Inside the Bubble

Dec 12, 2016 by Barc Category: Agile, Agile Executive, Business 0 comments

We’re all pretty much living in ‘The Bubble.’ Like the recent SNL skit called it, we’ve designed “a planned community of like-minded free thinkers, and no one else” for ourselves. We hang out with friends who agree with us (the definition of a friend), block cranky commenters (and bad grammarians), and unfollow (but stay friends) with the ones having a better time (everybody) on Instagram.

Despite the barrage of information from all directions, not much is getting in. In a bubble, you can see out, but it’s distorted–not only because the lens is curved, but you can’t use all five senses to absorb and sense what’s in front of you.

The same thing happens in consumer-focused businesses, of course. Executives hole up in glass towers and talk to themselves, shutting out voices that don’t fit, convinced that doing so will, with brute force, deliver on their mission. Roadmaps are emailed to product managers, product managers crank out user stories, and in week or two, developers are pulling Jira tickets with about as much enthusiasm as Take-A-Number slips at the DMV.

As a consultant to large delivery organizations, I am starting to see this happen to development teams as well. If teams aren’t fully engaged with the consumer and not using all of their “senses,” they rarely come up with the most efficient and intuitive solutions.

I believe that, given access to a consumer with a problem, most development teams often have the most innovative and efficient solutions, or are able to pivot the fastest when they get it wrong.

If you are a manager or executive, here’s a few techniques to keep your development teams connected to their consumers (internal and external).

  1. Communicate a Vision:

Tell a story, a short story that talks about a problem that can be overcome, and one, once solved, can be tested. You need to tell story, then tell it again. Heck, if you have to fit the team with beer goggles buffalo wings to see it, do that.

  1. Provide Decision Criteria

Teams need to know when they’re on the right track and how to choose between two good alternatives when you’re not there. The answer to a product listing page might be a comparison page for all products, but if the criteria is “in 2 seconds or less,” that may not be possible. Be explicit about the constraints, but flexible with the implementation.

  1. Tell Persona Stories

Most successful companies I’ve worked with use personas–quick visual summaries of their customer’s typical age, number of kids, jobs, etc. Some teams keep life-size cutouts of each persona in their offices and talk to them like they were part of the teams. Help make “day in the life” scenarios are part of team conversations. Either trust in your personas (I’m willing to bet they’re hiding somewhere in a binder on your shelf), or get pros to create new ones.

  1. Take Your Teams to the Business

Sure, your developers will say they don’t have time, but once they get to the sales or account meeting, you’ll be surprised how excited they’ll get. Sometimes just putting a face to ‘business’ is enough to re-energize a team.

  1. Bring Teams to Usability Tests

Attach your developers to the UX teams (if for no other reason than UX folks tend to bring the funny). Take them to focus groups (or bring focus group videos into your grooming sessions) and watch users struggle. Almost always, the developer will realize functionality they took for granted, their consumer doesn’t.

  1. Create Feedback Loops

If you are using the Scrum delivery framework, this is best done at the beginning of your grooming sessions (where your team can review recent analytics, app store ratings, customer verbatims, etc.). or bring the results into the team area. I’ve seen one simple conversion graph on a television monitor have an enormous effect on teams sitting nearby.

  1. Rotate Teams into Customer Support

Bring your developers in to help with customer support at regular intervals. From dogging support tickets to listening to tech support calls, developers develop empathy, care, and awareness of the consumer.

  1. Leave Time to Innovate

When teams better understand what’s really going on with their consumers, they need time to kick around ideas, collaborate and blue sky new approaches to solve their problems. Hack Days, Fedex Days, Coding Dojos, and Story Time sessions need to be set aside for everyone, from the product manager to the QA lead to get in a room and sketch.


Here’s the bottom line: Don’t let your teams get too far in the bubble. If you don’t trust them to wander about on the outside without out, at least let them sit near the edge so they can watch what’s really happening on the other side.