Why are we building stuff?

(The estimated reading time is most likely is off by a factor of 2…)

Introduction

At DBF Connect we started down the path of building something that we believe our future users will need. You may ask why so confident about this, well it is kind of a long-winded answer.

Over the course of my career, I have built lots of products and services using all sorts of methodologies (some good & some bad). During this time, mental notes were being jotted down of how to build things if there was more time and budget (to do it right way).

This past week that we finally a bit coming closer to doing this at DBF Connect. Before continuing, I would like to share a simple graphic that I created a few months ago to illustrate what has been in my head (it is not yet beautiful, but it is good enough).

The Four Layers

© Roman Smigiel. www.romansmigiel.com

The graphic is split into the following four layers and it should be described from the bottom up.

  1. Company Focus, Know Your User (KYU), & User Journey Flow: Creating the foundation & providing focus
  2. Brand Strategy/Design System: Building consistent brand with design & user experience
  3. Design Sprint: Developing an initial idea & providing input into a roadmap
  4. Roadmap, Product Way of Working (PWoW), & Work: Starting the Product/Development machine (using Agile frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, etc.)

While the four layers are quite simple, they require a little bit of explaining and for the sake of having a relatively short post, the focus for this post will only be for the first layer. Please note that there is a plan on having additional posts for layers two, three, and four at a later date.

The First Layer

© Roman Smigiel. www.romansmigiel.com

Step A: Company Focus

Something that always comes up when building Product with Development colleagues revolves around questions about the company’s direction and focus. In short, they can be summarized into three questions.

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. What is the (company) vision?

Answering these questions is a fundamental requirement that we should all be asking and demanding from our leadership team before we build things. Some of us, like me, implicitly assume that everyone knows the answer to the previous three questions but unfortunately this is not the case since the most of our colleagues are a part of the continuous discussions about them. As leaders, we need to share this with our colleagues since it provides company alignment and focus (as to what is important and what is not). A nice tool to answer the previous questions by creating the company vision, mission, and values triangle (please note that this is a part of the larger organizational triangle and it will most likely be described in another post).

© Roman Smigiel. www.romansmigiel.com

While this triangle looks relatively simple, it is not. This is especially true if the triangle is created at a later stage in the company’s lifecycle. When this happens it usually creates lots of strife and takes more time than everyone expects. On the other end, there are plenty of companies that decide not to create the triangle since top-layer of leaders believe it is known by all or even worse, they define the triangle but do not follow it (either partially or completely — it just is hung up on the walls; company graffiti).

A while ago, I thought that having a vision, mission, and values was a bunch of stuff, but over the years I realized it adds amazing value if it exists and is followed (the key here). The journey of following the vision, mission, and values can be hard at times but it aligns everyone towards a north star as well as helping build and grow an amazing culture and team. I have used the triangle in many things over my career, in particular for things like prioritization, scoping, and hiring.

Before continuing to the next step, there is one last key, under-represented part that needs to be addressed - determining the company’s target market. While a large amount of time can be spent on determining the target market, it should be “relatively” easy to determine along with the targeted regions (e.g., Germany, EMEA, etc.).

The key thing to note about the targeted regions is to start small (one country) and then scale up over time. Starting small here helps in doing the initial user testing and research since the more countries and regions you start with, the more it will cost in terms of user testing and research. While there are workarounds to limit the cost due to the large scope, they come at the tradeoff of taking more time (think about the time, cost, scope triangle here).

One final note here, this is what we have initially developed at DBF Connect for this step:

DBF Connect’s Initial Vision, Mission, Values, and Targeted Market

Step B: Know Your User

With step A completed, Company Focus, it is time to continue to the next one, Know Your User (KYU). Like most things in life, it can be quite complicated, but it can be simplified into the following parts.

