Moms, Opps, & Obs
Yet another way to approach problems of any sort, size, or context.
There are a number of really good frameworks out there for solving problems. But then, there are a lot of problems — and a lot of people willing to sell a solution. This’ll be my contribution.
This covers three primary aspects of a customer’s experience from a high level and can be applied to almost anything: products, services, lifecycles, etc. It’s a sort of kaizen checklist that is wholly compatible with other methodologies like lean, design thinking, and the rest.
- Ask the why-don’t-wes — open up to your audience’s momentum
- Explore how-might-wes — understand the opportunity space
- Challenge the you-can’t-do-thats — reduce the number of obstacles & their impact on the audience
I’ve been a part of, done teardowns for, and been subject to projects that start with one, run into another, and forget the other.
You’ve spent a lot of time, money, attention, frustration & more making your product everything the customer ever wanted. You’ve seized & executed on the opportunity before you like no other. On top of that, someone else (maybe you) has spent a lot of time, money, attention, frustration & more getting an audience to want your product. And it worked. They want it more than anything they’ve ever wanted and they see it within their grasp. This is what your audience wants & expects: a clear, focused path to the destination you’ve promised.
And this is what they get:
They can’t see which button to click. They can’t find a price. Where’s that link they’re looking for? The page doesn’t load. Refresh. Oh, there it went, but it lost their information. Where’s the product comparison? Who do they call to get a demo scheduled? They wanted your product, but you’ve failed their expectations before they even got it.
Load failures, API failures, usability issues & typos all resulting in fewer orders, fewer downloads, fewer calls, and failed leads. These aren’t the problems, though. These are symptoms of internal communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, silos with varying schedules & priorities, business rules, and of course, politics.
Unfortunately, the metrics the organization collects only point to the symptoms & outcomes (e.g., conversions, leads), not the problems. So, unbeknownst to you, the company decides to widen the net & capture more opportunities. Three other teams have been working on three more product, so three months later you’re working with something like this:
More products, more marketing, more customers. And more obstacles for your audience. And because none of the root problems were addressed, the same obstacles you found in your product lifecycle have actually gotten worse for the organization. And your audience has discovered additional obstacles that the organization hadn’t even thought about. Efforts to resolve the undesired outcomes have only exacerbated the symptoms felt by the audience.
So now what?
Here’s how I approach these kinds of problems. All of these have been explored more deeply & thoroughly by better experts than I, but these are my brief thoughts.
Moms, Opps, & Obs.
So giving labels to our earlier diagram, we get this:
Momentum, Opportunities, & Obstacles. Moms, Opps, & Obs.
- Momentum: The movement & expectations of your audience towards a given state
- Opportunity: Your chance to provide the audience with something that meets or exceeds their expectations
- Obstacles: Anything that prevents, slows, or obfuscates a path between Momentum & Opportunity.
As people, we do a lot of things. We read, see, understand, think we understand, and buy a lot of things. As folks with a business problem to solve (supposedly), Momentum is the expectations of an audience within a defined range of possibilities of a given state or scenario. It is (probably) not where you want your audience to go. We’ll see a lot of overlap with Opportunity in a minute, but understanding the customer’s expectations for a product, service, or experience, is critical to how the opportunity is defined.
A potential risk of starting with momentum is that you find an exciting set of directions the organization could go. So many possibilities! And then, you find yourself leaning towards an especially attractive & lucrative option, but your organization isn’t prepared to meet those expectations for the audience.
There’s a broad range of resources that will help find the most appropriate momentum for your organization. I won’t get into those, but you’ll likely be best served with using a few different methods to triangulate & refine your findings throughout the process.
Concentrating on momentum is important. If you focus anywhere else, you’re likely to miss both marks, that of the business and that of the intended customers.
An opportunity is not your product. It’s your chance to provide the audience with something that meets or exceeds their expectations.
It’s not just what you provide; it’s the sum of all the factors in your attempt to fully capture the momentum: pricing, marketing, positioning, the product itself (design, functionality, quality, etc.), customer service, distribution, front-line employee interactions, etc. Most opportunities are at best satisficed, not fully satisfied, for a variety of reasons, including missing the opportunity space entirely.
