A UX strategy workshop
led by Jared Spool USA, Europe & Australia   ·   2020

What Customer Problem Are We Solving?

August 7, 2018

“This is exactly what we need right now,” the head of engineering said to me. We were reviewing the eight user experience plays his team chose (out of the 130 I presented) during our Creating a UX Strategy Playbook workshop.

They’d chosen smart strategies for their situation, but one play stood out: Institute “What customer problem is this solving?” into enhancement discussions. By executing this play, the team would make it safe to talk about the customer’s problems driving any feature or enhancement.

I asked the head of engineering what made this an important strategy for his team right now. His response was telling. “We’re always being asked to build things and we often don’t know why.”

Where Do Feature Enhancements Come From?

“Sometimes, the enhancement comes from one of our users,” he explained, “who we never get to talk to. Instead, the user would tell their manager about the problem. Their manager told their organization’s head of IT. The head of IT told our salesperson, who in turn, told our product manager. Our product manager then wrote a user story that they put in the backlog. That’s when we hear about it.”

“The user story might say, ‘As a user, I need to export my data to load into other applications.’ We don’t know which data. We don’t know which other applications. We don’t know what they do with it once it’s there.”

“We’d ask our product manager, but he doesn’t really know much more than we do. If our user ever mentioned the reason to anyone else, it has long been lost to the chain of communication.”

Are we Building The Right Thing?

When they don’t know the problem that precipitates an enhancement request, they can’t possibly know when their new feature might be ready or how they’ll do a good job. “We usually don’t know if we’re building the feature right or if we’re even building the right thing.”

“Without knowing the problem, it’s almost impossible to do a good job,” he told us. This is why he loved this UX strategy play so much.

He’ll institute a regular discussion about the customer’s problems for every new feature and enhancement the team is asked to work on. He wants the salesforce and product management teams to collect this data as they get new feature ideas. He’d ask the design research team to lead his engineers into the field to meet directly with users, so they can see the problems first hand.

Fall In Love With The Problem

There’s an old saying: “Great designers don’t fall in love with the solution. Great designers fall in love with the problem.”

It’s impossible to fall in love with a problem you know nothing about. Instead, start asking What customer problem is this solving?

Don’t stop asking What customer problem is this solving? until the team truly understands the problem. That’s how we deliver the best products and services. That’s how we make our organizations competitive through design.

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