Jeff Gothelf

Lean UX

Innovation Series – JEFF GOTHELF 700

Jeff is a consultant and the co-author of Sense and Respond, Lean UX and Lean vs Agile vs Design Thinking. Recently, co-founded Sense & Respond Press, a publishing house for modern, transformational business books.

Randy: We would like to welcome the coach, speaker, author, consultant and godfather of Lean UX to The Innovation Series. Welcome Jeff, as always it seems like you've been busy. I saw that you recently co-founded Sense & Respond Press, can you tell us about its core mission and what drove you to launch it?

Jeff: Sense & Respond Press was the result of a series of experiments into the world of self-publishing. We started with tweets to test ideas which turned into short articles, then longer blog posts and finally our first book, Lean vs Agile vs Design Thinking. Once we proved the idea that short, practical business books for busy executives had a market and demand we turned our attention to the people and ideas we wanted to publish. We’ve been fortunate and deliberate in building a diverse catalog of first-time authors on topics as broad as hiring women to facilitation to innovation. 

Randy: A lot of what you talk about lately is centered around the concept of digital transformation. I saw a recent industry report that said digital transformation was the #1 initiative on the mind of CIOs today. However, the report went on to say that digital transformation also meant something a little different to everyone asked. Can you give us the Jeff Gothelf version of what digital transformation means, and why it's so important?

Jeff: I think digital transformation has 2 meanings. There’s the technical side of it — how do we leverage technology to better deliver our products and services while transforming the way we operate our business for efficiency, insight, and agility. But it’s the second meaning that I think has even more impact on how companies work and whether they will truly thrive in the modern economy. The second side of digital transformation is drawing inspiration from the technology to change the culture of our companies. Modern technology provides companies with an opportunity to build continuous conversations with their customers, partners, vendors and even their employees. If we use this new capability to learn (or sense) how well we’re meeting the needs of these people and then respond back to them with improvements at a similar pace we stand a much better chance of creating the kinds of experiences these people value. Tech has shown us that this is possible but we are not solely reliant on tech to deliver on this promise. In fact, if we don’t instill qualities like humility and curiosity into our cultures we’ll never truly be able to take advantage of this new reality and transform our companies. 

Randy: It's hard to believe, but Sense and Respond has been out for over two years now! What’s been the most surprising thing people have latched onto?

Jeff: It is hard to believe :-) The feedback we’ve received either directly, through clients or by word of mouth is that applying the ideas in the book — continuous learning, continuous improvement, experimentation, business agility, humility  — they are building “Sense & Respond teams.” I love this because it moves away from the “product” team or “department” team and instead focuses on the end-user and how the team can best serve that person. I’d love to see more of that happen. 

Randy: Our audience is made up of people that work for companies of all sizes and shapes. Seems like they are all talking about CX in one form or another.  What’s at stake if companies don’t actually adopt a customer-centric strategy in this day and age?

Jeff: Business professor and author Rita Gunter McGrath talks in one of her books about the end of competitive advantage. The barriers to entry in nearly every market are lower than they’ve ever been. This means that, unless you’re a pioneer in a new field, you’ve likely competitors who offer identical services to yours. In these situations, what’s the differentiation going to be? It will always end up being customer experience. If you respect your customers, delight them when it’s appropriate, ensure they’re solving real problems they will reward you with continued loyalty and word of mouth support. 

Here’s a perfect example of that I experienced recently. Where I live we have these scooter (50cc electric mopeds) rental services that I use frequently. There are actually 6 of them in my market (six!). I use 2 of them. All of them offer a finite geofence where you can operate. One service, Yego, doesn’t let you end your ride if you try and park the scooter outside the zone. You have to ride into the zone to park and end the ride. Their competitor, Movo, will fine you €70 if you park outside the zone. On the spot. No warning, no recourse. Given the cost of renting the scooter is about €0.25/min a €70 charge is quite the shock. They could easily just do what Yego does and alert me that I can’t park here and tell me where to go. Instead, they opt to profit off fines. I’ve deleted the Movo app from my phone. Customer experience always wins out. 

