95. Can product building principles help design a better workplace of the future? | Jonathon Hensley, CEO at Emerge Interactive


Jonathon Hensley | CEO at Emerge Interactive



Welcome to Episode 95 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The Future of Work is NOW.

For the next three episodes we are joined by the CEO at Emerge Interactive, a UX design agency specializing in digital product strategy and full-stack development, Jonathon Hensley. Our goal is to unpack his thoughts around digital product design and better design of the work experience. 

In this first episode we go back to the basics of what product building principles are and we find out why 84% of digital products fail to meet expectations.


Jonathon Hensley Web


Jonathon Hensley is co-founder and CEO of Emerge, a digital product consulting firm that works with companies to improve operational agility and customer experience.

For more than two decades, Jonathon has helped startups, Fortune 100 brands, technology leaders, large regional health networks, non-profit organizations and more, transform their businesses by turning strategy, user needs and new technologies; into valuable digital products and services.

Jonathon writes and speaks about his experiences and insights from his career, and regularly hosts in-depth interviews with business leaders and industry insiders.





[00:00:00] - Jonathon Hensley
From the product perspective, we're always looking about how can we create something that is valuable, usable, feasible to be able to be built and viable for the end user.

[00:00:20] - Doug Foulkes
Hello, and welcome to Episode 95 of Chaos & Rocketfuel, the Future of Work podcast. This is the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, and it's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I'm your host, Doug Foulkes, and my co-host is Claire Haidar, who is the CEO at WNDYR. Claire, how are you today?

[00:00:40] - Claire Haidar
Doug, I'm good, and yourself?

[00:00:42] - Doug Foulkes
I'm good. It's been a while, but I'm glad to be on the podcast with you. I'm going to jump in because I know we've got a very busy podcast ahead of us. Jonathon Hensley, he's the CEO of Emerge Interactive. Why is he on the podcast and what can we expect from the next three episodes?

[00:00:58] - Claire Haidar
Doug, I'm really happy to be really excited about this podcast. I know that I say that about certain guests, but there's a very specific reason why I'm excited to have this conversation. I believe that work is undergoing a very big change and a shift in mindset. Companies today have approached work through the lens of, people just show up and get stuff done, and ultimately it's all about what's created, the product that's created at the end, the revenue that's generated.

[00:01:32] - Claire Haidar
As we become a more connected, global, virtual asynchronous world, there is a very big shift happening towards actually designing the work experience. If you go right back to the early 2000s when the dot-com bubble burst, one of the biggest learnings that came out of that in one of the evolutionary phases that technology went through was moving from just pure code, which is zeros and ones, to really thinking about the experience of a product and the experience of a user face.

[00:02:07] - Claire Haidar
Today, we have very cemented careers and philosophies within UI and UX. I think the exact same evolutionary process is happening with work today. People are going back to the drawing board and saying, we can't just expect people to show up, shove a whole lot of tools in their face and say, "Get the work done." We actually have to think about the work experience and how that work experience impacts the outcomes that are created.

[00:02:32] - Claire Haidar
Jonathon is a product designer and creator. It's what they do at Emerge Interactive. This is a conversation about that evolutionary process. How do we take the principles that are used in product design in UI and UX and apply that to work?

[00:02:50] - Doug Foulkes
Okay, Claire, now that sounds very interesting. Let's head on over and hear what Jonathon has to say. Jonathon, very nice to meet you. I know Claire is going to do her little introduction shortly, but nice to meet you across the ocean.

[00:03:03] - Jonathon Hensley
It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me, Doug.

[00:03:07] - Doug Foulkes
As you know, our podcast is split up into three mini-podcasts. In this first segment, we're going to be talking a little bit more specifically around product building principles. My first quick question is straight off your website or comment off your website, why do 84% of digital products fail to meet or exceed expectations?

