The COVID-19 crisis made experience-centricity and IT agility paramount to nearly every business. In the post-COVID world, where digital acceleration is the rule rather than the exception, organizations will need superior digital enablement and experiences to ensure business continuity, customer satisfaction and a competitive edge. Small wonder, then, that in Gartner’s 2021 CEO survey, digital is among most CEOs’ top priorities.
Experience-centricity encompasses every aspect of software that can enhance an organization’s ability to solve key business challenges, harness meaningful market opportunities and delight end users. Research reveals that fanatical devotion to desirability leads to tangible outcomes that can be measured by increased customer retention and revenue growth.
The move to digital is creating new business opportunities, but also presenting challenges and risks to IT executives. Top-of-mind questions include: What makes digital products go viral? What are the key success factors? How can we make digital business headway and thrive? How can we transform monolithic systems into sleek, modular digital products or platforms?
After extensive engagements and conversations with client companies, we offer five considerations (for a deeper dive see our white paper “Enhancing Desirability: Five Considerations for Winning Digital Initiatives.”)
1 Empathy and experimentation
Empathizing with business and end users and experimenting to deliver delightful products are necessary but not sufficient. Delivering successful digital products requires a deep understanding of customers and a focus on human-centered design. Moreover, experimentation on the technology and engineering fronts using minimum viable product (MVP) concepts is necessary to build the experience right. These include focused experiments or proofs of concepts for validation among a small set of users, as well as MVPs released to broad groups of users. Organizations that deliver solid digital products master the art of combining design thinking with software engineering practices to enhance desirability.
Foster these qualities by:
- Understanding the big picture from end users’ perspectives
- Practicing human-centric design and design thinking
- Running pilots to gather insights on user experience and usability
- Considering technology alternatives for continuous experiments, and shortlisting the best fit
2 Being fast, frequent and predictable
To enhance desirability, a good mix of empathy and experiments is also necessary but not sufficient unless digital initiatives are delivered quickly, frequently and with ever-increasing degrees of predictability. When IT takes too long to deliver results, it is a struggle to delight customers and create long-lasting trust. Organizations should follow Agile and DevOps practices, including extreme programming practices and Lean Startup principles. With digital initiatives, speed-to-market and time-to-value are highly valued. And the ability to ensure frequent and predictable releases with new features and enhancements is what provides holistic value and enhances desirability.
Put this into action by:
- Enabling software teams with hyper-Agile and DevOps practices and engineering rigor
- Enhancing the effectiveness of tool usage and leveraging productivity accelerators
- Building extensible and flexible architectures with design components that promote speed of change
- Identifying and promoting reusable patterns and components to enhance consistency, speed and accuracy of releases
3 Inclusion, relationships, retrospectives and results
This is about moving beyond nurturing relationships, performing retrospectives and focusing on results within product or engineering teams. It is about building relationships with stakeholders — specifically, customers and partners — and considering end-user feedback for retrospectives and continuous improvement. Teams should consider this approach and provide positive results to enhance desirability. On one engagement, rather than conducting retrospectives at the end of every Sprint or release within a team of software engineers, we engaged a larger team that included business leaders and end users. This enhanced the effectiveness of lessons learned for continuous improvement.
Strengthen these practices through:
- Early and continuous identification of stakeholders who are critical to product success
- Including these stakeholders in Sprint and release retrospectives for feedback
- Enriching cross-functional teams by introducing experienced subject matter experts from the business side
- Maintaining consistency in commitment reliability to enhance predictability
4 Attention to internal and external quality
User experience (UX) is not limited to the static aspect of user interface (UI) design or the dynamics simulated by UI prototypes. It has a deep bearing on the internal quality of products that correlate with performance, scalability and maintainability. Microservices-based architectures, cloud-native development and modern engineering practices, such as pair programming and test-driven development, have the potential to deliver an elegant code base that is scalable and extensible. Site reliability engineering is critical to ensure resilience and reliability. Coupled with DevOps environments that are auto-scaling and self-healing, UX can ascend from usability to desirability.
Enhance quality by:
- Establishing a consistent, key performance indicator-driven approach to ensure the quality of architecture and design
- Being proactive in addressing nonfunctional requirements by writing secure, scalable, flexible and extensible code, and by practicing refactoring
- Moving beyond continuous testing to continuous everything to enhance quality
- Ensuring feedback loops and perpetual learning
5 Attitude of elegance, tenacity and courage
Digital natives courageously embrace emerging technologies, and are tenacious in creating excellent, elegant products that delight customers. This is achieved by delivering on the factors that customers desire most. Most customers expect digitally native products built with modern tools and techniques that deliver near-clairvoyant experiences. Traditional IT organizations can no longer afford to experiment with monoliths and hybrid software development approaches that deliver static, unrewarding experiences. Embracing modern software engineering paradigms such as cloud-native development and DevOps tools can help put IT on the path to user delight.
Promote this by:
- Adopting product-centricity and establishing a product-engineering culture
- Encouraging autonomy and “failing fast and failing early”
- Implementing rewards and recognition that promote a result-orientation
- Establishing community-based networks versus traditional hierarchical organizational structures
The following figure recaps the many concepts we’ve explored.