In a world where consumer demand changes as fast as the direction of the wind, the demand on enterprises to rapidly deliver change is never more prominent. Enterprises need to change the way they drive value to their customers or face the threat of being disrupted.
In the modern digital climate consumers are adopting new technologies at light speed and great customer experience is no longer appreciated, it’s expected.
It’s difficult for enterprises with digital products and services to keep up and they are at threat of being disrupted by more nimble, innovative competitors that can deliver new products with great customer experience at rapid speed and scale.
Enterprises are simply not structuring themselves or implementing the right approach to deliver value to customers fast. They need to change the focus to be solely on driving value to the customer by shaping their business model to be much leaner, focus on collaboration and be bolder with technology decisions.
Focus on the User
To be able to constantly deliver change to customers it is paramount that everything that you do in digital product development is customer driven. Not a single design, feature or even a line of code should be written unless there is a well-defined user-driven reason for doing it. This philosophy should engulf your entire operation and all of your teams with user-driven requirements flowing across all departments involved in the digital product development. This will encourage cross-collaboration of departments and a single-minded attitude toward driving value to your customers.
A common example of why this is important is highlighted when an organisation allows digital product development to be driven by IT, allowing a full enterprise services layer to be built prior to any front-end web design or development. The problem with this is that you get a suite of enterprise services that try to be all things to all men, second guessing all of the requirements that will be required by a user. You end up with a monolithic system that has many expensive features that will never be used. This type of legacy process can also take years to deliver if delivered at all. This inhibits an organisation's ability to innovate, with them unable to deliver rapidly changing customer experiences and risking the threat of losing ground on their more nimble competitors.
Customer experience is about value
Great User Experience is about providing users with value. Key to achieving value is to get new experiences to them quickly. The only way you can do this effectively is to build Lean/Agile processes that focus on shipping new features, fast. The Lean/Agile mindset encourages you to not have to wait for everything to be perfectly spec-ed out before starting to develop.
The sooner you get features into live, the sooner you can learn from how real customers engage with what you have built and can then iterate. It is ok to update features once they are in the live environment and you should be prepared to iterate production features to continuously improve customer experience.
Always remember that spending too much time in the design phase of a digital product is depriving your customers of value. All customer facing digital products provide zero value until they are delivered to the customer.
Don’t be afraid of the customer
Many organisations are afraid of their customers. They’re scared of bugs or things not being 100% perfect when they are presented to the customer. This is an old way of thinking that is reminiscent of pre-digital landscapes and processes that only operate in one direction. Printed or manufactured goods could not be iterated, rolled back or have fixes applied easily, and the results could be disastrous for the reputation or profit margins of the company.
Today you should be unafraid of criticism and value your customer’s voice. Build brand ambassadors of your customers and involve them in every step of developing digital products that they are going to end up using. Your customers want to be your testers, so let them do just that. Ship new features into live as often as possible and ask your customers to provide feedback. Testing with customers in the live environment is the future of digital businesses in the agile environment. This will substantially increase the possibility of you building digital experiences that your customers will love to use.
Qualitative vs Quantitative
Enterprises and design agencies are too focused on qualitative research and don’t put enough emphasis on quantitative research. Qualitative research, testing with small subsets of potential users to understand behaviour, motivation etc. is vitally important and should be performed on every project. However, doing too much qualitative research up-front is effectively returning to a waterfall methodology so common 10 years ago. The sooner you can get features into ive and start learning from data giving you real insight into the behaviour of a much larger, real audience, the better. Data will always give a more accurate representation of how people are going to engage with your product or service and provide better insight for you to then tweak your customer experience in the live environment.
Re-structure for better cross-departmental collaboration
Cross-functional teams are key
In many organisations departments (Business stakeholders, Product, Creative, Technology etc….) own various different stages of the process, working in silos. This results in poor visibility of progress across departments and a lack of cohesive co-operation between them. Silos between departments should be broken down.
All departments that have responsibility for digital products and services should be working much more collaboratively as one team with one common goal; to provide value to the customer.
