Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness. It offers advice, support and legal services, and campaigns to address the causes of the housing crisis.
The Shelter digital team is a key part of that work, supporting the diverse needs of the different parts of the organisation.
Over time the digital team found that Shelter’s fundraising, campaigning and services directorates had different needs and planning cycles. This was causing some challenges. First, scheduling and scoping the work for each directorate was hard, as it meant constantly juggling the different priorities of the organisation. Second, it was hard to schedule in the digital team’s own priorities, such as finding ways to automate common manual processes, or refactoring code to avoid technical debt.
The digital team put together a strategic plan to tackle the challenges. They tested whether it was a prioritisation or capacity issue, and put measures in place to track how they were spending their time. This helped the team build a really clear understanding of exactly what digital support each directorate needed.
This insight helped them to plan a new model of delivery. Rather than having a large, central team, they saw that the differing needs of each directorate would be better served if each one had their own smaller, cross-functional product team made up of a product manager, developer, content designer and user experience designer. They also saw the need for a cross-organisational team who could create efficiencies for the whole organisation by developing things like design patterns and templates that could be reused. The team tested this approach with one of the directorates and it worked well.
Based on the data from their tracking and the successful trial, the team got support from their board and colleagues to recruit more staff and scale this new model across the organisation.
They’ve found huge benefits with the new approach to building the right team. Having dedicated product managers working with each directorate helped the team better understand the needs of each area of the organisation and build bespoke roadmaps.
Importantly, it’s also given breathing space to think about Shelter’s audience and do discovery work to better understand their needs. That’s combined with a more iterative, test-driven approach to development, where products are gradually improved over time.
Working closely with each directorate also means the digital team now has a better insight into the workflow of the entire organisation. Partly that’s helped them to manage capacity more effectively. But it also means they can understand where the same solution could be reused and build or buy in technology to reduce duplication.
The digital team are also finding that, because of the changes, the work that comes through is more outcome and data driven.
It’s been a long journey – over 18 months to get from understanding the problem to today. But it’s an approach that is already paying dividends and ensuring the resources of the organisation are focussed on delivering the maximum benefit for the millions of people Shelter helps every year.
About the Principle
Build the right team
How does this apply to the case study?
To make an effective digital product or service you need the right mix of people, skills, knowledge and experience. You need to combine: technical skills, subject expertise, user insight and design. The team needs to be supported by a product manager who can coordinate and support them.