The Epicenter of Your Project: The Customer

Equipped with green screens, function key navigation and unforgiving error messages, the claims system I was charged with training my colleagues was complex to navigate for even the most experienced users.  “Be patient with yourself” was the reminder I often offered to anxious course participants as they learned the in’s and out’s of the antiquated system. My adventures as a Trainer demonstrated the impact poor design has on users and have fueled my passion for delivering easy to use technology, products and processes ever since. 

With competition at its highest level ever and social media a megaphone for expressing opinions, customers have a loud voice and low tolerance for poorly designed technology and products.  Customers are essential to project success and need to be the central focus of your project planning and design solutions. Project Manager cheering with Team

Here are five key elements to integrate into your project schedule to embrace the customer voice and leverage the value of a customer-centered design process. This approach has proven to increase customer satisfaction and improve project success.  

1.)    Cross-functional Team – Create a cross functional team and engage them from the start of the project including:  Business Analysts, Subject Matter Experts, Product Designers, Systems Analyst, Architecture, Developers, Marketing, Customer Service and User Experience.  Invite stakeholders from across the organization early in the project to build team cohesion, foster buy-in and promote a solutions-approach rather than a reactive-approach. 

2.)    Create Personas – Project team members seldom meet real customers who will be using the products they deliver. A persona is a customer profile that helps the project team humanize the customer who will be using the product they’re creating. It’s common for teams to give personas names and faces they feel represent the demographics and characteristics of a typical customer.  Use of personas during product design continues to emerge as vital deliverable in the project schedule because they serve as a reminder to avoid temptation of making decisions that best reserved for customers.  

3.)    Complete a Competitive Analysis – It’s likely there are products on the market similar to what your company is offering.  Find them, evaluate what you think your customers will like and leave out what they won’t. Completing a competitive analysis is an effective way to generate scenarios that provide starting points for the design process and foster some blue sky brainstorming at the same time.  

4.)    Ask for Customer Input Early and Often – Traditional design methods engage the customer after the deliverable has been built, if at all.  This customer-centered approach engages customers early in the design process and then throughout it. Customer feedback helps identify and anticipate pain points while shaping the design of the deliverable.  While the project team may be able to provide valuable customer insights, it’s your actual customers who have answers to your design questions and want to be engaged in the process.  Be sure your schedule includes time for customer testing.

5.)    Paper Prototypes – Some companies avoid prototyping thinking it will only be effective if the prototype is real or working. Smart companies are realizing even low-budget paper prototyping can be immensely effective in providing important insights into how customers perceive and will use their products.  Build time into your schedule to design paper prototypes of proposed designs.

Applying customer-centered design practices saves companies time and money while keeping them in command of their deliverable schedule. Best of all, it can transform customer relationships from tense to delightful improving the overall success of your project!

Is your organization considering implementing customer-centered design processes or perhaps it already has?  Share your stories and comments below so we can learn from each others experiences. 

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About Brain Logic, LLC

Brain Logic helps companies understand how their customers think in order to design their technology, products and processes to deliver optimal customer experiences and boost the ROI of their investments. For more information visit www.brainlogiconline.com or email jill@brainlogiconline.com
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6 Responses to The Epicenter of Your Project: The Customer

  1. codewryter says:

    I was surprised how useful creating a persona is for web development. Spending the time to write out the background of a fictional user and what their needs are is time well spent. I also agree that completing a competitive analysis is vital. I learn so much by looking at what other companies are doing successfully or deciding what could make their user experience easier and more gratifying.

    • Thanks for your comment Codewryter. I frequently hear similar comments about personas from companies after they’ve begun using them. And as you’ve probably found, the competitive analysis often supports the development of personas because the research enables you to gain a deeper understanding of the market space and reactions to it. Both change the design conversations, for the better.

  2. I think customer input is something companies don’t value enough. The guy on the street often has insight into problems developers can never see.

    • So true James, nothing replaces real customer feedback during design process. They have the answers to the design decisions teams frequently wrestle with, and they’re often much different from what the project team ever imagined. Thanks for your comment.

  3. PM Hut says:

    HI Jill,

    It’s amazing that so many project managers nowadays forget about the importance of the customer and his role in project success (or failure) and focus solely on the “technical” aspects of the project.

    I would like to republish your post on PM Hut ( http://www.pmhut.com ) where a lot of project managers will benefit from it. Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

    • Thanks for your comments. With so much pressure on PM’s related to resources, dates anad budgets it can be easy to lose sight of the customer. Yes, please feel free to republish on PM Hut.

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