Sense and Respond by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA (2017). 253 + viii pages. US$32.00 (hardcover).
Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden want us to carry on a two-way conversation with our customers. In their new book, “Sense and Respond,” Gothelf and Seiden make the case for deeper customer relationships based on advances in technology and a need to react quickly in multiple markets.
“Sense and Respond” is a book about innovating faster to stay ahead of competition. Even more so, it is a book about keeping pace with technical advances. Technology has made it possible to communicate directly with customers as well as making it possible to experiment quickly to find solutions to customer problems.
Four chapters make up Part One of “Sense and Respond,” describing the Sense and Respond Model. First, companies have to accept that uncertainty is more present in markets today than ever before and everything is changing, all the time. Moreover, as a customer base expands across the globe, uncertainty is accompanied by increased levels of complexity. Businesses might resist rapid change (Chapter 3) because planned and steady operations have served them well throughout the industrial age. But, today’s successful businesses must be poised for continuous learning to tackle constant change and uncertainty.
In Chapter 4, the authors argue that everyone is in the software business. Gothelf and Seiden provide an example from a most traditional business – animal breeding – to prove that even agriculture and farming are influenced by technology. Successful animal husbandry is supported by data and algorithms today. This interesting example certainly supports the authors’ argument that all of us are, indeed, in the software business and need to communicate constantly with a widespread customer base.
In Part Two of “Sense and Respond,”the focus shifts to implementing a fast experimentation and learning model. For example, in Chapter 5, the authors encourage firms to follow a visionary road map over a detailed project plan. Success in innovation, then, is driven by empowered and self-directing teams. In a fast-paced technology world, success is derived from meeting an outcome instead of delivering a specific, detailed objective.
The power of cross-functional teams and collaboration is described in Chapter 6. These ideas are not unfamiliar to new product development practitioners. Examples from GE Appliances and BuzzFeed reiterate the importance of involving multiple departments and roles in product development to gain success with a quick-to-market product.
Chapter 7 offers tips to help balance an experimental culture necessary for two-way conversations with customers and the need for management governance. Using an outcome-based mission assignment, management can place boundaries and constraints on team activities while still allowing development of creative solutions. Some firms limit exposure of their brand; others constrain target markets for A/B testing. These “sandboxes” allow both management and development teams to co-exist peacefully while finding optimum customer solutions.
Finally, Chapter 8 discusses the importance of continuous learning. Too often projects are reviewed only after product launch. In a fast-paced technology world, the Sense and Respond Model dictates rapid learning from multiple experts. Learning both drives and supports the two-way conversation with customers. Reviewing lessons learned should be continuous, not an after-the-fact assessment.
New product development practitioners and innovation managers can benefit from reading “Sense and Respond”. It is likely you are familiar with many of the concepts presented in the book (rapid experimentation, collaboration, cross-functional teams), but the brief case studies presented by Gothelf and Seiden reiterate why these ideas are important to successfully compete today. Perhaps the key takeaway is that all firms, regardless of manufacturing or service approach, are in the software business and need to engage in vibrant, two-way conversations with their customers.
Because “Sense and Respond” is a quick read and carries good reminders for innovation best practices, the book is recommended for PDMA members and others interested in new product development.