[00:03:29] - Jonathon Hensley
That's a great question. The root cause of a lot of this failure is usually built around this issue of alignment. Very often, product failure in the product space is discussed around this idea of lack of market fit or a connection with customers. While that is definitely one of the most significant contributors to product failure and lack of performance, there's much deeper root causes within an organization around expectations management, siloed information and knowledge. The list goes on and on. That all contribute to this significant rate of failure and underperformance that organizations and these teams are having to confront with every single day.

[00:04:19] - Claire Haidar
Hi, Jonathon. Good to be on the podcast with you.

[00:04:23] - Jonathon Hensley
Hi, Claire.

[00:04:24] - Claire Haidar
Getting my voice in here as we get started on this. Jonathon, just to pull us all a little bit back and to look at the why we're excited to have you on the podcast today, it's very much because I genuinely believe that a lot of product building principles can actually be applied to the future of work. You play in the one space, we play in the other. I'd really like to see where we can mesh those two topics together today, hence us just going straight back to the basics of product building.

[00:04:58] - Claire Haidar
If you could lay out for us—you run an interactive digital product building agency—what are some of the basic product building principles that you and your team apply to every digital product you build so as to avoid that 84% failure?

[00:05:15] - Jonathon Hensley
Sure. Well, I think there's two major facets that I'd love to start with. From the product perspective, we're always looking about how can we create something that is valuable, usable, feasible to be able to be built and viable for the end user that we're working with. Those are cornerstone tenets that we follow as well as many other product groups and leaders around the world.

[00:05:42] - Jonathon Hensley
I think behind that, what's really important that we focus on very deeply is this idea of alignment. Alignment has four facets to it that I think are really critical, especially when we think about changing the way that we work or improving the way that we work.

[00:06:01] - Jonathon Hensley
The first area of alignment is around individual alignment, which really means understanding how our work contributes and matters, why we're doing what we're doing, how it makes a difference, and the impact we have as an individual contributor. The second one is around team alignment, which really deals with how do we build alignment with others, integrating our unique disciplines, experience, and perspectives to help solve shared problems together or provide solutions to our end users.

[00:06:33] - Jonathon Hensley
The third is around dealing with the organizational alignment, which is really about how do we align the organization's vision, strategic priorities, and resources in order to effectively empower the teams and individuals to be able to solve these problems. And then the fourth is market alignment, which deals with understanding your customers or end users and the problem you want to solve in an impactful and meaningful way.

[00:06:58] - Jonathon Hensley
Many times, for organizations today, we're looking at employees are actually the consumer of these products that are driving massive amounts of digital product transformation in these organizations as they look to modernize and they change their management practices to support that. Those are really fundamental, where we have to start the workaround product from really the insight out of the organization and really be mindful that there are many layers that have to be considered instead of just the one, which is how do I get someone to do X, Y, Z per se and without actually understanding what it will take to enable that as a new and systemic behavior that is repeatable, that will also produce a predictable outcome of success for those that are involved.

[00:07:51] - Claire Haidar
Essentially what you're saying is most companies, when building product, and in this case, for purposes of this conversation, building a different type of working environment, are mostly focused on the market piece, which is that customer piece, and driving alignment there, but they don't really bring that back to the individual, the team, and the organization itself.

[00:08:15] - Jonathon Hensley
Exactly. A very clear example of this that we see in many organizations is they really focus on the feature set they think that those end users need, but they're not really looking at to what drives the motivation of the user to do the thing in a particular way or how they actually develop a product that actually empowers teams. Not only does it become very feature focused, we're actually losing the opportunity to drive engagement and connection with those that are really using the product. Many times the products then over time become almost unusable, because they're trying to do too many things and they're not really focused on the individual aspect of what we're asking people to focus on.

[00:09:00] - Claire Haidar
Makes sense. Doug, back over to you.

[00:09:03] - Doug Foulkes
Thanks, Claire. Jonathon, we understand that a lot of digital products do break down. You've spoken a little bit about the basics behind why that happens. What are the frameworks or methodologies that you actually use in your design or in the product building process?