Randy: I recently watched your presentation Lean vs Agile vs Design Thinking, and I loved how you described the intersection of the three becoming sort of a Frankenstein's monster. Yet we can leverage a core set of principles to them all together harmoniously. How would you advise Dr. Frankenstein to choose the right principles to focus on for his organization in order to bring his process to life?

Jeff: Let’s keep going with this metaphor for a bit…. :-) Frankenstein’s monster was an attempt to piece together a human (or humanity) by putting together various parts that *should* work together. But they didn’t fully recreate the human he was hoping for. The same holds true for our ways of working. If we try to piece together various processes we end up with a Frankenstein process — it waddles along and gets the job done but nobody’s happy with it. If instead we try to align the values and principles we’re trying to achieve (aka the humanity) we stand a far better chance of building a way of working that meets the needs of our organization. In addition, it gets us away from the (always) unproductive conversations and accusations of “that’s not agile!” etc. 

Randy: Along similar lines, I saw that you just had a talk Design Sprint and Lean UX in Barcelona where you are teaming up with Jake Knapp. It's sold-out, congratulations! We just spoke with Jake last month, and he had an interesting take on the value of pre-launch testing. From your experience, can you give us your thoughts on the importance of getting customer feedback before committing to build product?

Jeff: The guaranteed way to find out if you’re building something of value that customers will love is to build it, scale it and ship it. It’s also the most expensive and the most risky. We just don’t need to do that anymore. The pace of change is far too rapid today and consumer behaviours and expectations are changing to match the transformations we see in the market. By the time our “brilliant’ idea hits the market, we’ll likely miss the mark. Rapid cycles of learning with continued investment based on market-based evidence is the safest and most objective way to build new products, services, and business that customers love. 

Randy: As someone on the front lines talking to people every day about design and the journey to great product, I find your focus on Lean vs Agile vs Design Thinking incredibly relevant and valuable. What else should I have asked that people need to know?

Jeff: One thing I’ve started doing lately is taking the same principles we’ve been using to improve our ways of working at the office and applying them to my personal life and my professional development. What are my hypotheses about the future? Where should I invest my time? How do I de-risk big ideas/changes I want to implement in my life? I then think through ways I can test those ideas before committing time and emotional capital to them. For example, my family and I relocated to Spain 2 years ago. We knew we wanted to move abroad but we didn’t know where to go. It’s a risky move, especially with kids so instead of just picking a spot and going we ran experiments. 1 month every summer for 4 years we took the kids to a different country and worked/lived from there in an Airbnb in a local neighborhood. We took the experience of those experiments and picked a new place to live with the evidence we collected. It’s been a good move so far :-) 

Randy: Good luck and thank you again for being on the Innovation Series. It's been great to have you!


Past Interviews

Dr. Justin SchragerVital Software

Brian PoppeMutual of Omaha

Dustin ZieglerElevance Health

Dr. Joshua Vest, PhD, MPHIndiana University

Helen RobbH&R Block

Therese Fessenden NN/g, Microsoft

Brittni BoweringSPRINT Facilitator, AJ&Smart

Fabricio TeixeiraWork & Co, UX Collective

Jake KnappSprint, GV, Microsoft

Radhika DuttRadical Product Thinking

John ZeratskySPRINT, Make Time

Tobias van SchneiderSemplice, Spotify

Taylor PalmerUX Tools, Neighbor

Daniel BurkaResolve to Save Lives, GV

Carie DavisYour Ideas are Terrible, Coca-Cola

Sean AmmiratiDirector, Corporate Startup Lab at Carnegie Mellon

Aaron LerchWhy designers and developers need to invest in being equal partners

Alex BillingsleyHow to get designers and developers on the same page