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10 Things to Anticipate When Starting a Digital Experience Strategy

A digital experience strategy can help enterprises and institutions effectively leverage technology at scale.

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A digital experience strategy can help enterprises and institutions effectively leverage technology at scale. When executed well, these strategies describe how to create impactful products and services that are orchestrated to work together — now and in the foreseeable future.

(A “digital experience strategy” in this context is neither a marketing nor a business strategy. It’s a strategic approach to creating a better customer/constituent experience by refining and developing many digital products and services, used in concert across the corporate ecosystem.)

Having partnered with Highland’s clients on a few digital experience strategies recently, here are 10 things I’ve learned that can save you some headaches and restless nights if you’re embarking on a similarly ambitious project.


1. Get clear on the big question(s) the strategy is meant to answer.

At the end of the day, you’re designing a strategy that informs how to better connect and enable people, products, systems, and services. It’s important to know upfront what you’re seeking to learn, so you can create a strategy that will become a key reference when making future decisions about product mix, ecosystem architecture, and team development.

Key questions to answer may include:

Who are the customer/constituent segments we are looking to serve? What experiences and value do they expect? What outcomes do we intend to influence?

What are the key systems we are seeking to understand/innovate with/invent anew? How can we reimagine them to be more effective?

What do we know (and not know) about these people & systems today? What is our present knowledge of how the people and systems work together (or not)?

What are the key forces behind the initiative to create a digital experience strategy to begin with? Who is involved & why?

How might the strategy fail, if key individuals or departments are not consulted? Who is our guide(s) for identifying them?

2. Identify the key deliverables up front.

Deliverables should answer the big questions above and communicate how to move the organization forward conscientiously. They need to define the boundaries and core elements of the digital ecosystem, and communicate the vision for how to improve and leverage it. They should clearly articulate the value people are looking for, and where and how in the organization’s digital ecosystem this value can be found or generated.

Some key deliverables Highland often includes in our digital experience strategies include:

  • Ecosystem Model: Who & what key people & systems are a part of the digital landscape? How do we listen to or measure their needs & interactions, thereby informing impactful design?
  • Journey Maps: What is the end-to-end experience for key customers/constituents, over time and across the ecosystem?
  • JTBD Matrix: What are the most important Jobs to be Done across customer/constituent segments, throughout their journeys?
  • Service & Systems Map: What are the people, props, and products that constitute touchpoints & channels as customers/constituents progress through their journey(s)? How does data move between them?
  • Opportunities & Solutions Matrix: What areas within the ecosystem are most in need of reconstitution, or ripe for innovation, to better enable JTBD and completed Journeys? How might we address these?

An example Service & Systems Map, illustrating the complexity of the digital ecosystem processes and pathways

3. Know who your champions are (and aren’t).

No digital strategy will get anywhere beyond the presentation deck without the leadership and motivation to carry it forward. There should ideally be champions at different levels of the organization. Executives, management, and line of business all need to understand how the strategy will relate to their missions. A big part of the work is understanding company culture and creating alignment along the way.

With your champions’ help, identify those who are most likely to question the value of the strategy you’re proposing. Understand that while many will welcome, encourage, and offer advice for creating new ways of doing things, others will fear it, or be skeptical because of prior failures, or entrenched beliefs. You will want to include some of these people in your research interviews to ensure that they feel included in the process.

4. Be aware of what other initiatives are underway.

Part of mitigating conflict or redundancy later on is identifying and coming alongside other big projects and roadmaps that are already in flight (or that take flight during your project). This is especially true of other organizational projects that have an impact on customer experience. By working to integrate — and not supersede — these efforts, you can find additional champions and create a more cohesive plan. You’ll also create more impact for the customer while saving precious time, resources, and emotional energy.

A sample Journey Map from Highland client Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which helped them understand the experience of parents taking their children to the ER

5. Budget time & money for sourcing & compensating research participants.

It will almost always take more time than you expect to find the right people to talk to, so make sure to give yourself some buffer for this phase of work.

You should also set aside some budget up front to pay research participants. If you’re paying people in the form of a stipend or a gift card, it should be significant enough that it generates sufficient interest from your ideal participants. Low interest from participants means you’ll spend a lot of time trying to find people to talk to, which can quickly become expensive (and frustrating).

From an ethical research perspective, it’s important to make sure you’re compensating people fairly for the time they are giving to you. Providing a generous reward for research participation can also help increase the diversity of your research population.

6. Identify sacred cows as early as possible.

Digital ecosystems often suffer because no one wants to kill the sacred cow, even if it’s time to do so. It can be hard to move away from — or acknowledge the limitations of — a platform that has years of time, money and team development in it. Identify which products & platforms are sacred cows that some people within the organization are unwilling to sacrifice, and design the strategy with them in mind. Also, acknowledge the work, knowledge, and sunk cost that have contributed to them becoming sacred in the first place.

7. Know where the change management is coming from.

It’s important to understand who will go about doing the work of implementing the digital experience strategy once it’s left in the organization’s hands. Recommendations for change management should be included in your strategy so that it is truly actionable when completed. Even better, begin this work while the strategic work is underway, aided by the goodwill of seeking input from those throughout the organization.

8. You can’t possibly learn everything; decide where to draw the line.

You can’t solve every big problem. And you can’t give equal attention to all constituents. It’s important to clarify your scope early on and to continue revisiting it throughout the project when you feel yourself starting to spiral. This will help you prioritize which activities and insights are actually important, and which can be cut. Return to your key questions and deliverables as a way to stay grounded.

There’s always a tipping point where you’ve learned as much as you can effectively synthesize and integrate into the strategy, with the time/team/budget provided.

We tend to spend about 2/3 of our time in “understanding” mode, and 1/3 of our time in “solutioning” mode. Anticipate the inflection point and know when to reframe your perspective.

9. Solve for governance as you solve for architecture.

Without good governance, organizations find that over time they have a digital ecosystem made up of products that don’t talk to each other or that are redundant, and — most importantly — do not contribute to a successful customer journey.

At Highland we generate models for digital ecosystem governance via two primary perspectives: Along the Journey, and From the Outside-In.

Enterprises often have program administrators and IT teams that are insulated from customer concerns. We’ve found it is crucial that these are not the only people designing and deciding the architecture of your digital ecosystem. Ideally, there should be a cross-functional governance team including people with technical (& design) know-how, people directly connected to the customer, and people who understand business strategy.

An abstracted Governance Model, showing the key conduits from customer journey, to staff supporting the journey, to staff responsible for architecting the system, to the digital ecosystem itself

10. Look for quick wins.

The best way to make sure your strategy is actually implemented is identify quick wins. You’re sure to have identified dozens (maybe even hundreds) of opportunities for improvement throughout the process of creating your digital strategy. Close to the conclusion of the project, evaluate impact & feasibility of your opportunities to identify which of those improvements can make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. This will allow your champions to tangibly demonstrate the value of the work you’ve done together, and make it easier to continue the process of transformation.