Developers doing discovery

on Ben’s Blog

I started a quest six months ago to bring a human-centered approach to how we build product at work. I realized that no one on my team had seen a customer user our product, let alone any feature we had implemented. So "connecting engineers with customers" became my mantra. I looked for opportunities and also asked the leaders in my organization.

But there was a disconnect.

We do have many opportunities for engineers to interact with customers, I heard. We have a beta program. Sometimes we get pulled into support escalations. Those are all times we can and should engage the customer.

That's when I realized I failed to be precise around what "connecting with customers" meant, and how frequently the discovery and design phase of development is foreign to Engineering. Our Scrum process does not adequately support this kind of behavior.

A conversation with a seasoned engineering leader crystallized this for me. We were talking about how we build empathy for the customer. He said that he had done this developing relationships with customers through years of working with them, presumably through escalations and other activities where he was validating our solutions with them.

My response: Rather than having the goal of understanding customer goals and needs as a side effect, let's be intentional about it! Engineering should partner and participate in user research. This would be a more effective and efficient way of building empathy and making sure we are solving the right problems.