I’ve spent the past 5 years speaking, teaching, coaching and working with teams aspiring to bring a customer-centric point of view to their product development processes. Some have seen great success. Some, despite strong desire and a willingness to adapt have struggled. The challenges the successful teams have overcome have rarely been tactical ones. They’ve mostly stemmed from deep cultural challenges that manifested in rigid management directives driven by a “that’s how we’ve always done it” state of mind. Unfortunately, the way we’ve “always done it” is no longer working. Creativity, curiosity and uncertainty are the norms in a world of increasingly lower barriers to entry, consumer empowerment and software-driven everything. If I had to sum up the past 5 years’ worth of learnings into the 3 biggest shifts organizations need to make, they’d be these:
- Value and reward learning over shipping
Roadmaps, estimates and deadlines are relics from the days of industrial manufacturing. Learning is the currency of innovation. Understanding your customer, their needs and motivations and how well our ideas fit those needs, continuously, ensures we’re always on the hunt for better implementations, better features and better outcomes. Rewarding on time delivery simply guarantees customers get to use the wrong solution sooner. Instead, through continuously evolving understanding of the customer we incentivize our teams to solve their problems, declaring victory only when we’ve objectively measured positive changes in their behavior (i.e., outcomes).
2. Hire for curiosity
Never has hiring been more important and yet, in company after company, I see traditional hiring practices checking the same lists of technical skills they’ve been advertising for years. Programming languages come and go. Design tools evolve monthly. Curious problem solvers are agnostic to tools, languages and processes. They’re always craving the next challenge and have the aptitude to solve it. Yet aptitude is not enough. They must also have the attitude to know they are not infallible. They seek evidence and are not ashamed of admitting they were wrong. These are the qualities modern organizations must encourage. At the end of the day, there’s always a better way to do what your company does. The question is will your org find it, or will someone else?
3. Lead with humility
The concept of humility in leadership is a relatively modern one. Traditional leaders are strong, opinionated and direct with their delegation. It turns out, actually, that humble leaders are the same, with one exception. They admit when they’re wrong. It seems so simple yet it’s immensely powerful. If the CEO doesn’t know everything, then it becomes culturally ok to admit the same thing at other levels of the organization. This opens up debate, discussion and, yes, learning. The agile folks call this “servant leadership” and it’s a culture-defining quality necessary for modern product organizations to succeed.
These are the qualities I help the teams I work with instill into their individual projects and their management practices. In 2016 I’ll be setting out to bring these ideas to even more teams in cities around the world. I hope you, your managers and your teams will join me at one of these public Lean UX in the Enterprise workshops:
New York City – February 4, 2016 (hosted by Pearson Education)
Richmond, VA – February 9, 2016 (hosted by SnagAJob)
Tokyo, Japan – Feb 17, 2016 (hosted by IDEO)
Toronto, Canada – March 1, 2016 (hosted by Telus and The Lean Enterprise Meetup)
Don’t see your city? Let me know. I look forward to seeing you next year.