Know their WHY (Motivation/Driver)

Related 1: Start with Your WHY (Your Motivation)
Related 2: Start With WHY for Leaders

The WHY, HOW, and WHAT of any venture is the key to building a great company, objective, or team.  You will find me revisiting these concepts time-and-time again, as they are so central to effective agile leadership.

Today I’d like to share some more thoughts on the WHY.  Let’s begin with a little story.

A colleague of mine was telling me about a customer research project that he had been involved with at his software company. They had asked a room full of advanced users,“If our software was a car, what car would it be? Why did you select that car?”

This was a unique product, with a beautiful user experience and very few competitors. So they got many answers like, “it would be a BMW, because it is beautiful and unique.” The most valuable answer though, was from someone who said, “it was like a Formula 1 car.” As you can imagine, the research team was thrilled to hear that their software was being compared to Formula 1 race cars, automobiles which represent the very pinnacle of automotive technology and performance. They immediately leaped to the conclusion that their customer meant the software was amazing; that it delivered the cutting edge of capability, was fast, performed well when pushed, and had an unbelievably sexy design. So they asked the user to elaborate further as to why they felt that way, and they responded. “Your software is like a Formula 1 car because it’s expensive, and crashes all the time.” As you can imagine, the designer’s faces dropped. As it turns out, this ended up being the most informative feedback that they got that entire day, and they spent much time learning more from that user.

F1 Race IndyDay2_20070615_68

For this team, knowing the WHY (the driver) behind the data point made a world of difference in the conclusion drawn.  Clearly, it would also deeply impact the decisions that would have been based on those conclusions. Before they understood the WHY from their customer’s point of view, the team had made an assumption based on their frame of reference. This story helps explain that understanding the WHY (the driver) at the heart of an answer is so critical to planning out HOW you will approach an objective. And to be clear, while I am talking about an objective here, knowing the WHY applies to building companies, formulating Mission statements, setting objectives, developing products, structuring teams, and understanding the answers to questions. You must start with a clear WHY definition, one that provides a central motivation driving all else. You must also have a “why” (in this case your driver) statement for each HOW (your values) so that you can make sure that the organization has the same values for the same reasons.

Do you have any experiences of being surprised by feedback from customers that changed your perception of your organizational Values or Goals?

Please share them in the comments!

Related 1: Agile Leadership: Values & Pitfalls

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