Customer Experience: Takeaways from BrainstormTech - David DeWolf

Customer Experience: Takeaways from Brainstorm Tech

In early July, I attended the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference. This is an invite only conference for CXOs that brings together leaders in the media and technology sectors. I’ve also found the conference to be spot on in terms of identifying trends.

I wanted to provide a bit of a recap, because it’s always an insightful time for picking up tidbits of information about what’s going on in the market. Here are my takeaways about customer experience.

Customer Experience as a Priority

For the first time in the three years I’ve been going, there was a deliberate focus on customer experience. While user experience has always been brought up within the context of other discussions, this move shows that customer experience is now considered one of the highest strategic priorities within the C-Suite.

Employee Development is a Must

The heads of UX from Facebook, Frog Design, and others had a panel discussion in which the topic of talent came front and center. Specifically noted was the lack of leadership within user experience and design talent.

Today all schooling is building artistic folks that are learning more of the science behind it but are rarely business leaders. These larger companies are hiring experienced and enthusiastic people and developing them instead of relying on senior talent.

How about your organization? Is Customer and User Experience a strategic priority? What are you doing to make sure that you’re ready for the customer centric world?

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Why Product Development Services Consolidation is Failing

Why Product Development Services Consolidation is Failing

Over the first half of this year, the Product Development Services (PDS) sector has begun to collide with the digital transformation market. In doing so, we have started to see the initial phases of consolidation within the industry.

Unfortunately, the consolidation that’s happening may be pushing the sector — or at least many within it— towards irrelevancy in the broader digital market.

Until recently, the PDS sector has led the revolution of the IT Services space to a large degree. By focusing on the development of software products— those systems that touch customers and drive revenue— the sector has managed to deliver highly value services and help companies navigate the transition towards the software-based economy.

Because of this lead, investor interest in the sector has hit new highs. Large private equity funds and strategic acquirers are swarming, looking to capitalize on what is expected to be explosive growth throughout the next 3-4 years and strong growth for the next decade.

Moreover, as traditional IT firms begin to see their value further commoditized, many have looked to product development specialists to stay relevant.

As mergers and acquisitions have begun, two fairly typical strategies have emerged:

Financial Scale: The first group of acquirers seems to believe that reaching scale is essential. They are combining outsourced product development services companies in an effort to gain market share and claim “tier 1” status. Service Diversification: The second group of acquirers seem to value service diversification. These firms are widening their aperture and looking to compete in the wider digital market. Challenges exist for both of these strategies.

Those seeking financial scale, in many cases, are combining commodity service provider with commodity service provider. Their pure focus on financial scale tips their bias towards towards the most mature portion of the sector — engineering and quality assurance capacity.

While engineering expertise and quality assurance are undoubtedly the core of the sector, isolated, pure play engineering, and quality organizations fail to differentiate from the vast majority of “IT Services” organizations that provide development capacity. It is probably that these firms will quickly dissolve into “me too” organizations competing with traditional IT services firms that take the plunge and embrace digital realities.

On the other hand, those organizations seeking service diversification are seeking to combine engineering organizations with digital agencies. This is the technical equivalent of combining oil and water. The two cultures simply don’t mix. Industry stalwart GlobalLogic attempted this strategy in 2011 with their acquisition of Method. By all accounts, the company has failed to find a way to integrate the two organizations and realize the leverage the acquisition contemplated.

What is the right strategy?

Ironically, the Product Development Services sector has overlooked the importance of product and has become drunk on revenue and enamored with social media and sexy designs. In the process, they are failing to deliver differentiated value and the innovation that the sector truly needs.

A report released by Forrester, “Wanted: Digital Engagement Providers,” outlines how five types of firms — digital agencies, management consultancies, mobile boutiques, systems integrators, and telecom — are competing with product development firms to own the digital transformation market.

