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Innovation&: The human factor in software-driven Innovation

Updated: Oct 16, 2023


Concierge wizard of oz

Image: If manual human services don't solve a problem, why invest resources in software automation?


In the world of software development, many changes have occurred in recent years. New technologies and agile methods have made the process of software development more complex and demanding. However, amidst all these innovations, there is a crucial factor that is often overlooked: the human factor in innovation and its ability for bidirectional communication with the environment. Too many projects with risks or uncertainties are still carried out incrementally based on assumed requirements. Instead of working with human iterations to find out if these hypotheses are even correct. In this article, we will take a closer look at how important the human component is in software development and how to use it optimally.


Get the necessary expertise into the team

A successful software development process requires the right minds in an independent team, a dedicated cross-functional group working hand in hand. It fundamentally requires three types of skills to ensure a software project's success:


1. People with responsibility and decision-making authority for desirability. These team members are responsible for the user perspective. They gather information about what users really need and what their challenges are. This helps to adapt the software iteratively to the needs of the target audience.


2. People with responsibility and decision-making authority for viability: The economic success of a software project is crucial. People with this responsibility ensure that the project remains profitable and achieves its business goals.


3. People with responsibility and decision-making authority for technical feasibility: These experts ensure that the technical side of the project is feasible. They have the expertise to overcome technical challenges and select the right tools and technologies.


Bring decision-making authority into the team or at least ensure that decision-makers are present during user research to avoid later political discussions.

Get to know the people (users) and their "jobs to be done" before thinking about problems or solutions

Before diving into development, it's essential to thoroughly understand the people for whom you are creating the software. This means you must know the users' "jobs to be done" and what the expected outcomes and impacts are. These are the tasks and goals users want to accomplish with your software output (system and modules). This understanding is crucial to ensure that your software truly adds value.


Instead of immediately looking for solutions or starting to code, invest time in identifying the actual needs and challenges of users. You can use methods like user interviews, surveys, and observations. The better you understand users, the more targeted you can develop solutions that meet their requirements.


What is the smallest unit I must offer to validate whether the problem is worth solving?

This is the most relevant question at the beginning and should also be the goal of the first learning cycle. Building solutions that no one wants is still one of the main reasons for many innovation projects. Before diving into full software development, it makes sense to validate ideas and concepts using simpler solutions or even purely human services. This means identifying the smallest unit of your solution that you can quickly develop and test as a service to determine if the problem is truly worth solving.


Here, the human factor comes into play again. Instead of immediately building complex software, you can use human interaction to experience the process firsthand. For example, the "Wizard of Oz" principle means that people behind the scenes perform the tasks that the software will later take over. This allows you to observe user behavior and gain insights quickly.


Be honest with yourself and stop or pivot your innovation project if the problem is not relevant, and don't waste resources.

Honesty

Software development is an iterative and, above all, expensive process. It's important to be honest with yourself and have the courage to stop or modify a project if it proves to be irrelevant. If necessary, confront stakeholders with the facts. It's even better to involve them in gathering these insights from the beginning. This is not just about accepting mistakes but also about the ability to learn from them and draw conclusions.


Resources are limited, and it is unproductive to invest time and money in a project that does not add value. Recognizing and accepting "failure" can be just as valuable as success when it comes to advancing innovations and learning as an organization.


Conclusion - The Human Factor in Software-Driven Innovation

In summary, this article demonstrates how important the human factor and its ability to communicate bidirectionally with the environment are in software development. The composition of the team, understanding user needs, idea validation, and the ability to be honest with oneself are crucial aspects that contribute to the success of a software project. Innovation processes that place people at the center can help develop better and more relevant solutions.

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