Notes on Leveraging Tech to Improve Customer Communications with Jeff Gothelf

(From a 4/21/16 webinar by Lean Startup Co., link here)

Teams should be celebrating customer successes, not feature releases

Customer exposure needs to be less limited to make a business more successful, as Jared Spool often notes


So how do you get a large org to really listen to their customers, which they aren’t used to doing?

  • Leadership has to value and socialize the idea of humility–the org doesn’t have some special knowledge that allows them really understand customers’ goals and needs. The org must speak directly with their customers
  • Leadership can set goals, but has to also socialize the idea that once they start listening to their customers, the goals may change–and that’s ok!
  • Use learnings to create course corrections


Large orgs often have difficulty having a customer-centric vision and often have great difficulty responding to evidence from customer outreach

  • People often feel they’ll look bad to the org if they admit to now knowing everything upfront
  • Orgs should have strong opinions and believe they are the most successful in their field–but they should also be open to challenges that may change opinions
  •  If leadership prizes ego, confidence and agressiveness over everything else, there’s little chance the culture can be changed
    • To help facilitate change away from this perspective, look back on the previous initiative. How much did the org get right and wrong? Why think that ratio is going to be different for the next initiative
    • This is of course risky–you don’t want people to become defensive and shut down this conversation
    • HR can help lead change through hiring and access to retraining, but the C suite has to drive the idea that it’s ok to change our minds and reset course


Sense and Respond (Jeff’s new book but also one of his concepts)

  • Orgs have the responsibility (and ability) to continually sense the efficacy of our product for our customer and its impact on customers and the market
  • Orgs has to respond in real time, there isn’t time for extended periods of consideration and strategizing rather than just doing
  • Software now enables a continuous learning loop, orgs need to enable continually responding loops
  • Again, the org culture has to be built to allow failure (or at least, milder success than anticipated) and view it as an opportunity
  • Research also has to be viewed as a continuous practice that always feeding back learnings to the org


For execs and managers, the key is in how work gets assigned

  • Work should be assigned in terms of customer success
  • Work assignments need to be flexible–via sensing, teams may realize the original assignment doesn’t reflect real needs or that the org isn’t built to correctly respond to real needs
  • Evidence from customers should cause work assignments to be continuously refined and even changed
  • It’s also key the team learnings get immediately pushed back up the chain of command to maintain transparency


So how do we measure team success in this scenario?

  • Start with pilot initiatives that have champion executives
  • Champion execs should hold back the usual company crap so that the teams can create safely
  • Success criteria can include efficiency, morale, business successes, productivity, progress towards corporate objectives
  • But often team successes and learnings need to be recast in the usual corporate measures for the C suite
  • As pilot teams become enthusiastic about their new ways of working and successes, it will ripple throughout the org


Orgs have to realize they are in the software business now

  • Technology will define success in the near future
  • Customers are happy that technology is changing their lives–so we must embrace and learn from that change
  • Michelle Fan started with makeup videos on YouTube–now she has a $2bil company that rivals the old reliables
  • Someone is going to use tech to succeed in your org’s space–is it going to be your org?
  • Many orgs still see tech as IT–just another silo off by itself, not a key component to the org’s success–tech enables everything
  • Customer success = business success, not the other way around
  • Customers are being trained to expect and value continuous change and delivery–Facebook pushes code changes every day without the lamenting that used to surround their less frequent, more dramatic changes 3 or 4 years ago


About Jeff, from his blog:

My name is Jeff Gothelf and I’ve worked for many years as a product designer and team leader. These days I’m spending more time as a teacher, workshop leader and public speaker. Recently I published my first book, Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve user experience (O’Reilly 2013). I’ve led successful, cross-functional, collaborative, agile teams at organizations of all sizes. I mainly focus on building and training evidence-based, customer-centered product development teams. These teams often utilize lean principles and agile software development. 

– See more at:


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