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As the wars on Twitter rage on ad nauseam about what design actually is and whether user experience (UX) is a real thing that people can work on, one thing remains immutable: understanding your customers, their needs, their obstacles and providing them with products and services that respect their time, delight them, entertain them and make them successful in whatever it is they’re trying to do — be it buy a pair of shoes online, apply for a mortgage or complete a task at work — is the one sure-fire (yes, it’s a silver bullet) to success in a crowded marketplace.
If you’ve been looking for that innovative breakthrough to rekindle your company’s creative spirit or have challenged your teams with “reinventing” the way you do business, you need look no further than your target market. In his fantastic piece on the bankruptcy of Gibson Guitars, Matt LeMay points out that Gibson’s CEO repeatedly pushed for “brute force” innovation that celebrated the technology and the celebrities who endorsed it but rarely recognized the guitar player and, perhaps most importantly, the evolving demographics of guitar buyers and players. Fender Guitars, on the other hand, did exactly the opposite. Looking deeply at their market, changing consumer consumption patterns, new technologies and where the industry was headed overall they focused on and celebrated their customers — both the die-hard loyalists AND the first-time buyers who increasingly were tech-savvy women. Fender is thriving. Gibson is going out business.
The techniques Fender used aren’t a mystery. They’ve been around a long time. For years they’ve gone by the umbrella term, Design. These techniques that include research, synthesis, customer development, interaction design, industrial design, visual design, copywriting, content strategy and many other skills, give your company (as they did Fender) the ability to assess what your audience continues to crave and where their needs are headed. They allow you to test new ideas quickly and cheaply. They provide you with the ability to understand how to best meet changing market needs and to deliver on your brand’s promise in a way that meets and exceeds your customers’ expectations.
More recently these same techniques have found their way into the mainstream of the business world with the broad success of the Lean Startup movement (customer development anyone? prototyping?) and the boardroom invasion of Design Thinking. And while the struggles of integrating Design into the cadences of Agile software-development are well-documented, solutions abound for those willing to put in the effort.
Design is often cited as a bottleneck. It slows down the software production process, critics say — reducing “velocity.” Agile teams struggle to bring designers effectively into their workflow often resorting to upfront design phases that can then feed the software development machine (aka waterfall). It turns out though that, if properly integrated as a first-class citizen of the product development team, Design actually increases the agility of a team.
As we discussed last month, agility is NOT measured in the amount of code we produce. Instead, it’s measured in the way we positively impact customer behavior (outcomes). By bringing in regular customer insight, prototyping new ways of interacting with those customers and deeply understanding what success means to them, we empower our product development teams to collaboratively design the best product. Sometimes that will be a code-based improvement. Other times it may be a change to the instructional text. By providing the skills underneath the Design umbrella to our teams and demanding they use them to ensure we’re meeting customer needs we’re creating truly agile ways of working. Executives not deploying and empowering their designers to do their best work are reducing their company’s ability to react to changing market conditions. And leaving a ton of money on the table.
P.S. — The topic of design for executives is the focus of one of our next books at Sense & Respond Press. Written by veteran design leader Audrey Crane it’s the best and fastest resource to educating your leadership and your teams on the value of great design. More info can be found here.
P.S. — Do you work in HR? Do you think HR plays a key role in the transformation of the organization? I’ve been working with my friends at NUMA Paris on an internal training program for process transformation and professional development teams called Agile to agility. If you’d like to learn more, check out our site and reach out directly.
As we head towards the summer slow down, I’m looking ahead to the fall for some great events. Join me for these amazing workshops in 2018:
As always, if you want me to work directly with your company on training, coaching or workshops on the topics of organizational agility, digital transformation, product discovery and agile leadership, don’t hesitate to reach out or consider micro-hiring me for short, remote consultations. Each consultation slot is 60 minutes long, you send me your topics in advance, we exchange a couple of emails to set context and then connect via video conf for the scheduled time. Pick a time that works for you.