The business school standard gap analysis attempts to understand the relationship between momentum and opportunity by looking at the existing market to uncover unmet potential; but alone, it will often fall short on understanding both the audience and the opportunity as defined by the audience.
Sometimes, you can start with the opportunity; it’s often the most easily recognized factor in all of this. But opportunity is inseparable from the momentum of the audience: there would be no opportunity if there were not momentum, and no momentum if not opportunity.
Using any number & combination of “innovation” “methods” to further define a more targeted opportunity, you could end up with something like this, a vision for how your organization could capture a specific area within the opportunity space:
The most innovative products capture an unrecognized kinetic or dormant audience with exercises like those above. And yet, most products create (or have) a product & manufacture an audience to stoke some additional revenue.
Which means that, even if you provide an obstacle-free path to your product, the customer still feels bumps along the way because they’ve going through a path that doesn’t match their expectations.
And even when the product itself meets/exceeds, the surrounding obstacles cause the effort to fall short of the opportunity. But identifying where the puck (your audience) will be is only part of the effort; the organization must be able to actually get there at the appropriate time and in a condition able to handle it well.
An *obstacle, as I use the term here, is an audience-experienced expression of anything that prevents, slows, or obfuscates a path. Critically, this is seen only from the audience’s perspective — because that’s the only one that actually matters; this does not include the internal complications that come with building anything with a group of people.
“[The organization] cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed, but it can make them irrelevant.” — Peter Drucker.
Internal obstacles only matter inasmuch as their effects are exposed to the audience. Sometimes those obstacles are manifest as useful features implemented poorly, or useless-but-unavoidable features, or non-existent features because the organization is too busy supporting the other two sets of features.
With obstacles, you have at least three options:
- Gently guide the user around them. In the short term, this is often the most realistic approach & a simple way to learn about the effects of the obstacle on the audience.
- Mitigate them by absorbing into the organization the work previously put onto the user. Most audience-facing obstacles are the result of an organization who is willing to make its audience work harder than the organization. As the organization is able to absorb the obstacle — in the short term with raw people power; in the long term, with technology & people power—we can learn more about the impact on the organization and the user.
- Remove them entirely. This is certainly the most difficult, time-intensive, and political move. But it’s often the most effective in the long run. Additionally, one might find that in asking the questions & challenging the status quo, there might be some easy wins.
Something like this:
The potential path is far less obstructed, allowing momentum to flow more freely. Not only is the direct path more clear, but the wandering paths less prone to . It’s certainly not perfect — and it might not have to be!
However, concentrating only on mitigating the known obstacles & organizational dysfunction can, at best, provide a smooth road to a local maximum. They can certainly help point to & reveal a larger opportunity, but as mentioned above, only starting with momentum & opportunity will provide access to the next level.
- Ask the why-don’t-wes — open up to audience momentum
- Explore how-might-wes — expand the set & quality of opportunities
- Challenge the you-can’t-do-thats — reduce the number & impact of obstacles
It demands that we spend more time up front with people outside our discipline & organization, which means it’s a shift for you and for them; treat them accordingly.
Like I said, most of this is nothing new. But for me, this has been extremely helpful at all levels & throughout the design process. This might require changing how one works. Fortunately, it’s not a monolithic shift or necessarily an organizational one; it can start with you.
At minimum, it must.
*Some (including myself) have called this friction, but I’m growing to prefer obstacles. Friction implies a somewhat ongoing resistance, whereas many complications are experienced more acutely at/or between specific touch points. Furthermore, because of their acute nature, obstacles are more easily identified & remedied than ambiguous “friction.” Over time, obstacles chip away at a customer’s confidence, little nicks leading to increasingly bigger chunks.
Further reading: three somewhat recent relevant pieces that helped spur on this piece:
- Strategy as a Creative Act: The Limits to Management Consulting
- Erik Flowers’ SxD journey as told to the Practical Service Design Slack community
- 12 Signs You’re in a Feature Factory
Thanks to Andy & David for helpful feedback on early iterations of this.