Stop working on the wrong problem

I think ‘Build the right thing then build the thing right‘ misses a trick.

It makes you think too much about the thing that you are making and not enough about the fundamental problem you are trying to solve.

Peter Drucker, the ‘founder of modern management’, once said;

There is nothing worse than doing the wrong things right

Peter Drucker

It is sobering to acknowledge how many times we’ve all done ‘the wrong things right’.

I think we should focus instead on;

‘Solving the right problem with the right solution and delivering it in the right way (then continuously improving it)’

The continuous improvement bit is vitally important because things like products and services are never ‘finished’ they can (and should) always be improved.

Choosing the right problem to solve isn’t easy and can feel more like an art than a science.

I’ve used a few different approaches in the past and have tied myself in knots trying to devise complex methods to score problems to determine which are the most important ones to fix.

There is a much simpler method.

In a recent service discovery project I worked on, @_juliesun ran an excellent workshop using this simple ‘action prioritisation matrix’ to help us to prioritise where we should focus our efforts.

Action prioritisation matrix that we used to prioritise service problems by mapping them against the value of solving them vs the effort to do the work
Use this simple matrix to help you prioritise where to focus your efforts

You can use it to plot know problems as well as potential solutions to problems.

In this project having already identified the critical problems within the service, we used it to prioritise potential solutions to explore within our alphas.

It’s all well and good planning and prioritising things of course but vitally important to remember that the only way to learn what really works is by making things real and seeing what happens.

The faster you can test solutions to problems, the faster you can measure the impact they have on the outcomes you’re looking for.

This gives you the best indication of whether you are in fact working on the right problems and allows you to refocus your work accordingly.

So before you fall in love with what you’re going to make and how you’ve going to make it make sure you’re working on the right problem.

What ‘experience baggage’ are your customers carrying?

I recently finally cancelled my Abobe Lightroom subscription after years of putting it off.

I’ve been paying £9.99 a month for it ever since and not really using it.

Every month I saw the money leave my account and kicked myself for not cancelling it.

The problem was I knew just how difficult they were going to make it to leave and I just couldn’t muster the energy to do it.

I put it off because I expected it to be difficult, annoying and frustrating.

I must have looked at a reminder to cancel it on my to do list every day for years.

When I finally cancelled it I was amazed that it only took me a minute to do and was absolutely no hassle whatsoever.

My preconceptions of how hard it was going to be were unfounded but had cost me at least two years worth of subscription fees.

These preconceptions (both good and bad) are built from hundreds of previous experiences that we then bring with us to everything we subsequently do.

I’ve been thinking about this as ‘experience baggage’.

Woman looking at her phone pulling a suitcase
What ‘experience baggage’ are your customers arriving with? (Illustration from storyset.com)

This experience baggage moulds our preconceptions, anxieties and expectations of what an experience will be like and as such influences our behaviour.

As such it’s a critical thing for designers to understand and try and mitigate in our work.

By conducting user research you can identify the experience baggage your customers and potential customers are arriving with when they use your products and services.

Armed with this knowledge and insight you can then deliberately provide experiences that serve to dispel customers preconceptions that will surprise and delight them instead.

Now that I know it’s easy to unsubscribe from Lightroom for example, I’m more likely to re-subscribe in the future.

That’s the sweet spot of experience design, creating something that is both good for the customer and good for the business.

So consider what ‘experience baggage’ your users are arriving with and what you can do at all of your touch points to encourage them to leave it at the door.

Optimise your ‘key service moments’

Within any service there are critically important ‘key service moments’ (for both the service user and provider) that result in significant problems if they are broken in some way.

I recently worked on a project investigating why the physical health check service for people with severe mental illness was underperforming.

This is a really complex service that consists of many individual touch points, interactions and activities on the part of the service user and provider and what became clear was that some were much more important than others.

One example of a key service moment was when patients had a doctors appointments.

Appointments made people feel really anxious.

Will I be feeling well enough to attend?

What if I bump into someone I know in the surgery and have to explain why I’m there?

How will I get to the appointment?

What if I get that unsympathetic doctor again?

What if I have to discuss my recent breakdown?

The experience that service users had at these key moments had a huge impact on their experience of it as a whole.

Their anxieties around them often resulted in them not attending appointment which had a huge impact upon the medical professionals ability to deliver a successful physical health check service.

It became very clear that in order to design a successful service you have to ensure that these moments work really well.

I recently bought a second hand car.

This process was unbelievably complicated and had a few key moments that stick in my mind.

Trying to negotiate a good price for something I know very little about was really difficult and not at all enjoyable. Sorting out the money for it was tricky and something I haven’t done before.

There were also ‘key moments’ from the perspective of the dealer too. It became clear that it was really important for them to sell me add on products such as gap insurance, alloy wheel protection, paint protection, service plans etc in order to maximise their revenue.

In this instance my ‘key moments’ and theirs did not match but in some services this might be the case, presenting an obvious sweet spot to optimise, resulting in benefits for everyone.

When designing services it’s critical to identify and focus on optimising these ‘key moments’.

By focussing on them you benefit from ‘gearing’ in terms of the impact from optimising these things over others.

There are always too many problems to address at once so this approach also gives you a pragmatic method to prioritise where you spend your time and money in order to maximise your returns.

A tale of two services

Every day I have a choice of buses from two different companies to get me to work.

Both take the same amount of time, pick me up from the same place and get me to the same destination but one offers me a far better service than the other.

Bus company ‘A’ has much older buses but has friendly drivers that say hello and wait to let people on who run for the bus.

They often have a selection of newspapers to read and the driver seems to know loads of the passengers by name.  

Travelling with them feels like a friendly, relaxed and good value lift to work.

Bus company ‘B’ has more modern buses but the drivers are often moody and rarely look you in the eye.

They sit hidden behind a protective shield of glass and sell more expensive tickets than company ‘A’. 

Travelling with them feels commercial, unfriendly and a money making commuting machine.
 
Unsurprisingly, I favour bus ‘A’ and will wait longer to get one, even bus ‘B’ turns up first.

Both companies provide a service that get me to work on time but one is a far better experience than the other.

This example shows by how providing a better service and experience you can win customers from your competitors.

Great products and services don’t happen by accident of course. 

They are great because they have been meticulously and deliberately designed to meet the needs of the people they serve.

So is your company offering your customers the bus ‘A’ experience or the bus ‘B’ experience?

How well you understand what your customers want, need and value and how well are you serving them?

Perhaps it’s time you found out before they jump on the other bus!