Did a customer just slate your best idea? Great news!

Even when you think you’ve just come up with the best idea ever, all you really have is a good start. Your opinion and those of your colleagues don't count for much. All that really matters is the user experience. If you test out your idea with potential users and they slate it, celebrate it!

I have nearly twenty years' experience in developing digital services for a number of different organizations. During this time, I have spent countless hours in in-house meetings trying to thrash out the best solution to a particular problem.

People have set out their views and, inevitably, protracted theorizing, and speculation on their accuracy and veracity has ensued. Often, there have been disagreements over whose opinion is the best and the weightiest.

When you engage in this sort of internal wrangling, it is equally easy for team members to fall in love with their own ideas and to lose touch with the reality outside their own office. In this scenario, individual opinions can become a burden or even a barrier to identifying the actual solution you need.

It is easy for team members to fall in love with their own ideas and to lose touch with the reality outside their own office.

The only way you can set yourself free from opinions and assessments is to turn to the users. And even they will only prove handy if you know at what point in the development process they should be introduced.

Agility is not about the IT, it’s about the customer experience

Just recently, I was treated to an excellent reminder of what agility is really all about when listening to a Harvard Business Review podcast on the topic by Darrel Rigby and Jeff Sutherland. What made their podcast so interesting was that Sutherland is one of the authors of the famous agile manifesto.

Crucially, the ideas for agile software development did not originate in the IT department. Instead, they came from people working in more traditional industrial roles. Their thought processes were driven by a pursuit of efficiency and agility along with the empirical observation that those working in cross-departmental teams and in collaboration with their clients tended to achieve better results.

Only the customers themselves are able to tell us whether the problem we have sketched out is worth resolving or not.

It is always invigorating to re-visit the basics. In order to succeed as a business, you have to be able to identify and solve your customers’ problems – the right problems. Only the customers themselves are able to tell us whether the problem we have sketched out is worth resolving or not. At the end of the day, our own opinions carry no weight when faced with the customer’s own experience.

At the end of the day, our own opinions carry no weight when faced with the customer’s own experience.

Kernels and iterations

At their worst, our own opinions can be a burden on the development process, though they may also contain little kernels of truth. Our opinions form the basis for new hypotheses, and if we fail to validate these hypotheses, our opinions are just noise. When we engage in fearless experimentation and test our assumptions against our customers’ reality, we set ourselves free from underneath the burden of opinion.

Our opinions form the basis for new hypotheses, and if we fail to validate these hypotheses, our opinions are just noise.

However, it is these opinions, held by the service developer and user alike, that serve as an excellent basis for a wide range of hypotheses. If they go unvalidated, these opinions are nothing but a noisy distraction that keeps us from delivering.

Once you fall in love with your own idea, it is only too human to feel disappointed if it turns out to be just a bubble. It is possible that the end user will have no interest whatsoever in your brilliant idea.

However, if they hate it – crack open the champagne, you’ve all just learned something! You will also have saved the company both money and resources, and above all, you will have benefited the user by not subjecting them to poor service.

If the end users hate your idea – crack open the champagne, you’ve all just learned something!

It is a good idea to re-group with you team and set off in pursuit of an even better idea and an even better user experience, armed with your newfound wisdom. You would do well to start the whole process from the beginning by brainstorming, formulating your hypothesis, recognizing your own assumptions and, once again, validating your output. This is iterative development at its finest.

3 steps to setting yourself free from the burden of development

1. Put yourself in your user’s shoes. Take the empathetic approach and put yourself in your user’s proverbial footwear before you set about formulating ideas about which problems are worth solving.

2. Understand and recognize your own assumptions. Once you have formulated your ideas, there is no point getting stuck arguing over their validity. What you need to do is understand the assumptions driving them. A great way to do this is to ask what conditions have to be fulfilled in order for the problem to be real and your solution to be valid.

3. Get your users to validate your assumptions. Once we understand the assumptions we have made along the way, we can begin to look at whether they are the correct ones. The third step is to approach your users, one way or another, to find out whether you have become stuck in your own bubble or found a genuine problem and a good solution.

Once you have formulated your ideas, there is no point getting stuck arguing over their validity.

Easy, isn’t it?

Luckily, things tend not to be quite this straightforward in real life, as that would be boring. These three steps will hopefully stop you from pursuing the wrong path in the wrong direction and help you keep your wits about you in the jungle of opinions.

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