[00:09:22] - Jonathon Hensley
Well, there are dozens of fantastic frameworks. I think that what we look at from our perspective is just what's the right tool based on the circumstance? What are we trying to determine and evaluate? In many cases, one tool that really stands out for us that we really enjoy using is something called the Kano model, which was originally developed by a Japanese economist of trying to understand where does investment and value come into play and how should organizations plan that forward.

[00:09:58] - Jonathon Hensley
That particular framework is a beautiful example of mapping the expectations of users and understanding what are the basic expectations that they want or feel a product or service should be providing, what are those things that are really driving performance and the ability for them to make decisions or to move through a sequence of action effectively, and where can we actually implement areas that would generate delight or excitement for users. It's a really good really wonderful framework.

[00:10:31] - Jonathon Hensley
It's one of the most difficult things to do is assessing people's expectations. Many expectations go unspoken, so it does require really quality research. But it's a beautiful framework when you think about, well, what does this product or service need to do at its essence, and how are those expectations driven by internal perception? Are they driven by the market, by competition? What facets are driving these expectations and how can we leverage that insight to create better products and tools for customers and employees that then will drive that increased value and adoption?

[00:11:13] - Jonathon Hensley
That's just one example, I think, of a fantastic framework that is really helping a lot of product teams do some really thoughtful, great work.

[00:11:22] - Claire Haidar
Jonathon, just before we move off of this specific thing, can you give us an example of where you've used the Kano model very well and very successfully, and then can you give us an example where you've chosen to specifically not use it for various reasons and you've chosen a different one?

[00:11:39] - Jonathon Hensley
Sure. In one example, we were working with a global manufacturer who has 60,000 employees around the world, and we were trying to create a tool to support collaboration. The first thing that we needed to do in that process is really make sure there's a shared understanding definition of what collaboration is. As we talked to different teams in different locations, we started to see that there was a lot of different interpretations of what collaboration meant and what successful collaboration looked like. We started to, one, establish a unified shared understanding globally for their teams, and then from that and through our research, starting to develop more insights into what their expectations of collaboration needs to look like in the future.

[00:12:30] - Jonathon Hensley
The Kano model was a great way for us to take that insight and start to map it out and look at where do we need to be focusing to meet the basic expectations of all of these disparate teams all over the world and how the platform at a minimum would need to be able to provide and deliver the capabilities for that collaboration to take place. That was a really wonderful example of where that model was really effective.

[00:12:57] - Jonathon Hensley
In other circumstances, you're right, it's not always the best tool, and there is no one tool that's best for all cases. We have another project where we worked on which is related to artificial intelligence, and a lot of what's being done is hypothetical. There are very few expectations to build from at this stage of where their product is. The common model is just not the right representation. What we really focused on is using empathy mapping, which is a design practice where we try to really understand what is the ultimate goal of our audience and what are all the things that they're trying to do and accomplish to achieve that goal.

[00:13:42] - Jonathon Hensley
By leveraging that tool in combination with starting to develop a mental model for behavior in what they were trying to accomplish, we could better approach how we might prioritize the features to meet the needs of users who, for all intents and purposes, have never had a tool like this ever to work with, so their expectations are undefined. Being able to develop more around their needs and emotional value and functional value that they need to focus on allowed us to really make sure that we were delivering for that product a much more robust and focused project.

[00:14:21] - Claire Haidar
It's super helpful the way you've broken those two things down, because I love the differentiator. What I'm taking away from what you're sharing is that in the first set, where the Kano model worked really well, was the expectations were clear but not necessarily aligned, and so you could actually use the Kano model to drive that alignment. Whereas in the second one, the expectations were completely undefined because it was so early on, so new, so innovative.

[00:14:49] - Doug Foulkes
That brings us to the end of the first part of our conversation about using digital product building techniques to influence the future of work with Jonathon Hensley. To follow this conversation further, make sure to catch the next two parts on your favorite podcast platform or on WNDYR's website, wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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