How and Why to Make Your Objectives Customer-Centric

Whatever problems you're facing in your business, creating more value for your customers will help solve them

Hey folks, 

We’re three weeks into the launch of Who Does What by How Much? A Practical Guide to Customer-Centric OKRs and the reviews are just starting to come in now. The last book I wrote, Forever Employable, got its first review on Amazon with a photo of the book in a trash can. Yep, true story (it’s still there if you want to see it). So far, the reviews for WDWBHM have been overwhelmingly positive and, thankfully, no trash can pics (yet). In any case, if you haven’t already, grab a copy and let us know what you think. 

I’m finally back home for a while after nearly a month of travel, speaking, teaching and a music festival or two. This week’s newsletter is focused on writing better objectives. In our work we notice that teams can more easily generate key results, mostly because they’re metrics and those are more familiar to them. Objectives, however, are a little tougher. Let’s take a look at why and how to ensure that they, too, are focused on your customers’ success.

- Jeff

P.S. I just created a FREE, 5-day email course called The OKR Repair Kit. If you know someone who could use it, would you share this link with them, please?

P.P. S. If you have already purchased and read the book, we’d be so grateful if you’d head on over to Amazon and leave a review. Reviews help us spread the word and get the book out to more people and teams that it could help. Thank you!

Article: How and Why to Make Your Objectives Customer-Centric

Objectives are your goals. They serve as the reason behind the work your team is doing. They are your “why.” When writing Objectives, we focus on the qualitative side of the work we’re doing. Key results will tell us if we’re succeeding in achieving the goal, but it’s crucial to understand what benefit we’re trying to create in the world. So we work with qualitative objectives to point everyone in the same direction. The challenges start when teams lose the customer in the conversation about objectives. 

In short, your objective should be the customer benefit you’d like to see in the world when you achieve the goal. If you solve the current problem your customers are facing, what does that world look like? Notice, I didn’t say how you will solve the problem. We’re not writing solution statements. We’re imagining a future state that enables our customers to be more successful when they use the products and services we make for them. 

Part of the reason teams struggle with this is the qualitative aspect of objectives. Initial drafts of objectives end up with generic superlative statements like “best mortgage service” or “easiest to use ecommerce platform.” These aren’t wrong per se. They’re just not that useful. If we’re going to write great objectives they need to be specific and customer centric.

We do that by starting with the problem we’re trying to solve. Let’s say that in our case we’re working on improving our airline’s flight reservation system. The issue we’re addressing is that a high percentage of our customers drop out of the purchase funnel after they’ve chosen their flight because of the overwhelming number of “add-on” options we present for purchase as extras. They find it distracting, confusing and annoying so they drop out and opt for another website or airline. 

Many teams would take this problem statement and turn it into something like, “Create the easiest purchase path for flight reservations in the airline industry.” That ticks the boxes for qualifying as an objective but it doesn’t deal with the customer benefit nor the specificity of the issue we’re solving for. Instead an objective for this team could look like this:

We provide the most straightforward flight reservation system for first-time customers by the end of 2024

We took a few solid steps forward with this version. We defined success as “straightforward” which is more specific than “easy to use.” We also identified the audience we’re going to focus on first-time customers. 

We could try to take it a step further: We provide the most direct path to reserving and purchasing a flight for first-time customers by the end of 2024

Here we’ve sharpened the qualitative aspect to be even clearer – most direct path. 

We could go one more step further if we wanted to: Make booking a flight with us for first-time customers easier than buying a book on Amazon by the end of the year. 

In all of these cases we’re describing the customer benefit we want to see in the world. It’s a rallying cry for the team. It’s specific and focuses on a specific slice of your target audience. In none of the cases do we say how we’re going to achieve the issue. That comes after your OKRs are fully defined. Instead we’re always thinking about how the customer will have an easier time meeting their specific needs in the future. 

Your team doesn’t get out of bed to “build a checkout process.” They get out of bed and are far more motivated to achieve a lofty goal. This is what your objectives should be designed to do. Focus them on your customers and how their world improves and you’re halfway to an excellent OKR statement. 

What I’ve been up to

Poland, Scotland, a quick stop in Norway, on to Sicily and then Spain. It’s been a month. The coolest thing I did? I took my daughter, who is in her third year at university studying UX design, to her first UX conference and promptly embarrassed her in front of the entire event as part of my opening keynote. What are dads for? 

Second coolest thing I did? I climbed an active volcano. In this case it was Mt Etna in Catania, Sicily, and I cannot recommend this enough. It really felt like a dinosaur should have walked by at any moment.

The summit was at 3400 meters above sea level (11,000 feet). Not the easiest hike, but to see and feel both heat and snow at the same time while the earth around you is literally moving and billowing smoke was unforgettable. (Bonus: When you get back to Catania, you’re rewarded with incredible Sicilian food.)

On the work front, we’re super excited to share that our first partner in the new Sense & Respond Learning Certified Training Partner program has gone live with their first class. Our partners in Bogotá, Colombia, will be teaching a certified Lean UX and Product Discovery class on Aug 23-24, 2024, live in person. The class will be in Spanish. If you’re in that part of the world, take a look at the class and join Felipe, Jonathan and Cristian this summer. 

If you’d like to partner with us to teach Lean UX classes in your part of the world and in your language, please reach out. (Just hit reply.)

Watch, Listen, Read

Watch: Shogun (Disney+) – The updated version of this amazing story is absolutely riveting. Feudal Japan’s struggle to reconcile with the increasing presence of Europeans amid its own internal struggles is a story for the ages. I binged the whole thing (warning: it’s pretty graphic). 

Listen: Parcels – Australian electropop. It’s groovy, fun and super easy listening. They just sold out Red Rocks, too, which I think is impressive. Seems to be a lot of excellent music coming out of Australia in recent years. 

Read: The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford – I’m not sure if I’ve ever included this tech business classic here. I talk about it a lot. At a glance it seems like a book about DevOps. Dig in a bit and you’ll see that it’s about much more than just that.

What’s new on the blog

B2B Customers Are Humans Too! – When I ask B2B teams who their customer is, they respond with “the media company” or “the healthcare corp.” They know the industries and the businesses within those industries they support. Ask them to name the human within those businesses that actually interacts with their product, though, and the conversation goes quiet. Those humans are their real customers. Understanding them significantly improves how you work and deliver value. This blog offers some ways to think about these humans and some reasons why you should.


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