Issue 17 – Mar 2014


Issue 17 • Mar 2014

“We are not Normal People” – a study on the voice of the customer”
January 29, 2014

When it comes to building products, the biggest problem technical (and creative) people have is this: increasing the technical challenge while creating a product does not increase the chance for more sales. This surprises us. We get an idea for a thing, think about the technology we’d use to build it, and get excited. “I could build this on the Twilio API!” “I could learn that new CSS framework!” “I could use this new tool I just purchased!” The problem is that all of this is focused on us, the creator, and not on the customer, the consumer. Repeat after me: “We are not normal people.” We’re not. What’s “normal” for us is often alien to our customers. If we’re actually going to sell products, we need to quit thinking about what’s cool to us, and focus on what customers actually need. Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way: the best way to do this is to listen. Let me give you an example:

I was walking to my barber for a haircut, thinking about all the ways technology could improve my barber’s business. “Software is eating the world!” I thought. As I walked, I began to create software (in my mind) that would eliminate perceived inefficiencies, save him hundreds of dollars a month, and increase sales exponentially. Then I go in, got my haircut, and got a reality check.

Me: “So, have you ever tried using scheduling software for your appointments?”
Barber: “Oh man, I’ve tried like 10 of them. Terrible! They’re all terrible.”
Me: “Really? None were helpful. Why?”
Barber: “Almost all my bookings happen on the phone, or via text message. There’s nothing I’ve found that’s more efficient than looking at a paper calendar on the wall, and finding them a time. If I have to walk over to the computer, I’ve already wasted too much time. I have 5 seconds to look, and determine when is have a spare block. All the software I’ve tried just gets in the way.”

All the plans in my head, for incredible barbering software, were crushed, in a single conversation. This is the power of getting out and actually listening to people. Sidebar: there’s a temptation to try to change people’s priorities so they fit our ideal. For example, I could have argued with my barber that a paper calendar is a terribly inefficient way to organize his business. This is almost always a bad idea. First: he knows his business way better than I do. Second: trying to change people’s priorities is almost never profitable. The amount of energy, time and dollars required makes it a losing proposition. Here’s the hard part about building, and marketing products: we have to commit ourselves to the best solution for the customer EVEN when it’s not the most challenging thing to build. Here’s a scary thought: in some cases, a customer might not NEED more software!

If we’re really going to help people, and we’re really going to improve their lives, we have to be open to all possible solutions. Sometimes the best solution for a customer will be to write a book. Sometimes, yes, they’ll need good, simple software that solves their problem. And sometimes, like my barber, maybe what they really need is a better paper calendar, that helps them book appointments more efficiently. Really, we won’t know until we listen. If you want to get good at marketing and sales, you’re going to need to get good at really listening. Throw away your preconceived notions, and open your ears to what your target market has to say. You can do this in direct conversation, like I had with my barber. However, it’s also helpful to go to places where you can be a silent observer. Justin Jackson @mijustin

PDCA - the Pounding Heart Muscle of Life

By Pascal Dennis

Plan-Do-Check-Adjust - so easy to say.

An inexperienced young fellow recently said to me, "PDCA is too easy. I need something more..."

At his age, I was thick too. The mist gradually cleared for me, as I'm sure it will for him.

My Toyota sensei once said, "Ten years to learn Plan, ten for Do, ten for Check and ten for adjust. I am beginning to understand PDCA now."

Forty years - for one the world's top auto executives.

There isn't much that's truly new. And there are eternal verities, like PDCA.

How often are we distracted, like crows, by the latest shiny object? How many people are distracted by the latest get-rich-quick scheme -- Real Estate! Gold! Emerging Markets!

How many folks fall under the spell of latest & greatest motivational speaker?

Some of these may have merit in the short term. But the real road to success is PDCA, the pounding heart muscle of the universe.

Inhale & exhale, expand & contract, wax & wane.

PDCA distinguishes us from the animals. It informs, or should inform, all human activity

So with all respect to Tom Robbins and Oprah, we already know the answer. The 'silver bullet' is right in front of us. It's difficult, humbling work, but it works.

As we used to say at our old Toyota factory, "If you follow the recipe, you get a Big Mac every time..."


Pascal Dennis

LPI Back to Basics Series, Part 1
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Training Opportunities

For those of you wishing to pursue lean certification, Breakthrough Horizons is pleased to offer another workshop in support of Lean Bronze Certification.

The four largest and most recognized lean and quality improvement organizations standardize their curriculum and certification standards to create a universal standard for Lean Excellence.

These organizations include The Shingo Prize, the Association of Manufacturing Excellence (AME), the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), and the American Society for Quality (ASQ). Each of these organizations offer conferences and workshops on a wide variety of quality improvement topics and are worthy of attendance.

There are three levels of certification; Bronze, Silver and Gold. The Bronze is the initial certification and most pursued. Certification requires passing an exam, 80 hours of application and training, and the submission of a portfolio demonstrating mastery of the concepts. It is the premium certification because it requires application and demonstrated proficiency.

Attending a class and passing a test, or sitting through computer based training does not make you an expert. Expertise is earned through repeated application of the Scientific Method.

The Breakthrough Horizons public workshop is a 3-day facilitated training session that goes over all of the lean concepts needed to become bronze certified. The workshop uses a combination of didactic and praxis approaches to hardwire the concepts into the students thinking allowing for real-time application later.

We are pleased to announce the next public workshop will be in January of 2014. Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto is hosting the training session on January 8, 9, and 10. The class will be capped at about 30 participants to allow for optimal classroom interaction.

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