  • Empathy Workshop: A great exercise to start with to create (user) empathy, synchronization, and a little team building in under two hours with a cross-functional group of individuals. There are several approaches that can be followed for the Empathy Workshop, but I use my own variant that is relatively simple and results in one, aggregated proto-persona. This proto-persona helps generate a survey for the initial persona creation (for the next part). Additionally, the survey helps validate the proto-persona that the team created (e.g., How close to our “hypothesis” of a user matches actuality?). For the sake of being brief, please take a look at the following post for more info — “How to Run an Empathy & User Journey Mapping Workshop”. For DBF Connect, we completed this part over the past week or so and making progress towards the next part — Post-Empathy Workshop survey.
  • Post-Empathy Workshop Survey: After the Empathy Workshop, it is time to create a survey to validate the data in the aggregated proto-persona. The survey should not take longer than 20 minutes (no more than 26 questions) to complete (longer surveys, lower completion). Before running the survey externally, try running the survey internally. First with a handful of internal individuals to remove the kinks out and then, if possible, with the whole company. The whole company run will help gage how close your colleagues match the future personas that develop from external survey run. Plus, this second external survey run acts like a bit of an eye-opening experience for colleagues to see how similar or different they are from your potential users. One final note here, try going with a panel survey with an external user research company who can provide about 1,000 successful survey responses for your initial region. This allows getting a pretty good sample size as well as guaranteeing results within a relatively short period of time (usually in a week) but will cost some money to do. Please note that for the sample size, this is only a suggestion. Please speak to your Analytics team for what would be relevant for you.
  • Personas (feature/demographic-based): After receiving the Empathy Workshop Survey results, it is time to aggregate the results into personas. The target here is to aggregate into 3–4 personas and 1–2 anti-personas (for more info about anti-personas please visit — What are anti-personas & why don’t we want them using our products?). The personas that are created here, are labelled as feature/demographic-based because they are determined upon age, education, thoughts about X market, etc. While not ideal, this is a great first step to get everyone closer to determining who the target users (data influenced versus untested assumptions).
  • Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD): This is where things get closer to the end goal of really knowing who we are building for since we will try to determine what Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) our users want to complete. While the foundations of the JTBD framework began in the early 1950s, there are two groups (motivations-based: Alan Klement & outcomes-based: Anthony W. Ulwick) that describe the framework in slightly different ways. The suggestion here is to read both books and to make your own decision of the one to follow and to what degree. Instead of spending a lot of time explaining JTBD, please reference the following quote.
“A Job to be Done is the process a consumer goes through whenever she aims to transform her existing life-situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop her.”
Source: https://jtbd.info/2-what-is-jobs-to-be-done-jtbd-796b82081cca
  • JTBD Workshop: Taking the info gathered up to this point (vision, mission, values; market, region; and feature, demographic-based personas), it is time to hold a workshop to hypothesize with the cross-functional team what JTBDs our personas would like to achieve. Similarly, to the Empathy Workshop, the following processes that takes under two hours to brainstorm potential JTBDs, dot vote to determine that top ones, and then review with the team the top three to six JTBDs.
  • JTBD Surveys: It is now survey time after the JTBD Workshop. Taking the hypothesized JTBD, a survey script is generated for running some user tests. A survey script is mentioned here since the user testing that will be performed is a little more intensive since we would be surveying users in person, and for this a survey script is great. The survey script helps in guiding but not constraining the user research. This is a discovery process more than just getting answers to a set of questions it requires probing at moments to uncover the actual JTBD. The thought here is that most of the time, users will not know their actual JTBD and it will be the researcher’s job to extract this. While this a process that might be a little more time consuming than running a survey and moving on, it will be something that provides more impactful insights as well as more delight at the end. The suggestion here is to speak to enough of your target users (the 3–4 personas) so that you reach a point where you start to see a pattern developing. The pattern usually appears around the 5–10 user range (per persona). Make sure to have a maximum of two individuals in each session (one to ask the questions and the other to document), to limit the sessions to under an hour (30–45 minutes on average), leave buffer time between each, and to not schedule more than five sessions per day.
  • Personas (JTBD adjusted): Packed with all of the JTBD info/data from the previous part, it is time to potentially adjust the personas based upon the JTBD target groups are looking to achieve. Depending on how the workshops and surveys went in the previous parts, there could be from large to small changes in the personas. For example, you might realize that two age groups have similar JTBD that they want to achieve, and, in this case, the previous two personas would be adjusted to one based upon the JTBD. The idea here is not to be too worried about the feature/demographic versus the JTBD differences. While you may think that a lot of time was wasted, it is better to spend time researching a little before building a product/service and then trying to fit users it into a market. The latter part is of building a product and fitting in users is more expensive since these “fitted” users usually turn out to be small and/or very hard to delight (usually resulting in a costly pivot).

Step C: User Journey Flow

If you have gotten to this point in my post, then you will be happy to know that we are almost done (for now). Having a good company focus, direction, and foundation, and knowing the JTBDs that your potential users are looking to solve, it is time to map out the user journey flow. The mapping here should pertain to users going through the company’s targeted market. Since there is quite a bit of info about how to create a user journey flow, let’s skip some of the detail and please refer to if you need more detail — “How to Run an Empathy & User Journey Mapping Workshop” (also mentioned before).

Taking some key points mentioned in the article along with some work performed during Design Sprints, here is a relatively lightweight approach (similar to the previously mentioned workshops):

  • Invite a cross-functional team (usually the same that were involved for the other workshops).
  • Quickly review all of the previous parts that were performed.
  • Brainstorm the steps and then actions users go through.
  • Dot vote to determine the seven steps that users go through (along with the top actions for each step).

This approach usually takes under two hours to complete with the team, with an additional hour for cleaning-up the User Journey Flow (making it pretty), one to two review sessions, and the finale for use.

Time

While writing this post, a realization hit that all of this looks like it might take a very long time. Depending on your company, layer one can take two to four weeks for smaller/more Agile companies while for non-Agile companies it can take from two to four months. The time variation is mostly due to the following items:

  • Finding a time slot for when all cross-functional team members can meet.
  • Getting budget to for the user research since there are costs for using an agency as well as offering incentives to survey participants.
  • Recruiting and performing the user research (usually takes the most amount of time).

Summary

Building great products and services requires some work but distilling it down for me translates into four layers. The first layer described here covers only one but covers the most important, providing company alignment and direction. Here are the key three parts of the first layer:

  1. Company Focus: Things start with setting the values, building the mission, and then creating the vision. Please do not forget about the target market and region.
  2. KYU: Knowing the company’s focusing then leads to determining who are things being built for.
  3. User Journey Flow: Completing the previous two steps, a great foundation is created for visualizing how users flow through the company’s targeted market.

When completing this first layer, a pretty good idea develops of who we are building for, what jobs they are wishing for us to solve, and how they flow through the market that is being targeted. While it may seem that this may take a long time, it can be as short as two weeks to a few months (depending on your company’s level of Agility).


Follow our journey at DBF Connect and also looking forward to your feedback!

If you would like to know a little more about me, then please visit my LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/romansmigiel/