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InfoQ Homepage Articles Author Q&A on the Book The Innovation Revelation

Author Q&A on the Book The Innovation Revelation

Key Takeaways

  • Impetus for change can come from many different inspirations 
  • Changing organisational culture and people's behavours is not easy but can be achieved
  • Organisational politics is real and can't be ignored when leading change
  • Help people see what's in it for them in order to bring them on the change journey
  • A fictional story based on real world experiences is an engaging way to convey important messages 

David Lowe has written a book The Innovation Revelation: A story about satisfying customer needs. The book tells the fictional story of Charlie Blades who is a manager in the IT department of a retail company in London, faced with disruption from outside and old ways of working inside.  The story tells how Charlie learns about some new product management ideas (initially by watching his children plan a lemonade stand) and goes on to apply the ideas at work, with some ups and downs along the pathway.  David states that the book is a work of fiction which is a "casserole of many experiences I have had over the last two decades". David spoke to InfoQ about the book.

The book can be purchased here and InfoQ readers can download a sample chapter here.

InfoQ:  Why did you write this book?

Lowe: Many of my friends kept asking me what I do for a job. I found the best way to explain it was by giving an example.

I then realised that many people I encountered when training and/or coaching (from CEOs to teachers, entrepreneurs to people working in government) could benefit from a story that makes basic concepts of user-centred design, agile, service design, etc more tangible.

The story doesn’t go into infinite detail on them, but gives a good entry-level introduction. My hope is that, once people see that these concepts are fundamental to creating successful products and services, they will want to know more. Any impact that I can have on reducing the number of misguided products and services out there is time well spent as far as I’m concerned.

InfoQ: Who is this book for?

Lowe: There are a number of groups who I believe can benefit from it.

Firstly, I think people leading teams or organisations in product or service creation will benefit from understanding why user-centred design and Agile approaches make sense. The book starts out identifying the most common problems that people face in projects and then I go on to suggest another way of doing things. So we take problems like over-promising to customers, prescriptive requirements, building products and services that you have no idea whether they’ll be used, command-and-control management, producing estimates out of thin air and then delivering "late", lack of accountability and come out the other end with an alternative suggestion for how people can work. I think nearly everyone can benefit from learning about this different way of working.

Secondly, I think it will help Scrum Masters and people working in Agile teams to understand the basics of service design and user-centred design. We hear people mention them a lot and people paying lip service to them, but many people don’t really understand what they are about. The story takes all these ideas and joins them with the build phase to show how they all work when joined together. User-centred design + service design + agile + Scrum + some other useful concepts. And all in less than 50,000 words (that’s about 3 hours for the average reader).

InfoQ: What is the primary message of the book?

Lowe: That we should create products and services that solve real problems for real people. Or, another way of looking at it, is that we should be satisfying real people’s needs. As I mentioned already, we often find ourselves rushing into a build phase without having done enough investigation work.

One of the biggest (and most expensive) lessons I’ve learned in business is that everyone else is not like me; just because I would buy or use something, doesn’t mean that everyone else will. Therefore, we shouldn’t be the ones to identify what problems other people have or decide on the best way to solve their problems. We need to engage real users (aka our customers) to identify what they need, want and desire and include them in the creation of solutions too.

This is foreign to many people in the real world who are convinced that they know what people need. I see this all the time. For instance, I recently did some work with an organisation who were soliciting feedback from third parties they worked with. One of the directors said they hadn’t bothered to send out the questionnaire to their contacts "because I know what their answers will be." I don’t think it was arrogance; just a lack of awareness and misguided confidence in their knowledge.

There are many other messages in the book (such as trusting teams to get the job done, why iterative and incremental delivery makes sense, etc.), but I think they all relate back to this core point about making sure you’re focusing on the right thing and getting input from real people.

InfoQ: Why did you write it as a story rather than as a traditional business book?

Lowe: The Goal by Eli Goldratt made a huge impact on me when I read it. Goldratt took a complicated topic (the theory of constraints) and, by telling it as a story, not only got the concept across but also made it engaging and memorable. Brilliant.