It’s clear that in order to thrive in the digital transformation market, Product Development Services companies must differentiate by providing exceptional Product Lifecycle Management. They must excel at innovation, build a strong product culture, and deliver product results, not just software.

The leading organizations will build strong product management and customer experience practices that are fully integrated with their engineering discipline. They will develop a product culture and will deploy lean product methods to go with their agile software development methodologies. They will be prepared to mentor clients through the process of becoming a product organization. They will be consultants as much as they are engineers, but they will consult in the realities of execution, not just the strategy.

The product organizations that do this will not look like yesterday’s IT Services organizations. Their culture, their business models, and the way they scale will all be different. This is primarily because product development success is reliant on more than technical capabilities. True innovation and product development success requires a product culture (see the recent research published at

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Leadership Lesson - David DeWolf

A Leadership Lesson: How ignoring “their base” strengthened their position

Two days after the South Carolina Senate voted 37-3 to remove the confederate flag from the state capital the South Carolina House of Representatives followed suit and also approved the measure by an overwhelming margin.

It was a leadership lesson for all of us.

These votes come just a few weeks after the initial outcry for the flag’s removal was met with significant skepticism and deemed nearly impossible since it would require a 2/3 majority. The republican led lawmakers, nearly everyone predicted, would never even consider alienating the small, but vocal, base of southerners who passionately opposed to the flags removal.

But leadership and common sense prevailed.

Instead of getting tied up in the politics of the matter, Republican Governor Nikki Haley, previously a supporter of the flag, “ignored the base” and became the driving force behind its removal.

If the flag, she reasoned, was a source of pain for others then why would she try to argue that it’s not? There was simply no good reason for it to fly beyond sentimental value. Given the reality of the pain and divisiveness the flag was causing(whether appropriate or not), was sentimental value really worth standing up for?

Of course not.

Regardless of your party affiliation, you must respect what Gov. Haley did.

In a point in time where politicians have no sense of compromise, fight fights that don’t really matter, and seek, above all, to placate a base, Nikki Haley chose to do the right thing. In an era where conservatives and liberals stand at opposing ends of a spectrum and fight about issues that don’t deserve an ounce of attention, Nikki Haley crossed the isle and did the right thing. She led.

What a breath of fresh air.

As leaders we must weigh both sides of an argument. We must act with compassion and consider the people involved in our decisions. We must do whatever it takes to unite those we lead. And, we must, above all, do the right thing.

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Society, Leadership, and Fear of the Establishment - David DeWolf

Society, Leadership, and Fear of the Establishment

As a rule of thumb, I stay away from discussing politics, religion, and other controversial topics in any public setting. Simply put, I am no expert on these matters and find that most of these discussions quickly erode into ideological venom.

The reason these discussions become so emotional is simple. Most of society seems to have aligned themselves to a political ideology. Rather than wrestling with individual issues, most folks seem to align themselves to the positions of a political body with whom they identify.

This makes open discourse nearly useless.

Despite my conviction to stay out of these conversations, I have become increasingly distraught by the growing, and very venomous, divide that they are causing.

Over the few months I have struggled to wrestle with these realities. I have felt drawn to enter the conversation and play a small part in leading our society back to common ground.

But I have found that underlying my desire to stay away from the public discourse has been a deep-rooted fear.

In a deeply polarized society, where folks feel a need to pick sides and fight for an ideology, the man who thinks for himself is not safe. He is the ultimate threat to the establishment.

I have been afraid to express my opinions. I am afraid of being ridiculed, of being targeted, and of being “taken down.”

This past week Pope Francis demonstrated what it means to be free, and, what it means lead. In releasing Laudato Si he was unafraid to speak truth and challenge the establishment. He broke from the societal norms. He spoke on a different plane than the political perspective we are so used to hearing.

Pope Francis wasn’t conservative or liberal. He wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican. He wrote as a free man. He found common ground with “both sides,” and he was unafraid to disagree with both.

Pope Francis led.

