Sense and Respond: How Products Perform [Book Review]

by Braden Kelley

Jeff GothelfInterview with Jeff Gothelf

I had the opportunity recently to interview fellow author Jeff Gothelf to talk with him about his new book Sense and Respond, which is his second book with his co-author Josh Seiden and a major publisher. Congratulations Jeff!

1. Why is it so important that companies embed the two-way conversation with customers at the center of what they do?

The balance of power has shifted. Consumers now hold all the power when it comes to their interactions with companies. They can research, review and rate products and services in broadly reaching ways. This means that companies can no longer dictate these conversations. Instead, they must engage with customers in meaningful dialogues that addresses real, timely customer concerns. The more they do this — qualitatively, quantitatively and through technology — the more they’ll understand their customers, their needs and how to keep them loyal.

2. What are the core tenets of the Sense and Respond philosophy or framework?

You are in the software business first and foremost — regardless of what you make or sell. Being in the software business yields tremendous new power and opportunity. Businesses can now sense, in real time, how their products perform in the market. This same technological foundation then allows  businesses to respond in the same timeframe to what they’re sensing. The more organizations build this Sense & Respond culture into the way they work, the less time they spend perfecting faulty product offerings. In return they get evolving systems that are continuously being optimized to meet customer needs.

3. You talk about the rise of continuous uncertainty in the book. How does continuous uncertainty impact the enterprise?

Software is complex and unpredictable. If the product you offer is based in software (and it is) there is a high level in uncertainty in that product. What will it look like? How will it work? And most important, how will your customers use it? These are easy answers with physical products — e.g., a chair. You know exactly what goes into making the chair, what it will look like and what people will do with it. You can optimize the production of it to reduce costs and grow margins. With software as the raw material for your business this philosophy doesn’t work. Instead, our goal is to reduce the uncertainty of our software systems and continuously optimize to meet changing customer needs. This means that we need to accept the idea that we can’t predict the end state of our products and that they will continuously evolve. It also means that we will be wrong, more often, and that reducing the impact of being wrong is critical to our success.

4. What is the continuous mindset?

Software systems are no longer static. Code is deployed regularly, all day, at many companies. Data is collected constantly from these systems. Our systems are in a constant state of transition. Having a continuous mindset means embracing these new realities and recognizing that optimizing the production of software is not our goal. Instead our goal is to continuously optimize the customer’s experience with our software-driven products and services.

Sense and Respond5. I talk a lot about the importance of learning fast over failing fast and created The Experiment Canvas™ as a free tool for people. Tell us more about your views on continuous learning.

Traditional management (from the manufacturing era) holds a deliberate point of view. This view states that managers know what the teams need to do, how they need to do it and how long it should take. They then dictate these requirements to the teams to execute. Continuous learning allows for an emergent mindset. This is a humble point of view that embraces the uncertainty of technology. It allows teams, managers and companies to learn, continuously, how they are meeting customer needs and ways they could potentially improve. At the center of this mindset is the belief that framing success as customer value, not the deployment of features or products, is the best approach to success.

6. Linda Bernardi and I wrote a few years ago about how every company must acknowledge that they’re in the technology business or go out of business. You have a chapter titled “You Are in the Software Business.” Why is this so hard for companies to understand, and why is it so important?

For years, legacy businesses like banks and insurance companies have used technology to become a part of the mainstream conversation but have never acknowledged it’s core role in the success of the company. It was always a service “the IT team” provided. It was never a core offering. It’s difficult to slow down 50-100 years’ worth of corporate inertia. It requires a deep self-examination about what the market is demanding today and how we continue to deliver it. Luckily (or not for some) there have been multiple stories of disruption in seemingly invincible industries to help wake these companies up.

7. What are some of your favorite keys for managers to find success in planning for change and uncertainty?

Be humble. You can’t predict the future. You can only guess it. Have strong opinions but be willing to change them in the face of evidence. Trust your teams. They are closest to the customer. Let their work guide your decisions.

8. Should organizations be rethinking how they structure their teams and if so, how?

Yes. Silos are a vestige of factory-based manufacturing. The future is collaborative. Bringing different disciplines together in small, dedicated teams increases their likelihood for innovative discovery. They learn from each other, react faster and respond to what they’re sensing much more effectively and efficiently.

9. In the book you talk about ‘continuous everything’. Please tell us what you mean by this idea and why it’s important.

Nothing is static anymore. It’s not just technology. It’s communication, marketing and other practices like HR and Finance. How does the way these departments work change in the face of a Sense & Respond world? Finance, for example, can’t continue to rely on the annual planning process. It’s too slow and unresponsive. What does responsive Finance look like? That’s continuous everything.

10. What are the elements that go into creating a culture of continuous learning?

Humility. Trust. Autonomy. Evidence-based decision making. Customer-centricity. Agility. Customer delight through great design.

11. BONUS – Did I forget anything?

No This was very thorough. 🙂

Thanks for all that Jeff! I hope everyone has enjoyed this peek into the mind of one of the two men behind the new book Sense and Respond!

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Braden Kelley_LIBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, builds sustainable innovation cultures, and tools for creating successful change. He is the author of the five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and the creator of the revolutionary new Change Planning Toolkit™. Follow him on Twitter (@innovate) and Linkedin.

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