Book Review: Sense & Respond

Hyung Park
Jan 21, 2018 · 4 min read

Embracing uncertainty and prioritizing learning over final delivery


Digital revolution has caused new challenges, uncertainty, and complexity for businesses in today’s day and age. Entropy and inability to adapt to fast changing environment posed by technology can quickly threaten a company to become no longer competitive in the market. According to the authors of “Sense & Respond,” Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, both explain that in order to adapt to the ever-transforming landscapes and uncertainty, companies now require to rethink about new operational and management models.

As the title suggests, the book highlights two main concepts: Sensing (gathering market feedback through two-way conversation) and Responding (Adjust accordingly to feedback through small batch delivery). According to Gothelf and Seiden, success is achieved when we place value on customer behavior as a measure of progress, and provide our customers to achieve an outcome they seek.

“When we understand the things that users want to do, we have the basis for serving customer needs, thus creating business value.”

Sense

Engaging the market and gathering feedback from customers has never been easier. New technologies has enabled organizations to engage in a two-way conversation with their markets and customers, allowing companies to measure their behavior in real-time, adjust and innovate continuously. These tech driven two-way conversation with the market is transforming the way how companies interact with their customers, paving ways to adjust company goals, strategies quickly, thus delivering value to their customers at a speed that has never been possible before. The key emphasis here is prioritizing learning over delivery. Often requirements cannot be known in advance, therefore, start by creating conversation with the market.

The sooner you find out you are wrong, the better

According to Gothelf and Seiden, most organization continue to rely on outmoded, industrial era operational methods. Many manufacturing companies have relied on the industrial-age managing system in order to address the market. This mode of system has not only been employed in manufacturing, but in software industries as well. For a period of time, this age old system provided a sure-fire way of addressing uncertainty — which was through detailed planning and requirements. Toppled onto this, often success was defined with a launch of a product. Its focus was on delivery and rewarding people for making things on time.

However, softwares are complex and people use products in unpredictable ways (Example Twitter’s hashtag, Amazon Fire Phone). We face uncertainty in how our customers will use the product, the ‘big bang’ approach of holding the release of the software until it’s finished can pigeon hole the company to deliver the wrong product. Therefore, it is paramount to address uncertainty through agile operating principles from forming a two-way conversation to fostering a culture of learning & experimentation.

Respond

There is much to be said about the value of sensing the market through two-way conversation and experimentation. The question then comes down to how can we optimize our process to respond to ever changing market? The book goes into details in explaining about the possibilities. I won’t list them out all, but to list a few key ideas:

  • Respond to the market needs through small batches, and gather continuous feedback to guide progress.
  • Create self-sufficient, cross-functional teams. Self-sufficient teams will not be bound by resources (or dependencies), thus gaining traction with their project progress.
  • Promoting a sandbox environment where teams are given autonomy to operate and test.
  • Hold regular retrospectives to talk about ways to collaborate more effectively.

How we work is just as important as what we produce for our customers

In order to build the right thing, in the world of Sense and Response, companies will need to reassess their operation and management to be based on faster iterations fueled by customer insights through two-way communication. Gothelf and Seiden also goes into explaining that Sense and Response is not only about process, but there’s equal importance in fostering a culture where failure is not stigmatized. Software is an ever-evolving medium. With every release, new needs are discovered. Companies need to embrace a mindset that fosters continuous learning through openness, humility, and permission to fail.

Sense and Respond is a common sense approach, with focus in Design Thinking and Agile Development. The book includes many great examples of real life case studies and engages readers to think about how they can adopt sense & response processes of their own. I highly recommend this book to colleagues alike and to those who are interested in lean/agile methodology.

TL;DR

  • Sense and Respond is about engaging the market through two-way conversation.
  • Respond to market feedback through small batches, optimized for ongoing changes through agile development.
  • It is a self-directed process through continuous learning, leading to correct path
  • Fostering a culture that is open to failure, and humility to admit what we don’t know

Hyung Park

Written by

UX Designer/Tech enthusiast

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