People. Process. Product.

Three lenses to improve your digital strategy

Doug Belshaw
6 min readOct 2, 2023
Rainbow-style image with ‘People’, ‘Product’, and ‘Process’ as separate colours
Image CC BY-ND Visual Thinkery for WAO

“You’ve got to have a system”, as they say. At WAO, we’ve got one that we often apply to strategy projects of all shapes and sizes. Especially digital ones. And it’s easy to remember! 3Ps: People. Process. Product*.

In practice, the 3Ps are a series of lenses we use with clients to ensure that we’re thinking through projects holistically. Below, we give an introduction on how to use it in practice.

*A note on the ordering — when we’re talking, we find it easier to say “People. Product. Process” rather than “People. Process. Product”, don’t you? But you can put them in any order, it’s up to you!


The Power of People

The foundation of any successful organisation is the people who are a part of it. When we talk about ‘People,’ we’re talking about the individuals who make up organisational teams, along with your stakeholders (such as your board), as well as the audience you serve. We also make sure to think about community members and volunteers who are furthering an organisation’s mission through their engagement. We place people at the heart of our approach to prioritise the building of meaningful relationships and also to promote diversity. After all, if we’re not working to strengthen connections and help people find purpose, what are we doing?

We find that people need:

  • Common language — there are often too many buzzwords in business, so clear and effective communication ensures that everyone understands one another. Having a shared understanding of a problem or a solution starts with the language we use. Synergy!
  • Bias towards open — create a more inclusive and engaging environment by encouraging open communication and embracing diverse perspectives. That means not just letting your files languish in unshared folders and making sure people have an opportunity to engage with the work.
  • Established trust — improve decision-making by creating a positive working environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported. Nonviolent communication strategies help here, even though the name is a bit weird.

The anthropologist Margaret Mead is credited with saying:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Behind every good project, initiative, and product are a group of talented people, working together. To harness the creativity and innovation of that group, we need to remember that they are humans with thoughts and feelings, as well as biases and complexities. Every group of people is different, so listening to the individuals you are working with and for is priority number one.


Streamlining Processes

By ‘Process,’ we mean the workflows and approaches that enable organisations to work effectively and sustainably. Efficient and well-structured processes play a crucial role in achieving an organisation’s strategic goals. It also leads to a more satisfying, productive, working environment.

We think that the following leads to better processes:

  • Adaptability in teams — the world is always changing, so organisational processes should be flexible and adaptable enough to change with them, to respond to new opportunities and new people. Flexibility isn’t just for gymnasts.
  • Challenge assumptions — it’s important for us all to reassess our existing beliefs, assumptions, and practices so that we can identify areas for improvement and innovation. Just because you’re used to doing things one way doesn’t make it the best one.
  • Data driven decision making — while Gary from Marketing might have a great idea, what does the data say? Organisation should base decisions and strategies on objective data and evidence rather than relying on intuition or guesswork.

A hugely important piece of developing effective processes is ensuring that they work for the people who will use them. More often than not, this includes documentation. Potentially boring? Yes. Skippable? No.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have rigid processes. In fact, adaptability is the key to all of this, and there should be an expectation that an organisation’s knowledge base is kept up-to-date by whoever used it last.


Embracing Innovative Products

The ‘Product’ component of our approach refers to the software platforms and tools we use and develop to support collaboration among internal and external stakeholders. You’re reading this on a screen thanks to several products. We use them all of the time, so it’s important to get the right ones.

The best products support:

  • Iterative strategies — organisations have to evolve to keep pace with changing circumstances, so the tools you use should enable you to continuously improve processes and outcomes. If you feel like you’re having to fight your tools, then perhaps they’re no longer the best ones?
  • Distributed power / Autonomy — every tool has one or more ‘default’ ways of being used. So we should both use and make tools available that enable users to make decisions as independently as possible.
  • Learning by doing — the tools we use and develop should solve real-world problems rather than create new ones for users. I’m looking at you, Clippy.

It should be fairly easy to find products that support processes that help people work well together. Sometimes, though, it involves taking multiple products and linking them together in new and interesting ways.

Although salespeople would like to tell you otherwise, there’s likely no ‘one platform to rule them all’, so we recommend making use of other techniques. You might like our Architecture of Participation and System Ecosystem tactics to help make sure your bases are covered.

Getting Started with this approach

If you want to use the ‘People, Product, Process’ approach within your organisation, consider the following steps:

  1. First, take a step back and have a good look at your organisation’s culture. Think about how you can improve things like people management, communication, and teamwork. This might involve taking your digital strategy out of the desk drawer. Or, indeed, writing one.
  2. Next, check out your current processes and workflows. Find any points of friction and opportunities to make things smoother. A diagram might come in handy to visualise all the things.
  3. Now it’s time to explore some tools and tech to help boost your team’s collaboration and productivity. Give them a test run and see which ones might work. Let other people try them out.
  4. Following this, it’s all about crafting a plan to bring those changes and improvements to life. Make sure your team’s in the loop and excited about the process by being open and keeping them in the know.
  5. Last but not least, keep an eye on how things are going with your new approach. Embrace the iterative mindset and tweak things as needed to keep things moving forward!


This approach provides a really simple but powerful series of lenses to unlock your digital strategy’s true potential. It’s designed to be a versatile approach, catering to organisations of all shapes and sizes.

So, if you’re ready to embark on this transformative journey and could use some guidance, let us know! We’re here to help you every step of the way 😊

Co-written with Laura Hilliger