Although the social setting for The Goal is showing some age now, the story-telling approach is still as strong as ever and many others have adopted it as a way of communicating ideas (such as Gene Kim for The Phoenix Project and Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team).

So, when I decided to write a book to explain service design, UCD, Agile, etc, there was only one way I was ever going to write it.

The response from most people is positive. Of course there are some people who don’t like the story approach, but they appear to be in the minority.

InfoQ: What are some of the challenges discussed in the book, and how are they addressed?

Lowe: Right from the start, Charlie identifies a whole load of problems and challenges that he and his colleagues are facing: prescribed solutions being forced upon them from various parts of the business, no engagement with real customers, no evidence that the prescribed solution will benefit their customers, no measures for success, big bang releases, no feedback on success, no accountability. Add lacklustre support from management and you’ve got an environment that many people will recognise.

After Charlie has a revelation that his world could be very different (by witnessing how his kids dream up a lemonade stall for a local fun run), we follow him on a journey where he explores various different ways of working. It’s not plain sailing for Charlie, as he still faces push back from the Machiavellian management team at Nuttinghams, but he battles through it with the help of a few experts who guide him on his way.

I give a lot of attention to understanding the problems faced by the company and by customers at the start of the book, explaining ways to engage customers and understand their needs. I think this is something that many people still don’t consider enough. The Agile Manifesto talks a lot about satisfying customers through early and continuous delivery of working software, but doesn’t stress spending time understanding what it is that you should be creating, so many teams just run straight into delivering solutions without spending enough time working out what is best to deliver. This is why we end up with organisations focusing on delivering a product or service, rather than focusing on changing users’ behaviour by fulfilling a need, want or desire.

The story then progresses through solution creation, prototyping and testing, and onwards. I include a variety of tools and ideas at each stage to illustrate how it might be done.

InfoQ: What tools or ideas does the book present?

Lowe: Early on, I introduce the Design Council’s double diamond to give readers a schema of the phases that Charlie is going to be going through in the book: discover insights into the problem, define the area to focus on, prototype and test potential solutions, implement solutions. We then delve deeper into each of these phases, often devoting individual chapters to specific tools, techniques and ideas.

For instance, it explains how we might use interviews, service safaris, shadowing, mobile ethnography, cultural probes, personas and customer journey maps to understand users (or "customers" as Charlie prefers to call them). Then, when thinking about solutions and prototypes, we discuss storyboards, the desktop walkthrough, service staging, design sprints and the testing process using prototypes.

Of course I also discuss the basics of a Scrum implementation and throw in a few other useful concepts such as Minimal Marketable Product, cross-functional teams and limiting WIP.

InfoQ: Where do readers go for more help or advice?

Lowe: Come to me. I’m always happy to talk to people about the challenges they are facing. Please also sign up to my mailing list which gives information on interesting articles, books, videos, events and includes free tools and resources, such as my FREE guide The 10 Steps For Innovation (which you get sent at signup).

If you’d like to know more about some of the concepts in the book, then I’m going to be running a number of sessions at meetups in the UK (and hopefully remotes across the globe) in 2020. Again, I’ll communicate these through my mailing list. There’s also a service design + agile course in the pipeline.

If you’re looking for some good books to delve deeper into service design and user-centred design, then a few of my favourites are: This is Service Design Thinking and This is Service Design Doing by Marc Stickdorn, et al; Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden; Sprint by Jake Knapp.

About the Book Author:

David Lowe is the founder of Scrum & Kanban Ltd. He believes that everyone has the right to improve their work and personal life, so divides his time between coaching and training individuals, teams and organisations. Having worked with a wide range of clients across many industries (including Ford, Ministry of Justice, NET-A-PORTER, NHS, John Lewis, GDS, Naked Wines and Shelter), Lowe has a reputation for introducing and evolving successful Agile environments. His first book was Scrum 101: The most frequently asked questions about Agile with Scrum. In this latest book, The Innovation Revelation, Lowe distills the common problems and mistakes found when organisations try to "become agile", then layers on easy-to-understand solutions and current best practices to help guide readers to a brighter future.

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