Knowing Your Limits….

Posted on August 6, 2016 · Posted in Customer Focus

I enjoy working on my house. This is a good thing because the person I bought it from (also the person who had it built and, I think, had a  direct hand in many of the ‘finishing’ touches) only did about a C+ job on most  of it. Each time I get into a project, I inevitably find a lack of attention to  detail that reminds me of why I have to redo the work myself, causes me to shake  my head and wonder how in the world he thought that it was quality work?

Just a few examples:

  1. When tiling the kitchen floor (a nice touch), rather than pulling off the baseboard then re-attaching after the tile was down (probably the EASIEST part of any house project), he simply cut the tile and laid it right up to the baseboard, pinning it between the tile and the sheet rock wall. When I decided to put bead-board on the wall during kitchen remodeling, I needed to remove the baseboard but had to chisel it out. This turned a two minute job into a three and a half hour ordeal.
  2. When putting granite countertops into the kitchen (seemingly a  nice touch), he used half inch thick granite glued to a wood slab. For the edges of the counter—since you can’t round out 1/2” granite—he glued semicircle edges onto the vertical face of the counter edges. They looked nice, until they started to fall off onto the aforementioned granite tile. You can’t truly appreciate what happens to granite edge-rail when it falls from approximate 3 feet onto granite floor tile without witnessing the thousands of shards of stone that you find in every nook and cranny of the kitchen.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but my favorite builder didn’t really know what he was doing. It’s easy to find examples of this in our everyday lives. Certainly there’s no shortage of people in business who, in 2008, demonstrated to the world in a way that will be recorded in history, that they do not really know what they were doing.

Why does this happen? What’s the root cause? It’s really not so hard to explain and I believe it is a learned behavior—one that you might even exhibit in your daily work. I once worked for a company that designs software for Treasury Professionals who manage money for their own companies (much like you or I manage our money to meet expenses, make investments, pay down debts, etc.) Having just been hired into the job, fresh out of a career in health care consulting, I was immediately put into a design role on a few multi-million dollar projects to provide new and  innovative services.

To gain a perspective, I immediately went out and became certified in both domestic and international cash management. I was proud of my designations and had studied hard to earn them.

My colleagues and I then gathered in various conference rooms for hours at a time attempting to ascertain which features and functions our customers would use and those that would set us apart from our commodity competitors in the corporate banking services industry. We had great people in those meetings. We had experienced people. We had people from several areas of banking, including operations, technology and customer support—all in the effort to give us a nicely rounded perspective on what customers want.

This, I suspect, is a scene not unfamiliar to many of you and is repeated far and wide, regardless of industry, all over the world. We all read journals, hire consultants, talk to our sales people, go to conferences, participate in sales calls, etc. in a concerted effort to give us the “idea” edge over our competitors.

Back in the 60’s a reporter asked then University of Texas coach Darryl Royal why his team didn’t pass the ball more often. To this, coach Royal responded, “When you pass the ball, three things can happen (complete/ incomplete/interception) and two of them are bad.” So what happened with me, my colleagues and our projects? We did some good work—some really innovative work. It was one of the best in class products of its kind in US domestic banking. But it wasn’t perfect. Pieces of what we built were of no real interest to customers. We also missed things that customers would have been interested in using—three different outcomes, two of which are bad.

These outcomes are probably not uncommon in many product development endeavors. But does this have to be the case? Are we forever relegated to tearing out unnecessary functionality and making up for what we’ve missed? The answer is….NO. What’s more, the root cause is simple and the solution is maddeningly obvious.

More to come in the next segment!!