Steve Jobs said it best: “Design is how it works.”
We live in an exciting time, when digital products and services are remaking industries, business models and jobs. At the center of all this activity are two closely connected disciplines: design and engineering. But while engineering and design have long played a central role in developing new ideas and creating project plans, they’ve traditionally operated in their own silos.
Today, though, as technology informs design, and meaningful design enables technology to boost user engagement, digital leaders are aligning and intertwining design and engineering and shifting the combined entity to the top of the product development pyramid. Together, these two disciplines can help generate success in the form of business outcomes, the metric through which digital engineering is measured.
Enter Outcome Engineering
This is known as “outcome engineering,” where technologists work with designers to create solutions that match end-user needs. To engineer for outcomes, businesses need to first define what they need to change or improve (i.e., experience, engagement, functions, connections, velocity) to achieve a specific goal (i.e., revenue, productivity, profitability, stock valuation, etc.) Realizing these target outcomes – or failing to meet them –will make or break the business’s ability to sustainably innovate.
Let’s consider “improved consumer experience” as a key business outcome. Despite growing investments in personalization technologies – such as advanced artificial intelligence (e.g., machine learning) and rules-based robotic process automation – the majority of consumers still report underwhelming digital experiences. Yet 81% of market leaders in a Gartner study expect customer experience to provide a competitive edge in 2019. In many cases, these unrealized outcomes are due to a misalignment between design and engineering from the start.
A positive example of outcome engineering is our work with a global assurance, tax and transaction advisory business. The company’s flagship product, a premier tax auditing platform, offers a high-quality, user-friendly solution to streamlining the auditing process while mitigating unnecessary emails and routine administration. By focusing on product engineer sprints and building out an MVP (minimal viable product), we were able to rapidly build and evolve upcoming platform features by improving processes and workflows, especially for testing automation. Decreasing testing time from months to weeks saved the business millions of dollars and enabled the U.S. team to focus on a backlog of requests related to the platform.
Technology and Design, Driven by Outcomes
Organizations that master outcome engineering reduce innovation risk because they’re open to implementing the best results-oriented technology available, informed by design. They’ll pursue an initiative to improve the customer journey even if it requires new infrastructure or processes. They’ll readily explore new technologies if the business case demonstrates a return on investment. Knowing that an innovation’s market potential has already been vetted, even conservative leaders are likely to be more receptive to technology investments.
Case in point, a leading learning science company and top-three educational publisher wanted to extend its bandwidth and velocity to enhance user experiences and infuse new capabilities into its top-tier solutions. While the business had more than 60 different Agile teams dedicated to the delivery of its digital platforms, it lacked the ability to scale, specifically when it came to digitally delivering assessment tests to its ever-increasing student customer base.
We created a product roadmap, dedicated to crafting new assessment questions and backlog features. This helped the business quickly iterate with a full understanding of incoming requests, enabling it to not only efficiently scale but also focus on delivering unique user experiences. To ensure the engineered outcome is a cohesive, unified platform, our product and design teams were held to the same KPIs as the client’s team, such as velocity, quality, product impact and autonomy, which allows for a seamless transition upon rollout.
It All Stems from Empathy – and Data
To meet end-user needs, outcome engineering requires significant levels of technology-informed empathy: a deep understanding of users’ motivations, processes and frustrations at every step of their journey. Customer anxiety about selecting the wrong product, for example, might indicate the need for a recommendations engine, while irritation with waiting for a human agent to help with product setup might signal the need for a chatbot.
Empathy starts with listening to customer needs. In a recent study by CB Insights, senior executives in large companies reported that the top source of successful innovations was customer input, far ahead of competitive intelligence, analyst reports and other sources.
This is why organizations that invest in outcome engineering do more than respond to customer desires by delivering goods and services – they also uncover the rationale for those desires. They understand why customers want a particular outcome. Data alone doesn’t provide the full answer because it often doesn’t reveal the necessary sentiment.
Instead of relying on customers to tell them what they want, businesses can anticipate new needs by scrutinizing every step of their journey – and having that data is critical to connecting design to the engineering of a solution.
Adopting a New Mindset
Applying outcome engineering requires a new mindset. Rather than subjugating design to afterthought status, or retrofitting technology to meet a design vision, organizations need to elevate both in concert to build the best product possible. This often means building minimum viable products that take just weeks to stand up – and continually refine them – vs. delivering fully formed products that take months or years to develop and deploy, if indeed they ever see the light of day.
Shifting to this mindset isn’t easy. As discussed in Part 1 of this series, it requires new skillsets, meaningful partnerships and a culture of collaboration both within the company and with its partners.
Increasingly, though, undertaking this effort will simply be a cost of doing business. By approaching their digital initiatives with an outcome engineering approach, organizations can reap the full benefits of their investment and drive sustainable innovation.
To learn more about engineering your digital strategy for business success, download our latest whitepaper “Outcome Engineering 101” or read my guidebook, Transforming While Performing: How To Create A Culture of Innovation With Partners.
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