Creative Commons License (Image by Flickr user eo)

Uniquely Unqualified: Why ignoring your customers can be a good thing

Creative Commons License (Image by Flickr user eo)

Think back to the first microwave that your parents had and what are you likely to see? A rectangular box with three buttons (High, Medium, Low) and a timer dial. Now fast forward to today and what will you find?

As a comparison, one of LG’s more popular models has 33 buttons. What’s the difference between Auto Defrost or Express Defrost? And what happens when you press Less/More? Will any of these really make your popcorn pop faster or taste better? And it’s not easier to use.

Why do products become more complex as they evolve?

My view is that most organizations head down the path to complexity as a result of listening to – and putting faith in -people who are unqualified. Uniquely unqualified. And who are these folks?  Most often, they are your customers and peers!

Customers? Peers? Uniquely unqualified?

Isn’t it the doctrine of good business to listen to your customers? And isn’t the customer always right? Nope and nope.

Consider Apple. They abhor customer focus groups. It’s in their DNA to not listen to their customer. After all, which customer suggested the iPod, or even the iPhone?

Ironically, listening to your customer is often the road to ruin. The issue is that there are too many of them. If you try to accommodate their collective wishes and suggestions, what you do get? 33 buttons on a microwave, that’s what.

It’s no secret that I think most planning solutions available in the market today are way too complex. Part of the problem is that many of them are fairly mature and they’ve done a great job, at least in their opinion, of listening to their customers over the years. People who are generally unqualified to suggest improvements.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that good suggestions have come from customers. It’s just that very few companies from what I’ve seen have the courage to ignore the wishes of their customers and market forces and not include additional functionality.

Planning solution simplicity requires paring things away (or not adding them in the first place) when market forces tell you to add. It means removing layers rather than adding them. In short, it takes courage.

Since courage is largely lacking, most mature planning solutions in the market today are too complicated, too heavy and too burdensome. They are difficult to learn and implement, often requiring millions of dollars and years to realize benefits.

As a practitioner who helps companies implement these solutions it’s not hard to see where the uniquely unqualified come from. Most efforts to implement planning solutions are not grounded in fundamentals, or principles of the process.

Consultants and Solution teams focus on installing and configuring the software, rather than on configuring the way people think, so they understand the core principles of the new process.

And the result is telling. If people do not understand the key principles of the process, then they cannot think properly about the new solution. The result is that they mostly end up working hard to make the new solution act and behave like the current solution.

This is all they know because until they are educated and understand the principles of the new process, guess what? They are unqualified to implement the new approach. Uniquely unqualified.

It boils down to courage and the ability to say “no” in an effective manner. Solution providers need to resist the urge to add unneeded functionality, while helping to educate those requesting the “improvements”.

Similarly, consultants and implementers also need the courage to reject the idea of jury rigging the new solution to look like the old.

Can you say “no”?

Are you qualified?

Demand Clarity

Jeff Harrop and Mike Doherty are the founding partners of Demand Clarity Inc, which helps clients design and implement supply chain planning processes.They have worked with some of North America's largest retailers, distributors and CPG manufacturers. Together with Andre Martin they co-authored Flowcasting the Retail Supply Chain, a book that outlines a new approach for managing the retail supply chain (www.flowcastingbook.com).

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