Where Grit Meets Tech: Learning from the People who Matter Most
By Steve Chiou, Business Operations
As a veteran of the USMC, I learned very quickly that to get the most honest answers, you have to talk to the guys on the ground. Marines in the field have no problem telling you what is wrong. In construction, the same is true. But in this case, it’s the craft worker. That’s why I spend most of my time out of the office at local Bay Area jobsites, talking with the men and women doing the actual work.
As I got to know them, I discovered that I had a lot in common with them because of my military background. We both want to put in a good day’s work and head home to our families, we both don’t sweat the small things, and we both don’t mind waking up at 0230 to start work. It’s just part of the job.
Despite the similarities, there are some clear differences. As a representative for a tech startup, I expected to hear a lot of resistance to the idea of more technology on the jobsite. The military and construction are both known to be very slow to adopt new technologies. The phrase, “we’ve always done it this way” is prevalent in both professions.
Most craft workers I’ve had the opportunity to meet with are not anti-technology, they’re just anti-wasting time.
But that was not the case. Most craft workers I’ve had the opportunity to meet with are not anti-technology, they’re just anti-wasting time. And with most apps optimized for the back office (i.e. not them), they can come off as anti-technology. As I talked to them, I found that craft workers truly want to adopt more technology to help them with their day-to-day work, but the solutions currently available aren’t tailored to their needs.
One of the more surprising things I’ve learned is that companies trying to sell software to construction firms do not end up talking to the workers. They talk to the CFO or the Payroll rep or anyone other than the actual craft worker. While these conversations are important, if you really want to impact the way things are done you need to be talking to the people on the front lines.
“When you’ve got a glaring sun and dirty hands, the last thing you want to do is go searching for anything on your phone.”
Another interesting insight is that the craft really love overly-large, prominent action buttons within their apps. For those of us who use modern apps, you know the trend is toward minimalist design and understated action buttons. But this just isn’t practical for craft workers. To put it in their words, “when you’ve got a glaring sun and dirty hands, the last thing you want to do is go searching for anything on your phone.” This important detail played a big part in our user interface design, and gave workers more value than we ever imagined.
All in all, I’ve learned that spending time with our users, getting to know them, asking for their advice, and being open to some out-of-the-box ideas has created a solid foundation for us to expand upon. We’ve created a product that is not only functional, but is attractive to the people we need to adopt and promote it: the craft worker.
As we continue to build out our feature set, I’ll continue to be out in the field hearing from those that matter most. If you’re in a similar position, I encourage you to do the same. Hearing first hand from your users is a valuable experience that is well worth your time.