3 Min Read

Is our own humanity standing in the way of creating customer-centric solutions?

Michelle Beukes

February 06, 2018

By Jon James, Consultant at Freethinking

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging disruptive trend that has everyone speculating about its potential impact on jobs, society and civilisation as a whole.  While robots may be able to replace many jobs currently executed by human beings, what gives many of us a sense of security is that robots may never replace our “humanness”. For a long time, this thought has comforted me until it recently dawned on me that our very “humanness” may be the very cause of our ultimate downfall.

During my exposure to the product development space, it has become incredibly clear that the only way to successfully develop and deliver products that customers truly love and need is via close integration across all the layers of the business.

Firstly, the triad consisting of the product owner, designer and technical lead need to work in close collaboration. Too often the technical lead is treated as an “add-on”, being brought into the product development conversation way too late. This results in a disconnect because the product owner and design lead have already decided on the product or feature that needs to be built, not realising that it’s entirely unfeasible from a technical perspective. It is up to the product owner to ask for input from both the design and technical leads from the onset of the new product development process. By correctly balancing the roles of the triad, the product team is in a far better position to accurately shape the customer experience to meet the customer’s needs.

Secondly, the product triad can’t deliver on their own. The business transformation team also has a crucial role to play in that they prepare both the business as well as the customer for the new products that have been created.  Customers may be confused or have questions, and the transformation team needs to equip the operational support line to answer these questions sufficiently.  This provides a seamless and enjoyable customer experience.

Finally, the new product needs to fit under the umbrella of the risk, security, regulatory and compliance architecture of the business. Is the feature safe for both the company and its clients?  Without the approval of this regulatory and compliance layer, it is back to the product development drawing board.

However, too often we each want to run in our own direction, pandering to our own agenda.  Politics, egos and personality differences distract us, stealing our focus from creating solutions that are customer-centric. The misalignment of the internal moving parts inevitably results in external chaos whereby we deliver products to the customers that they neither want nor need. It concerns me that I have seen this scenario playing out all too often in the various environments I have worked in. While we may assemble all the correct skills to create exceptional products for our customers, the internal friction prevents people from collectively channelling their efforts to meet a set of goals. The result is unhappy teams, unhappy customers and copious amounts of wasted expenditure.

However, too often we each want to run in our own direction, pandering to our own agenda.  Politics, egos and personality differences distract us, stealing our focus from creating solutions that are customer centric.

So what is the potential solution? I believe that we need to start by aligning our views and bring an essential dose of humility to the table.  We need to listen to and acknowledge one another. Although the technical environment is often filled with experienced product owners, creatives and developers sitting on different sides of the table, we need one another! And by embracing and understanding our differences, we can encourage collaboration, confluence, integration and knowledge transfer.

Patience is another important virtue which we all need to practice. Although many of us have grown up in a world of instant gratification, this is not always a reality in the environments in which we work. Systems break, fellow employees may take a while to respond and truly understanding the customer may also take a fair amount of time and effort.  By working steadily and patiently alongside others, we can create an enabling environment in which solutions can flourish.

Integration and confluence remain key.  The coordination of all the internal moving parts of the product triad – aligned with transformational and business requirements – can pave the way for mutual understanding, role clarification and knowledge transfer which will ultimately culminate in crafting a product that is ultimately tailored to meet the customer’s needs.