Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software

Business value or Customer value

Table of contents

Each of us have various set of motivations for work. For some of us it is intellectual, others find rewards (monetary or otherwise) exciting, for someone else work may be a medium to serve. We will take service perspective and dwell upon various aspects.

If we may take a bird’s eyeview over the evolution of an enterprise, customer value may stand as one of the biggest reasons for a business to thrive in its early days of evolution. Customer value wins us early adopters, and an awesome service to customers gets us raving fans. With the impetus so earned the enterprise grows organically.

With the growth, the options to serve customers and the areas where the enterprise could venture multiply. Decision making becomes critical. Clarity on direction stands out as a key element for the journey. Execution is now supported by a growing team of collaborators. Time and energy are split between these activities and customer value. Some of the activities accrue to customer value in an indirect manner. May be we could label these activities as business value. These make the business better which in turn serves the customers well.

The challenge is straightforward. Is the time and energy spent on indirect customer value essential? How do we measure the effectiveness? In the back of mind, we keep questioning this time spent on direct customer value could do wonders. Have we become a cost center instead of an innovation center? Have we given into administration instead of creating?

Necessity of auxiliary activities

Our answer to the business value question is a yes. We have to keep doing those activities. It is pivotal for the enterprise to scale. Scale brings in additional complexities; we solve complexities by bringing in expertise. Expertise also brings in tons of opinions; decision making becomes more informed and hard. We need to spend this time.

Ignoring this could lead the enterprise into an unchartered territory without appropriate sense of risk. Just like a blind leading a blind we could all end up in an abyss ;)

People and personalities

We started this discussion with a note on motivations for work. It appears to be related to individual accumen. Some of us truly thrive given business challenges. Others do really well on execution. In other words, some people shine when the problem statement is ambiguous, vision is not clear, direction is not defined. They draw the path. Some others are great at paving the path, laying out bricks. Rest of us walk upon that and deliver the finished product to end customer.

Josh Kaufman classifies these skill sets into implementors and enablers. Enablers make things easier for Implementors. They set the path, pave it with bricks and stay out of the way.

Implementors take over from there. They exactly know how to mix the raw materials and create the finished product that customers will love! As craftsmen they strive for top notch quality.

If we take service as a metric, an implementor serves the customers directly. They provide the final touch the finished product. It is an enviable role to be in. An enabler serves only the business directly. She creates a vision and brings in tons of clarity to the direction of execution. She serves the enabler population. It could be a hundredth of the customer population and may appear meagre mathematically. I guess the impact comes from a meta perspective, where enabling a few determines the shape of the product that goes to masses. It is hard to internalize this.

Implementor to enabler

We start our careers as implementors as apprentice. Over time we hone the skills and become better at crafting products and experiences. We are thrilled to see the clay getting moulded into a beautiful vessel. We enjoy the moment a customer takes the vessel, carefully measures its qualities and our eyes twinkle when she finds the vessel flawless. That’s the definition of happiness for a craftsman.

Few years later, you have gotten old at creating vessels. You must take on the role of an enabler. All of a sudden, your purpose changes; you have to move away from the little sources of happiness. How do we deal with these?

Implementor to enabler is a hard change.

It is easy to fall into the trap of implementation again and again. For example, you could end up hand holding apprentices and using that excuse to write code and ship something :) You could end up writing design docs for them. All of these are things you excel at. I’ve also been at the receiver’s end, being an apprentice to a master giving into this trap. It means as an apprentice, you will watch everything firsthand, see expertise at work, you will never make a mistake but you will not learn as well.

The motivations for an enabler role requires a change in the mindset. The lizard brain will resist and keep telling you that you’re getting away from customers, spending time in seemingly worthless pursuits. If I may put the elephant out there, this just means you have been too comfortable as an implementor and every thought is resisting that change!

Beauty of enabler is multiplication in impact. Instead of one person making beautiful vessels, there is an opportunity to create 25 craftsmen creating the best vessels out there! Yes, it means giving up some firsthand happiness; but it is easy to latch unto the meta source ;) Happiness from seeing others happy. We are probably getting into philosophy, let me stop :D

Jokes aside, it is not easy. Personally it is a learning opportunity to internalize the ability to make an impact and may be redefine certain metrics for self to accommodate an enabler schedule.