital here at the University of Bath. Naturally, I have had a busy week of meetings but it has been a joy getting around the beautiful campus and meeting the lovely people who work and study here.

I have been pleased to hear everyone I have met say that world-class digital communication is critical to the University’s ongoing success. They believe that the University can be proud of its digital work to date and that more should be done to build on that track record.

That is a fantastic mandate to have. I am looking forward to working with people from across campus to deliver the digital profile that the University deserves.

At the centre of those efforts will be my team of editors, developers and designers. In the short time I have worked with them their passion for this University has shone out and they are bristling with the skills and energy that this University needs to take full advantage of digital media.

Over the course of next few weeks and months, I will be trying to meet as many people as I can to understand how the University operates and what the folks here need from my team. I look forward to updating you on what I discover, and if you want to talk to me, please drop me a line or leave a comment here.

If you want to read a bit more about my background then have a look at my LinkedIn profile and if you want to follow me on Twitter I am @rossferg.