Stopwatch by wwarby

A lot goes into developing the best products in the least amount of time while spending the least amount of money (aka Lean Product Development). One of the key concepts is maximizing customer satisfaction when you want to operate quickly and cheaply. By “satisfy” we mean ensuring that all relevant parties – the business, the user, and any ancillary parties – get the most from their experience. Beyond satisfaction lies delight, but that’s a whole other story.

When we think about building products, the biggest challenge is to answer why we think a particular capability is a good idea – also known as business value. When we frame our capabilities in terms of value and satisfaction, we have a more clear and consistent framework for prioritizing.

When it comes to elaboration and prioritization of a capability, different team members will have varying sets of concerns that they see through their practitioner lense: How will we build this? Will it look good? But perhaps the most interesting question is, will this satisfy a customer need?

From my vantage point, experience design unites the strategic business outcomes (such as increased customer engagement, increased revenue, etc.) and the implementation logic of a piece of software that can be built by engineers and designed by visual designers. Throughout my software career, I’ve wrestled with how I could drive alignment across implementation teams and stakeholders around the subtle issue of satisfying unmet and possibly previously unknown (e.g. the iPhone) needs.

I typically handled this by dreaming up extremely convoluted interaction concepts. Using my powers of persuasion and my general interest in creating innovative arbitrarily different interfaces and experiences, I quickly came to see that creative and new interactions often fell flat on their face and were harder to use than the conventional experience of the time (anyone remember Kai’s Power Tools?). Over time I came to recognize that anything I wanted or imagined was probably exactly what we shouldn’t do because it would only appeal to people like me, of whom there are maybe 3 or 4 in the world.

This was perhaps too extreme a point of view. In my time at Substantial, I’m seeing a new way of approaching this problem. Extrapolating customer satisfaction criteria from business outcome goals is nothing new, but combining this with constant and empirical analysis might drive more successful and satisfying experiences.

In other words, it’s not intrinsically wrong to come up with creative, unfamiliar solutions; rather, it’s wrong to spend a lot of time and energy to build them to production, only to find out 9 months (and thousands of dollars) later that no one cares.

Furthermore, the involvement of all practitioners and customers in the process from start to finish has many critical virtues:

  • Dramatic reduction of waste via the elimination of handoffs/games of telephone in communication
  • More ideas are generated and challenged by colleagues in less time
  • Multidisciplinary thought tends to train practitioners to think out of the constraints of their discipline and “look at things sideways”
  • The various properties of ideas -- of what is possible to build, what is likely to be usable, what is likely to be beautiful -- are all vetted in real time, at once, by the entire team that will need to design and build it

Awesome new creative ideas are what we live for in product development. But by using Lean Experience Design, we can quickly and cheaply determine whether anyone cares about our creative ideas.

Look at our project, where we partnered with an admittedly exceptional Product Owner and overall visionary in the form of Chris Young. We went from idea to initial production concept in just 3 weeks, and thus quickly received feedback from the public that validated interest in the product. We had all practitioners – designers and developers, as well as the business stakeholders – involved at all stages of the project (Interaction and Visual designers literally paired with developers at their desks), allowing us to push interaction design to its logical extreme and validate our product with frequent, real world feedback from real people.

So rather than sit on high and speculate on what unmet needs customers might have, the goal is to figure out if we are satisfying a real need that maps to business value as quickly as possible. How else can you account for the problems you didn’t even know your customers had when you started? It’s hard work building the right thing, but if you build fast enough you can do just that, which should satisfy customers and yourself.

Image from Flickr user wwarby.