Once silos are removed across departments, the delivery teams assembled to deliver the solution should include all of the resources with the required skillsets needed. Business Stakeholders, Product, Creative and Technology Departments need to collaborate closer than ever before because delivering digital products via a truly collaborative environment is the only way to keep up with competitors and customer demand.
Shorten the feedback loop
Wherever possible, co-location is essential to improve productivity as it allows for real conversations. If cross-functional teams are all sat next to each other, the speed at which issues can be resolved, the quality of what is designed and delivered and the speed at which ideas can be brought to life is far greater. One of the significant advantages of the Lean/Agile model specifically with using cross-functional teams is that the technology and product design teams can validate each other’s work and everyone is involved in honing and improving the process. Margin for error is reduced vastly and the feedback loop to improve issues is far tighter.
Accountability and reporting
Removing department silos and building a process that is a true representation of a user-driven requirement through every stage of its lifecycle allows greater visibility of where bottlenecks are introduced. This transparency makes everyone accountable because there are interdependencies across departments, it allows continuous improvement of the process if bottlenecks are clearly highlighted early. All of this results in an uplift in productivity and a continuously improving unified team.
Implement Lean/Agile ways of working
Lean/Agile applies to user experience and visual design too
Implementing Lean/Agile methodologies will allow you to deliver value to your customers quickly, by eliminating waste, speeding up delivery, continuously improving the process and being adaptable to change. However, the Lean/Agile approach is not only relevant to software development. Too much user experience and design up-front is analogous to waterfall methodologies, is too slow and is not adaptable to change. User Experience and Visual Design needs to be tightly integrated into the development effort and the Lean/Agile process, focussed on shipping features into live. Removing departmental silos will help to facilitate this shift in mindset.
Write production quality code
It is not always practical, but wherever possible, the team should try to write code that is production quality. This is a core principle of Lean/Agile. The focus should always be on shipping production quality code. Building high-fidelity prototypes that are not architected for a production environment simply for user testing is a waste of effort. You can user test on production quality code whether live or not but you still have the option to put it live whenever you want.
Building a continuous deployment pipeline is critical to being able to achieve the pace of change required to deliver value to customers. Continuous deployment and the technology and process behind has the goal of releasing software in minutes rather than days, weeks or months. With continuous deployment you can ship new features to customers multiple times a day, drive waste out of your process and increasing the tempo of work. Gone are the days of 3-4 releases per year, with a large amount of manual processes and large margin for error.
Be Bold with Technology
You're going to get fired for choosing IBM
To deliver change regularly, the big-bang multi-year projects costing 10’s of millions of pounds are no longer going to be viable. You need to be bold and innovative when choosing technology rather than settling for the norm. In order to achieve the points set out in this article, you have to have a fast, scalable and flexible technology platform to support it.
The speed at which technology is evolving is incredible. So fast in fact, that the technology stack on projects evolve during the project lifecycle. You need to build your digital products using a modular approach. Use small, simple pieces of functionality that can be assembled like Lego blocks into a large, complex digital product, so when new technology is released that is better than what your current technology choices include, you can rip old things out and replace them without any negative impact. By doing this, you get an amazingly flexible technology platform that is always current. Gone are the days where you have to do forklift upgrades on end-of-life proprietary platforms.
The open source software revolution has exploded the speed of change and the biggest companies (Oracle, IBM et al) just cannot adapt at the speed at which the collective open source community can. Companies such as IBM try to innovate through acquisition folding in a so-called disruptive, or game-changing, technology developed by another company or acquire them for their employees known for their creative and profitable output. These acquisitions often go wrong with large companies struggling to integrate acquired products and services into their existing product suite; or their internal processes hinder the very creativity and effectiveness that they bought in the acquired people. The result is an inability to develop at the pace that they’d planned, innovation ceasing to happen and a loss of the people. Innovation through acquisition just can’t compete with the real open source community.
Being adaptable to change and driving value to your customers is not just about implementing agile/lean processes and changing business requirements, your technology platform has to adapt to change with it in order to keep up or risk the threat of being disrupted by your competitors.
Artwork by Nathalie Goepel
24th March 2016 Cain Ullah