Applying the principle in practice

Competency 1: Platforms Not Software

Applying principle two in practice means starting with the first competency, which considers how your organization might apply Principles One and Two end-to-end, to improve high-value touchpoints in your customer experience. This is the intersection of strategy and technology combined into a platform that can evolve and scale to your digital ambitions.

As shown in Figure E below, meeting the two involves evaluating the customer experience and the activities that make up that experience from end to end, starting from the digital experience. This is comprised of devices, interfaces and user experience, and how they inter-operate with consumer touchpoints (such as customer service and technical support), followed by the back office operations that support that experience.

To get started on defining your platform strategy, the key question that must be answered is, “How might we strategically apply technology to incrementally improve the customer experience?”. It’s important to call out a few keywords here.

First, the term ‘strategic’ in this context means ensuring that every technology investment is aligned with Principle One, i.e. customer value and adaptability (CVA). Second, the term ‘incremental’ in this context means avoiding lengthy, big-bang technology solutions in favor of thinly-sliced, customer-centric outcome based initiatives like the one shown in Figure F which can deliver incremental measures of value in days or weeks, rather than months.

One of the keys to effective thin-slicing is to work backwards, think in terms of customers and outcomes, then determine how technology might be applied to improve the overall customer experience and increase customer time-to-value. For example, consider how an online travel management app might use technology to increase customer time-to-value within their travel booking systems by making experiences such as scheduling a trip, changing flights, or rescheduling as frictionless as possible across any device.

Applying this mindset can be tricky, but here’s a mindset shift from Harvard professor Ted Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”. In other words, it's important to think about how technology can enable the outcomes that customers want. As Steve Jobs said in 1997, “You have to start from the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

In order to improve the customer experience using technology in a meaningful way, you’ll first need to find the best opportunities using a two step process.

Step 1: Map the customer experience

This process is a useful way to capture the pivotal moments that occur between a consumer and a business at each stage in the customer journey. Completing this exercise will enable you to apply the CVA principle and determine what the customer might be thinking and feeling as they move through the journey. To get a sense of what a customer experience map might look like, we’ve adapted the following customer experience map from Gus Svendsen.

Step 2: Map the operational value stream

After mapping the customer experience, the next step is to identify improvement opportunities using operational value stream maps. These are used to document the steps, handoffs and delays that occur on the operational side of the customer experience. As shown in Figure G above, each step is measured in processing time and delay time with the total time represented by the “total lead time” metric.

Working through this process is a good way to shed light on where the longest wait times and processing times exist which in turn, will open up discussions around how to apply technology to potentially reduce those times. VSMs are useful because they help organizations improve the customer experience by measuring the “process time” needed to complete individual activities in the customer experience as well as measure the “lead time” needed to complete the entire flow end to end.

These measurements provide rich opportunities for organizations to improve the customer experience by combining strategy, product and user experience capabilities with engineering and data capabilities.

Competency 2: DevOps

In order to deliver on the strategic competencies outlined above, transforming organizations must also develop the tactical competencies needed to accelerate the flow of value using continuous delivery practices like version control, deployment automation, test automation and test data management in addition to the best practices recommended by the DevOps community.

With continuous delivery, the objective is to enable fast feedback loops by providing the capability to safely and frequently release code into a production environment. Continuous Delivery provides a huge competitive advantage for companies, because fast feedback loops are the key to making CVA work, and the key to maximizing the time value of money on capital investments.

Moreover, Continuous Delivery is a key contributor to overall organizational performance and increased employee happiness because it removes much of the pain and burnout associated with big batch software releases. It is also a significant source of improved software quality and better application performance that also minimizes time spent on rework and unplanned work. [9]

DevOps, which is a portmanteau for development and operations, is an extension of the continuous delivery philosophy that encourages developers and operations to work and learn together, in a cross-functional way, applying technical excellence to directly benefit customers, value streams and products.

At the heart of the DevOps philosophy is the notion that organizations no longer need to choose between speed and stability. It is possible to achieve both by implementing good IT practices guided by the five core ideals outlined by Gene Kim in his 2019 book, The Unicorn Project [10].

Competency 3: Talent management

To avoid attrition and retain consistent levels of performance, talent management is critically important for organizations running a technology-backed business strategy. Developing the careers of your engineers by offering a variety of paths for both junior and senior engineers, including a management track and a specialist track, is vitally important in creating an environment that fosters upskilling as part of daily work and helps engineers feel as though they are moving to the next level.

One of the best ways to enable talent management is to create immersive learning environments that focus on “learning by doing” using Sharon Bowman’s four C’s: connections, concepts, concrete practice and conclusions. We’ll touch on how to implement immersive learning environments in greater detail in Part III, but the key takeaway is that in order to use technology as an effective strategy, it requires nurturing (and most importantly, retaining) technical talent.

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