Tiffany St James: Practical Transformation, the trials and tribulations of digital transformation – setting strategy

Tiffany St James is one of the UK’s most experienced digital transformation specialists, the founder of Transmute and former Head of Public Participation for the UK Government. She is now also NDA’s new monthly columnist.

Last month I looked at how to craft the vision for your organisation. This month we’re going to look at how to get from a vision statement to a practical digital transformation strategy. Let’s go.

What do we mean by strategy?

First of all, let’s call out what we mean by strategy. When anyone asks you for a strategy, nine times out of ten, they also mean they want an implementation plan.

If the Vision is ‘Why’, then your Strategy is ‘What’ – ‘What you are going to do to get there?’ and the implementation plan becomes ‘How’. Increasingly organisations are more interested in the ‘How’ and ‘How much’ than the strategic direction to get you where you need to be. However, you absolutely need to lay out what you are trying to achieve.

There are a few approaches to strategic frameworks, and I’m going to lay out three of the most common below.

Timing and Direction

Digital innovation is a fast-moving beast and I strongly advise you not to write a five-year plan for your digital transformation. The vision is where you want to be, but the plan to get there will change. The innovations that will be brought to market during the course of the next five years will absolutely change your priorities.

It’s critical that you know where you are heading and have a strong vision of where you want to be, but you’ll set yourself up for a fall if you articulate a five-year digital transformation strategy and implementation plan at the outset. What you will do, deliver and change in the next 12 months will affect how your approach the rest of the organisation transformation or suite of transformational projects.

You’ll need to know where you are heading, and what you are going to do to deliver against your vision in the next 12 months.

A 12-month delivery plan

Setting a light strategic vision and a high-level 12-month delivery plan is the quickest way to get off the starting blocks.

Key themes

From your vision craft up to five key themes that your organisation needs to approach overall and in the longer term to deliver your vision. Common themes include:

  • Your organisation approach to data
  • Your focus on investing in and harnessing talent
  • Your focus on customer
  • How committed you are to user-centred design
  • Organisation culture change

You may for example need an absolute overhaul of your back-end systems, but that would fit into a higher-level theme of either data or focus on customer. 

If you followed the principles of engaging your internal and external audiences as we discussed in the vision article, you’ll have a wealth of input to draw these from.


What are the guiding principles you will operate under? Are there industry frameworks that you operate under, adhere to, or just think you should? For public sector that may be the Government Digital Service Design Principles, whether you are in or out of the public sector, they are recognised as a world standard in good service design here.

Future outcomes

Under each of the themes, map out the future outcomes you want to achieve. These are not the 12-month outcomes but the future specific outcomes you are aiming for under each of the themes.

Keep it manageable, you may want to choose three to eight depending on your team size, or the ambition of your team to make the digital changes necessary.

Articulate Tasks

Under each of the future outcomes you wish to achieve, state what practical tasks that will be done in the next 12 months to deliver against each of the outcomes. Not to achieve the outcomes overall, but what will be feasible to deliver in the next 12 months, so progress has been made against each.

These tasks then become your 12-month delivery plan, sequence them into what you will achieve against a quarterly or monthly production plan for the year ahead.


The UK Central Government treat outcomes differently, they fold outcomes into how programmes are evaluated. The Government Communication Service (GCS) has developed a framework for Campaign Planning that is useful structure to underpin many strategies wider than comms planning.

Their framework is called OASIS and the full details of it are published in the open and are here. It can also be used for digital and social media strategy and digital transformation strategy.

Diagram of OASIS, UK Government Campaign Planning approach.

Longer-form strategy structure

If your business requires a more in-depth strategy here are the strategy headlines to help with your construction, you can adapt these if you need a shorter version but here’s the long list in order.

Outline the Vision, Ambition and Opportunity

  • Overall Organisation Objectives
  • Organisation Strategic Priorities 
  • Business Drivers
  • Sector Overview 
  • Digital Vision / Digital Transformation Vision
  • Themes
  • Digital Transformation Objectives / Outcomes
  • Operating Principles
  • High-level recommendations
  • Management resource implications

Audiences and Insight

  • Key audiences (eg Customers, Key Internal Stakeholders, Partners)
  • Stakeholder maps
  • Insight on audiences
  • Direction: where audiences are and where you want to move them to


  • Strategic Approach (eg Growth, Data, Customer Focus, Improving delivery)


  • Challenges and what this means for your organisation
  • Risks
  • Risk Mitigation
  • Benefit Realisation

The above headings form the strategy and below is the implementation plan.

Implementation Plan Structure

  • Objective
  • Audience
  • Channel / Digital Change
  • Activity
  • Measurement 
  • Responsibility
  • Timing

Always write your objectives in a singular context. They will be harder to measure if you include two or more aspects. Have between 3-10 Objectives, any more will be harder to implement. A useful way to measure your implementation plan is to lay it out horizontally so that you have a singular activity against a singular audience and objective. This makes each element much easier to evaluate. 

Next up in this series, we will cover: how to identify and prioritise digital projects – what do you tackle first, team design, digital change pipeline and digital programme governance.

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