Scrap that! Leading an organisation through pivots in product design » Charity Digital News

Scrap that! Leading an organisation through pivots in product design

Faye Goldman, Head of Comms at Gingerbread, discusses why you shouldn’t be afraid to change direction when working on charity digital projects

It can take confidence to scrap something you’ve been working on – to recognise that the brilliant idea that you thought you had might not have actually been that brilliant. But that’s a crucial step in the process of designing effective digital products and services, as I’ve been learning on CAST’s Fuse programme. Reassuringly, with the right evidence, it isn’t so hard to take a change of direction.

The charity world that I know is full of projects generously funded by contracts and grants; with specific outcomes designed months or years before they’re achieved. Some funder relationships might allow a bit of scope to tweak here and there but, fundamentally, the projects are fixed.

Over the last few months, I’ve been lucky enough to try something a bit different. I’ve been working with an expert team at CAST to research, design and develop a new digital product for the single parents that Gingerbread supports. In the ‘agile’, ‘user-centred’ process we’re using, it’s all about the pivot!

That’s all well and good for me – immersed on a daily basis in the product’s development. But how do you bring an organisation along with you when the direction you’re going in changes weekly?

Here are three things I’ve learnt so far:


  1. It might not feel like a linear journey, but there’s still a story to tell

When you’re immersed in regular research and testing with service users, it’s very easy to forget that your colleagues are getting on with their day jobs. It’s important to step back from it all and identify the causes and effects. I had to remember to keep track of the multiple twists and turns that our design hypotheses were taking every day and week. Turning that into a coherent story that I could tell at review meetings (or just over a pint in the pub) helped team members at all levels understand why plans had changed.


  1. Explaining changes in service users’ words means it all makes sense

If something is not going to work for your service users, it’s not worth doing. But it can be tough to back away from an idea that you were championing just a few weeks before. When updating people on changes or challenging organisational assumptions, it helped to use the words captured from users during research and testing, rather than my own. Putting single parents’ perspectives first took the challenge out of change – it highlighted that every decision was for a reason, and that ultimately their experiences had to be the deciding factor.


  1. People aren’t as wedded to ideas as you might have thought

You never want to upset your colleagues or find that you’re ripping apart an idea that they love. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how open people have been to a change of plan when I took the time to keep them informed. Alongside any formal ‘show and tell’ meetings, my quick five-minute chats in the kitchen or brief check ins with key stakeholders before and after meetings helped everyone feel invested in the process as well as the outcome.

I can’t say I’ve got everything right. But we’ve successfully scrapped lots of ideas, we will shortly be starting development of a minimum viable product, and my Gingerbread colleagues still seem excited about it all. That feels like a good place to be!

Gingerbread is part of Fuse – the UK’s first digital accelerator for established nonprofits, grant-funded by Big Lottery Fund.


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