The business landscape has changed. Today, the role of technology is not just to support business operations. Instead, new business models and the technology that underpins them are profoundly intertwined. Furthermore, they are being constructed in unison. This has created a gap in the skill sets of individuals who want to succeed in the next generations of business and enterprise. It’s no longer enough to be an expert in just technology or business.
As Director of Engenesis Ventures, my team and I constantly receive requests from company leaders who are doing their best to empower their technology capabilities. As they assess the landscape, they see other companies using technology to revolutionise how they do business and reach new levels of scale in serving their customers and solving their burning pains. Even though they’re eager to undergo a similar transformation, concerns and questions often keep them awake at night. How can we ensure we’re building our technology the right way? How can we ensure we’re not going to put in all this effort building a technology product only to hit a wall? Given that one important study revealed that 71% of software projects are not considered successful, these questions appear even more crucial.
This article shares a fundamental mistake I have observed in my technology business career, which occurred early on in the process of attempting to build four separate technology teams that ultimately failed, and produced little more than waste and expensive but valuable lessons. The combination of experiences like these and our study of and work with over 1800 companies going through the technology innovation process led to the formulation of a rigorous and structured approach to building and commercialising a scalable business venture from scratch, named the Genesis Framework™. Suffice to say, as a parallel entrepreneur who has now been involved in building and growing multiple technology companies in unison, I’m happy to report that these lessons have allowed our group to build the many products that now exist within our portfolio as well as the products of hundreds of our partners and clients. Not only are these products scalable, stable and robust, but they also provide the grounds for substantial growth.
Hiring the one ‘do-it-all’ developer
Before I explain our experience with hiring a ‘do-it-all’ developer, let me preface the discussion by saying that building a technology-based or technology-enabled business is wide-ranging. It includes building a piece of technology from a simple, few-page website to multiple function mobile apps and online platforms. Here, I’m predominantly talking about higher-scale builds that fall into the latter category.
The first mistake I made when building my technology team was hiring a single developer who told me he could “do it all”. Once we hired him and had a series of conversations about the ‘grand idea’ we wanted him to work on, he said, “Sure, I can build it!” I would later discover that many software engineers respond in this way when you ask them to build something, even though their confidence doesn’t necessarily correlate with reality! For three months, our do-it-all developer had his head down and, to his credit, did a lot of work as he tapped away at his desk. Our launch day, which was combined with another event for our business, was coming up, and he assured me he was on track to finish the build. The day before the launch, I shared his work with my business partner. “What is this?” he asked. “This is nowhere near what I had in mind. There’s no way we’re launching this to our customers!” We ended up carrying on with the event, while cancelling the product launch component. The greatest shock in this entire situation was not the level of wastage we produced; it was how easily we moved on from it as if nothing had happened.
The critical role of a UI/UX designer
While there are several factors behind the failure of our product build, let me illuminate by far the most significant. We were missing a critical stage in the process: product design. Having our business-minded team members speak directly to the developer and then expecting him to build what was in our mind’s eye was a mistake. The solution was to engage an expert. By hiring a UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) designer, we effectively bridged the gap. A UI/UX designer does the critical thinking to take the concepts and features you’d like to build in your technology app or platform and turn them into screen designs. Importantly, as part of the design process, they deeply consider how users will flow through your software and ensure that it is user-friendly enough to be used.
The term ‘UI/UX designer’ was coined by an employee of Apple, who led the industry to place far greater emphasis on making it easier for users to interact with the technology they encounter. When I look back, I realise that it was almost impossible for us to successfully build a technology product without the UI/UX design phase. By having our business and leadership team members speak directly to the developer, we were inherently asking the developer to design each aspect of the software. However, their years and years of training was in mastering how to write lines of code, not in design. There are rare instances where a developer may have also trained as a designer, but they are few and far between. So relying on finding these individuals is not sustainable for the long term. On the contrary, by having our business and leadership team members discuss their ideas with the UI/UX designer, they could clearly visualise those concepts on a screen and get the team’s sign-off before the developers started.
Whenever I’m training enterprise innovation teams, business owners or startup founders, I often tell them that the process of building a piece of technology is akin to building a house. No one in their right mind would build a house without first having the plans finalised and signed off. Until you have those blueprints, and often even 3D models, created, how can you even take the estimations relating to costs or time of build seriously?
While many factors contribute to the finding that 71% of software projects are not considered successful, the one laid out in this article is critical. Within the series of technology products that I’ve been involved in building, I have found that having an appropriate UI/UX design process in place will eliminate wastage in the vicinity of tens of thousands through to millions of dollars. Although more technology teams are effectively practising this today, a large proportion of the industry still does not. If more entrepreneurial teams with the vision to serve their customers at scale considered the importance of the design stage when building a technology product, they would plug the hole and increase the likelihood of a successful product launch.