Mike Crook is our Chief Digital Officer and in the past year has taken the lead on an overhaul of PracticeWeb’s proposition, positioning, products and services.
PracticeWeb’s editor, Ray, sat down with Mike to find out how he went about getting from a blank project plan to finished product, what he learned on the way, and what goes through his head in the gym late at night.
You’ve been cornered at a party by someone who’s already had a few lagers. They ask what you do for a living. What’s the clearest explanation you can give them?
The point of it is to help the business go from its current to its future state through people, process, technology and innovation, and also be more customer-centric – to keep bringing people back to what the customer needs.
I’m quite new here and with an outsider’s eye it can sometimes look as if your role is about managing processes, but the processes are a means to an end?
I’d like to think so.
The day job is, first, to run the product the team – making sure we’ve got a vision, roadmaps, and the structure to get those products developed, and continually improving, aligned to customer needs.
Secondly, it’s about managing the support team, to make sure the products and customers are being given the attention they need.
Then we’ve got production – the operational side, managing 20 to 30 projects at any one time. And that is about process.
What was your role in the relaunch of the PracticeWeb website?
What I wanted to make sure had happened is that the website acts as a showcase for all of our thinking and research. It has to clearly articulate how we’ve changed, and our vision.
Sift, PracticeWeb’s parent company, has been through a process of change and evolution in the past few years and this website is really the first thing we’ve produced together in our new form. It’s the flagship for our whole transformation project.
Most people would find a big transformation programme pretty daunting. When you’re faced with a blank page, or an empty project plan, where do you start?
We knew what we had wasn’t what we needed in the long term. There were signs that change needed to come, which is what kicked off the whole project.
The first step was customer research. A colleague and I went out and talked to people, interviewed them, saw the whites of their eyes, and brought it all back for a big playback session – here’s what we’ve learned.
How long did all that take?
We allowed ourselves a good couple of months. Before we could make a change we needed to understand the state of the market, where the opportunities were, what we weren’t doing that people might want.
When we came back to the table it was very much about, “What’s the gap?”
Then it was about turning all of that into a compelling proposition, products and services all aligned to our customer needs.
Do you approach that like I’d approach writing – thinking, outlines, drafts…?
Yes, very much so. You find frameworks, you find examples of how other people have tackled the same question. I’ve read a lot of books on lean development and lean startups so there were a few case studies I could draw on to give structure to the project in the first instance.
It’s about nailing a vision – why are we doing this? Where do we want to get to? Then a business case – what’s the best way of achieving this, what resources do we need, and so on.
It’s also important to articulate what it’s all about, to get people involved, and bring them along with you. When you’ve been living and breathing it in those early stages, it can be easy to forget that it’s a mystery to your colleagues.
How does it feel now the website is up and running, and the new products and services are all but finalised?
It feels pretty good. There comes a point when you have to say, right, that’s enough comments and feedback – we could keep doing this forever, but it’s time to start locking things down and put it out there. I’m really proud of the way we’ve all worked together on this, and it does feel like something we can all own.
I’m also really pleased that we are ‘eating our own dog food’. Do you know that phrase?
No, I haven’t. It sounds disgusting, but intriguing.
The idea is that dog food manufacturers used to eat their own product to demonstrate its quality. In our case it was about going through the processes and using the technology that we’re proposing our clients should.
We’ve developed personas, focused on customers, defined a niche – rather than jumping straight into designing websites, which I think is what we might have done a few years ago. And we’re actually using our own Horizon product to power the new PracticeWeb website, which I think is great. That’s putting our money where our mouth is.
One last thing… I’ve heard rumours that your exercise routine could give Mark Wahlberg a run for his money – is that true?
Well, I don’t get up at 2 in the morning. I started going to the gym for health reasons but it is a bit addictive. I go mostly at night and I’d like to say it’s great reflective time, that I solve loads of technical problems, but actually it’s part of my shutdown routine. I don’t think about anything!