May the Lord give me the courage to follow the example of his humble servant, Pope Francis. May I learn to lead, learn to speak up when I’m compelled to do so, and learn to be so detached from the world that I am unafraid to be ridiculed, targeted, or even “taken down.”

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Remember Who You Are Called to Be - David DeWolf

Remember Who You Are Called to Be

A friend of mine has a saying that he uses to keep him grounded: “Remember where you came from.” Whenever he’s under pressure, on the defensive, or at his wit’s end, he reminds himself, and others, of their roots.

This little saying reminds my friend of his early years and the trials and tribulations he’s had to go through to make it in life. It puts things into perspective and challenges him to think back to his humble beginnings. It has undoubtedly helped my friend navigate difficult situations and has been a rallying cry that he uses to challenge others.

But while it’s a great reminder, this little saying also falls short. Our history is only one aspect of who we are and what we are to become. Even more important than our past is who God has made you to be.

I choose a different battle cry: “Remember who you are called to be.” This reminds me to pursue virtue. It challenges me to move forward and strive for something greater than what would come naturally.

By relying too heavily on our past, we can forget the lessons that we have learned and the blessings we’ve received.

The man who’s been blessed with success should not forget that he no longer needs to hoard.

The woman whose parents ran from debt collectors should strive to live within her means and deal with shortfalls head-on with the utmost integrity.

The man who grew up in an alcoholic family should not forget that there is a better way to deal with life’s pain.

Life, especially in times of high stress, is about perspective. It’s important to look back. But it’s also important to look forward. And most especially, to look up.

Remember where you came from and look critically at who you are. But spend most of your time thinking about who you are called to be. Challenge yourself to grow in virtue and become the best possible version of yourself.

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Why Silence is Golden: What I Learned from a Blogging Break - David DeWolf

Why Silence is Golden: What I Learned from a Blogging Break

For the past week, I stopped publishing blogs. I haven’t released a podcast. I haven’t posted anything new in the social sphere. I went dark. I fell silent. I went cold turkey.

Typically I try to keep a backlog of content to post. For months I have been at least one or two weeks ahead, but just recently my well ran dry. My focus on other priorities had eaten into my writing time.

Instead of panicking to pull together content for my typical Mon-Wed-Fri schedule, I decided to fall silent. I decided to use the time to gain perspective and wait until I was ready to restart the engines.

Here’s what I learned.

My blogging break reminded me that this blog doesn’t run my life.

It’s easy to get caught up in the status quo and forget that the processes and routines that we set up in our lives are there to serve us. Sometimes I get out of sorts with blogging. It becomes a requirement rather than a tool.

For me, blogging allows me to thoughtfully digest my life and process information. It also allows me to articulate what I’m thinking and get clear about what’s going on.

It also allows me to put myself out there and stretch my limits. It gives me a platform to reach others.

This break reminded me of that reality. It taught me that it’s OK to miss a week. My blog is not a chore to make my life miserable. It’s a tool to make my life richer.

It gave me an opportunity to think in new ways.

Blogging helps me process and think, but when it becomes a chore, it can steal time from the real thinking I should be doing.

One of my favorite times to write is when I’m on a plane. As my backlog of content reached empty, I found myself on a plane ride home from Australia. I was faced with a choice.

My first choice, and frankly, the comfortable preference, was to use the time to blog.  I had also committed to writing a training course on strategic thinking. I chose to follow through on my commitment and I wrote the entire training on that plane ride.

The 17 hours that I reclaimed from blogging enabled me to do some in-depth thinking. It allowed me to put together a thoughtful course that truly made a difference in others’ lives. It helped me to articulate something I’m passionate about in a deeper way. A blog never would have had me go that far into depth.

What routine are you in a rut on? Do you need to push pause and gain some perspective? Do you feel a need to always talk, post, or publish, or do you take the time to listen, digest and learn? Learn to live an integrated life with humble confidence. Get it Now Join the Discussion

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