The pace at which technology is changing the way businesses think about their products, customers, and operations has never been faster or more aggressive. Even the most innovative planning can't always adequately address the rapidity with which markets are evolving across sectors and geographies. Analytics generated through robust data strategies can yield valuable insights, but when it comes time to make choices and take action based on those insights, how can you be sure that what you're doing is right?
The days of building monolithic systems as a means of solving for a problem are over. No one has the time to weather a multi-year build plan while other businesses are racing to market with adaptable solutions. More importantly, as a factor of the shortening of time available to make solid choices, the old ways of working–planning, design, engineering, and testing in sequential order–are simply incompatible with product development as it stands today. Agile methodologies are popular for a reason: they produce visible results more quickly and provide more flexibility when it comes to changing course.
Trying to solve a customer’s problem today by delivering a solution 18-24 months from today is a recipe for disaster. Businesses must create, test, iterate, and believe in the process in order to make any kind of forward progress. By the time you’ve figured out what you think is the right answer, the question you’re answering has already changed. It’s a process that is just wholly incongruous with reality.
Success often feels like an alchemic blend of information, decision-making, and timing. But there are pragmatic steps that can be taken to progressively move toward this goal with a higher level of certainty. It involves a shift in the way businesses think about risk and reward, coupled with an evolved view of IT investment and product development.
You can think about it in terms of three basic activities: decide, design, and deliver.
Identify the problem. What’s the job to be done? Get people from different parts of the business together and talk about how to approach it. A team comprised of individuals with varied operational backgrounds can often yield interesting approaches or nuance to the way a problem is addressed that won’t naturally emerge with a team made up of people all thinking along similar lines. Capture all ideas–good, bad, or otherwise, it doesn’t matter–because you never know where positive creative connections will occur. As a group, decide what’s the most important part and tackle this first, keeping a tight focus on meeting that goal.
Envision what a solution looks like–not the solution, but a solution. You probably won’t get it 100% right the first time and understanding and accepting that eventuality is part of the process. Your cross-functional team should be thinking in a number of dimensions together, accounting for user experience, technical feasibility, and pragmatic operational sensibility for the business. With a variety of different approaches to the problem, you can achieve a balance within the solution that at least accounts for the holistic needs of the business in delivering the idea. This doesn’t mean everyone gets what they want–it means that products don’t exist in a vacuum without considering their broader impact, and recognizing that helps everyone think about the reality of scaling clearly.
Build it, ship it, test it, and get as much data about it as you possibly can. You absolutely have to pick a point, stop building, and get your idea in the hands of users–whether that’s internal to the business or external customers–to understand if you’re on the right path. No one likes bad news, but it’s a lot better to hear you’ve spent a few weeks thinking about the wrong things than a few months… or worse, years! It’s this phase of the process that is so critical because a team can spend an eternity positing what the best solution to a problem is without ever asking a single user. There’s always a possibility that you may eventually land on the right answer, but the time it takes to get there might be too much for the business to bear, and it’s worth remembering that “perfect is the enemy of good”. You don’t need perfection. You need data–and insight–and you need to incorporate that into your thinking.
And then you need to start the process right over again.
Now that you’ve got this new information from testing your solution with real users, how does it change the lens through which you initially viewed the problem? Have new ideas come to light? Were you on the right path or totally off-base? Time to make some more decisions and branch off to design a revised version with newfound perspectives.
This is not magic. It’s just iteration. A repeated cycle of learning, testing, and reconsidering. And it’s something every business can learn, implement, and embrace. The value here is both explicit and implicit though: real, measurable, tangible results lead to better decision-making, but the practice of combining varied approaches and individuals creates an entirely new dynamic among teams and can meaningfully change the spirit and experience of collaborative work.
With all this upside, why wouldn’t you want to tackle a tough challenge this way?
About the author: Seth Clifford, VP Digital Product Strategy, Endava
Seth is a creative executive with 20 years of experience in UX design, mobile operating systems, application development, and digital product strategy, having led high-profile projects for global brands across various sectors. He fights for the users, and enjoys task management, ice cream, whiskey, and surfing... but generally not all at the same time.