Sense & Respond: How Successful Organizations Listen to Customers and Create New Products Continuously
Jeff Gothelp and Josh Seiden
Harvard Business Review Press (February 2017)
Engage an organization in a two-way conversation with its market(s) and customers, integrated at all levels and in all areas
To what does the title of this book refer? According to Jeff Gothelp and Josh Seiden, “We named this book Sense & Respond because we like the way this phrase describes the basic mechanism, the feedback loop, at the center off this approach. The most important themes that underpin the sense and respond approach can be found in these five principles:
1. Create two-way conversations with markets and customers.
2. Focus on the outcomes.
3. Embrace continuous change and continuous processes.
4. Create collaboration.
5. Create a learning culture.
As I worked my way through the first few chapters, I was again reminded of the fact that, in 1865, a German physicist, Rudolph Clausius (1822-1888), coined the term entropy during his research on heat. The word’s meaning “a turning towards” (in Greek, en+tropein), “content transformative” or “transformative content.” Claudius used the concept to establish a mathematical foundation for the second law of thermodynamics: without the injection of free energy, all systems tend to move (however gradually) from order to disorder, if not to chaos.
So what? Gothelp and Seiden cite The CHAOS Report (1994), by The Standish Group, one indicating that 84% of IT projects either failed to deliver any results or were seriously impaired by cost and schedule overruns. In a global marketplace that is more volatile, uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous today than at any prior time I cannot remember, the percentage is presumably greater. Gothelp and Seiden offer the sense and response approach, one that enables organizations to engage in a two-way conversation with their markets and customers in order to drive value from that conversation. Entropy is a threat to organizational health both internally and externally.
Here in Dallas near the downtown area, we have a Farmer’s Market at which some of the merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I now offer two brief excerpts. First, Sense and Response Takeaways for Managers at the conclusion of Chapter 1, “Continuous Uncertainty”:
o “Because of the digital revolution, businesses face new levels of complexity and uncertainty.”
o “The industrial-age approach to managing uncertainty was to make detailed plans. Because software systems are complex, that approach does not work. Detailed plans break down in the face of reality.”
o “The best way to deal with uncertainty is to adopt a continuous, small batch approach that is oriented toward learning your way forward.”
o “This approach, pioneered in the software world, is increasingly relevant across business because many operations are tied in some way to software.”
Next, Sense and Response Takeaways for Managers at the conclusion of Chapter 6, “Organize for Collaboration”:
o “Small, self-sufficient, cross-functional teams are the key working unit of the sense and respond approach. These teams have the ability to monitor and observe customers, create experiments, understand and interpret data, decide how to respond, and produce e a response.”
o “The core functions of the collaboration tom tend to include design, engineering, and product management but frequently have other roles, depending on the organization.”
o “To react this collaboration, consider using autonomous, mission-based teams, cross-functional t teams, and dedicated teams.”
o “Support new work flows, and create co-located teams. If you use remote or outsourced workers, be careful to assess their effect on the agile process.”
o “Adopting a minimum viable process and holding regular retrospectives will help team members collaborate more effectively.”
There is much of great value to be said for a continuous feedback loop, one that sustains an ongoing conversation (both metaphorical and literal) between an organization and those it serves. “This conversation helps us figure out what our customers value, and it helps them express what they value. It allows us to try things out, see what works, and adjust until we find the sweet spot: something that creates value for both customers and our business.”
I commend Jeff Gothelp and Josh Seiden on the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that they provide in their book. To those who have comments or questions, or are in need of additional resources, they have created a companion website for this book. They also include their email addresses. This contact information is provided on Page 14. If your organization has become hostage to what Jim O’Toole has so apply characterized as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom,” or is danger of that occurring, Sense & Respond is a must-read.