Forcing functions

We don't deal with problems until we have to, which is a big part of why we can learn so much from conversations.

Last night, I took one step into my garage and stepped in an unexpected puddle of water. Uh-oh.

The hard part wasn’t finding someone to come out and replace our water heater (thankfully), but as my husband and I looked at our garage last night we groaned, “how are they going to get in here?” Bags of clothes and toys we’d been meaning to donate, stacks of boxes to recycle, supplies from our original house renovation 14 years ago.

A busted water heater is a very useful forcing function, as it turns out. Clear space in the garage, or no showers for you.

The thing is… as daunting as things looked, the task was pretty short and easy. About an hour to trash and recycle and sort, another hour to drop off clothing and book donations.

But that’s what we do, as humans. We don’t deal with small problems, and that’s actually our brains trying to protect us. A lot of what we worry about, resolves itself as our needs shift. If we couldn’t ignore the stacks in the garage, or the four extra clicks in a software workflow, we’d never get through our days!

There’s a problem with forcing functions, though. If you’re something who builds products, you are constantly at risk of coming up against a customer’s forcing function. There will be a moment when “accumulated friction” and “it-doesn’t-quite-do-what-we-need overflows” — like my garage floor — and at that moment, they are wide open to your competitor.

And that’s why we should talk to customers regularly, and direct the conversations away from features and what-I-need-today so that we can learn about those accumulating frictions.

“What about this process could be easier?” and “What do you think you’ll need to worry about in the future?” may sound like they’re asking for trouble, but just the opposite. They’re risk mitigation, and they help you spot potential challenges early and give your customers faith that you’ll know how to evolve along with them.

If you’ve read this far, welcome! It’s been a long lull in my writing, but I recently had another forcing function: Lean Customer Development is 7 years old this month!
I’ve posted a series of blog posts on my website to celebrate and share what more I’ve learned since then.