The Tech Dept

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from The Tech Dept is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

The company combines strategy
and code to create business
CEO Dan Kirby (left) takes
clients through a tech
In 2019, The Tech Dept celebrate their 15th birthday, which
comes only two years after they had their worst-ever summer
in terms of sales figures. That forced them to fundamentally
re-evaluate their position and model and look again to first
principles. Upon doing so, they discovered a simple truth: that
their clients could better face the fast-changing and confusing
digital world if they focused first on what they were trying to
improve. The Tech Dept build customised web systems that
work for people, rather than the other way around. CEO Daniel
Kirby tells
The Parliamentary Review
My business partner Richard Grundy and I launched the business in 2004 with a
software product, but after three years we changed strategy to offer companies a
service: making custom web technology. We’ve always been a boutique, employing
around 20 people from our headquarters in Sheffield, with a strong sales presence
in London. As a company, we were named one of the top 100 digital agencies in
the UK by The Drum, and in 2017 I was included in a list of the 25 most innovative
people in Europe, the Middle East and Asia by the Holmes Report.
Our clients include BBC Children in Need, whose fundraising platform we built.
They said of our work:“We wouldn’t have made another record-breaking year
without you. Fact.” We helped the World Wildlife Fund increase their donations
by double digits, prototyped digital products for the Premier League and built
Activision’s digital asset management platform to look after their images, videos
and documents.
»Directors: Dan Kirby and Rick
»Established in 2004
»Based in Sheffield
»Services: Digital improvement
»No. of employees: 15
»Hosted three events at Great
Britain House in SXSW, Austin
Texas in 2017 (involving two
The Tech Dept
Highlighting best practice
Over the years, we’ve invested in
three tech start-ups and developed
numerous digital innovations. The R&D
tax credits programme has helped us
continue to invest in new technology
and is a great support.
What you think you want
Technology change is arguably
the biggest issue we all face. Every
conference, trade magazine and
economic expert is rightly talking about
disruption and digital transformation.
The apps, the platforms, the innovative
new features – more than ever, it has
become necessary to empower your
IT team and to hire clever consultants.
This is understandable, because
software is consuming the world, and
the answer to what you need is usually
some form of new digital technology.
Even until recently, if you called our
company, you’d find us adhering
to the principle oftechnology first.
However, we have changed our
view since then. This is because we
discovered that what is needed isn’t
new technology but rather business
What you need
If you focus first on what you’re trying
to improve, your technology strategy
is simpler, because you don’t actually
want a new website; you want more
sales. You don’t want a new CRM;
you want your customers to feel
in control. You don’t want a new
intranet; you want your team to talk
to each other.
By starting with “why”, you can
quickly get everyone up to speed
on what’s important – which is the
improvement, not the technology. The
focus on improvement becomes the
North Star in a long-term journey – a
direction in which to head, with many
steps along the way, some of which
(maybe most) are technological.
Jeff Bezos attributes Amazon’s success
to the number of experiments they
run. Because most new things fail,
the more experiments you run, the
more likely you are to succeed. It’s
a numbers game. The trick is to
design your experiment to be fast
(so it doesn’t cost a lot of time) and
focused (so it doesn’t cost a lot of
money), while also ensuring that you
capture and systematically build on
any lessons.
This means a shift in your thinking,
from technology being something
you “commission and launch” to it
becoming something you “test and
continuously improve” – a step-by-
step process, navigating, through
trial and error, towards your North
Star. By uncovering this truth, we
created genuine alignment with the
interests of our customers. Instead
of selling technology, we now create
Business wellbeing through
The team at The Tech Dept have a
clear purpose every day. We do one
Encouraging an open
culture, they operate
a ‘management as a
service’ philosophy
Because most
new things
fail, the more
you run, the
more likely
you are to
thing: create improvement. To achieve
this, we run one process, which we call
a “tech bootcamp”.
Our tech bootcamps are built on three
principles: first, create a quick plan
– this should take no more than two
hours; second, take focused action
– the simplest thing for the biggest
impact and lowest cost; third, measure
the results and continue to improve
accordingly, or kill the project (either
way, you learn something).
This approach simplifies unnecessary
complexity and creates improvement
over time. If you went to the gym
and did a bootcamp every day, you’d
be physically much fitter after a few
weeks; the same principle applies to
your technology.
This is an important component
of improving your business and
unlocking its latent potential, yet it
simultaneously helps improve the
wellbeing of your team and customers
– because bad technology results in
stress. A stressed team is unproductive,
and stressed customers don’t spend
money with you.
The future
The simple truth we discovered in
2017 has given us great purpose and
unlocked great value. We believe
we will grow by a factor of ten over
the next decade as a result. Such
success builds on our exceptionally
open culture: we aim to operate with
“radical candour” and a concept of
“management as a service”, whereby
we invert the traditional organisation
chart hierarchy – the founders “serving”
the management, the management
serving the team, and so on.
Our focus on wellbeing has led us
to be one of two founder sponsors
of Getahead, a not-for-profit
initiative which has made a 25-year
commitment to help a billion people
“get ahead without burning out” by
holding an annual festival in London.
From our perspective, the best thing
that government can do is to continue
to encourage innovation and help
businesses take advantage of the great
opportunities the 21st century brings.
That way, UK plc will only improve.
We believe we
will grow by a
factor of ten
over the next
decade as a
The Tech Dept is a
founder sponsor of
Getahead Festival

This article was sponsored by The Tech Dept. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.