Who is your customer? Earlier this year I sat in on a presentation featuring an aircraft that will "possibly" replace the Boeing V-22 Osprey. The V-22 Osprey is a multi-mission military aircraft that has been in active military service since 2000. While this may not sound like a long time that the aircraft has been in service, it is worth mentioning that the original contract for an aircraft that combined the functionality of a conventional helicopter with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, and the high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft was originally awarded to the Bell and Boeing helicopter companies in joint in 1983. The V-22 first flew in 1989.
A vehicle for which original original plans were completed and submitted almost 40 years ago is in active service currently and does things like this...
Coming back to the presentation, we were hearing about the replacement for the vehicle. The release time they are targeting is over ten years away, the team is planning for 25 years of operational life for the newer aircraft. Think about that. The architects and developers are designing an aircraft today, which will be relied upon for very important, possibly life or death situations, that will be be expected to be current ten years from now, and minimum remain competitive for a few decades following that release date. How does a team accomplish this? How do they hit the mark in the future when they have no way of knowing where the future will be?
The answer is that, they kinda do. I mean not exactly, but they have a proxy. One of the lead architects began talking about the dashboard panel for this new aircraft. The individual opened up by speaking about his pilot. He made the comment that the first pilots who will be flying this thing are currently about 8 years old. For this reason they built their design around what 8 year olds are currently familiar with.....cell phones, tablets, and touch screens. The ability to zoom images with your hands, move various applications operating in real time. Overlays.
Think about that. While the plane will be operated by adult military personnel, and indeed they are working with adult military personnel to design and build the aircraft, they are not building it for those adults pilots. They are rather building for their real user; children.
I can tell you that I have sat in many planning meetings and sessions. Many marketing awareness workouts. I do not believe that I have actively engaged many groups designing things for the future adults rather than the adults as they know them today. Their previous success, and most likely follow on success centers around the idea of aiming for where the target will be, versus where the target is at. I mean seriously, who outside of toy companies talks about doing it for the kids? Okay he doesn't count.
My prior military service results in this analogy continuing to be comfortable,so hopefully you are still with me. In the military we had a concept of interdiction, that is, engaging a moving target. The concept was to first take the information you had available, ideally the direction the target is moving, and the speed with which it is moving. Next, you examined your current position, distance and direction. Using all of these inputs, you could then adjust your direction and speed, so that your course would intersect with the course of the target. What makes it an interdiction is that the courses not only intersect, but they do so at the same time.
I am a data scientist by trade, but I believe this mindset of meeting your target applies both to data, engineering, and software initiatives alike. If you are estimating 5 years to fully develop your product, five years of selling your product as the main line selling product, and a 15 year use life, what does that initial customer look like for your product ten years from now? Are they in the beginning, middle, or end of their career? Is the demographic getting younger or older over time. Is there evidence of changes in their education levels? I remember an example where we were designing a product and we were bringing in individuals from the profession for their feedback. We were getting very positive reviews. The main positive feedback we kept getting is about how cutting edge our product was compared to products made in the 1980's. It took us a while to realize that with our development schedule, our first customers were going to be in their 30's in 2020. This cohort was not going to be impressed with technology that outpaced the 1980's. This generation has no concept of the 1980's except for Stranger Things. And even then, they will be expecting some pretty out of this world stuff.
School is in Tech-session
Another great example of this approach is the University of Arizona under the Leadership of Michael Crow. In his book Designing the New American University, Michael talks about how the goal of becoming not just a tier one research university, but also a public university. The school made the active goal of doing more than simply attaining respectable rankings, they wanted to align their school with the purpose of supporting and positively impacting the regional community. This meant tearing down traditional structures that demanded that students conform to them, and designing reflexive structures that took into account the students coming in, the world that they would leave the college from, and ensuring that the school was an appropriate bridge between the two.
Instead of telling students to turn off their electronics when the school day started, the school began actively working to embed technology into the learning and life experience. Engaging students through their devices. Offering more and more online and interactive coursework. Leveraging technology for collaboration outcomes, not just between students working on projects, but also teachers in designing and proctoring courses and lectures. Instead of telling students about what the work environment will be looking for when they graduate, the school engaged in collaborations with corporations big and small to create co-ops. These opportunities proved a win for students seeking confirmation that what they were learning was relevant, and resulted in ownership from the corporations engaged, who naturally hired many of the students they worked with alongside University Research faculty. Students are actively recruited to be on school planning committees alongside faculty and administrative leadership. There are even active interactions with high schools and veteran services offices (to name a few) to get a head start on ensuring proper alignment with the customer, that is, the student.
SummaryTo tie this up, the best strategy for building solutions for customers in the fast pace, and continually evolving world we have today, given technology, is to attain a distance, a direction, and speed of moment of your customer, and build a plan to meet them where they are going to be, rather than going to where they are at, and hoping they will be there when you arrive. The customer is wanting to meet you. THEY WANT TO SEE YOU!!
Meet your customer where they will be....
Plan an interdiction course!
Thank you for taking the time to read through these concepts!
While it is labeled as a book for College and University Admins, I highly recommend Micheal Crow's book Designing the New American University. If gives a fresh real world example of meeting your target where your target will be. Whether you found this writing on (or off) mission and would like to chat about it, are looking for more material, or want to talk about other visions, I am always game! Contact me to talk more about strategic data science and technology planning. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org