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Don't Force it

There is a concept in Taoist philosophy called Wu-Wei. It refers to the idea that one should act in a way that is in harmony with the natural flow of things rather than trying to force it.

In product development, the principles of Wu-Wei can be applied by embracing change and allowing the development process to unfold naturally. Product development should feel more like a sailing ship going with the flow of the wind rather than a galley ship forcing itself through the water with oars. The Wu-Wei concept can help teams be more responsive to change, adapt to uncertainty, and focus on the customer's needs and feedback. This approach can lead to a more customer-centric and user-friendly product simply by not forcing things to be developed without customer pull or need.

In practice, this means being open to new ideas and approaches rather than sticking to a pre-determined plan. It also means letting go of control and trust in the process, the team, and importantly the customer to guide the development. By embracing Wu-Wei, teams can build a culture of experimentation and iteration, making it easier to pivot and change direction when necessary.

Agile and Lean values and principles are symbiotic with the concept of Wu-Wei. In the case of Lean, things are only developed as needed vs. forcing work to be done regardless of whether it is required or not. This preserves capacity and energy for working on things that matter. Furthermore, Agile has a principle: "Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential." Again, this is very much a Wu-Wei concept. The most effortless action is choosing not to do something because it adds little value to our customers or company.

To put this into practice, you could use the Kano model to simplify and focus your product development. The Kano model is a framework for understanding and measuring customer satisfaction. It was developed by Japanese researcher Noriaki Kano in the 1980s and is commonly used in product development and customer service. The model helps identify which product attributes are important to customers and how they influence satisfaction.

Picture of the Kano Model
Kano Model

To use the Kano model to simplify product development, you would typically follow these steps:

  1. Identify: Gather customer feedback, conduct surveys, and perform market research to understand their needs and expectations for your product.

  2. Categorize: Use the Kano model to categorize customer needs into expected, desired, and exciting.

  3. Prioritize: Based on the importance of the needs, prioritize which needs to address first, second, and so on.

  4. Develop: Use the prioritized customer needs to guide the development of the product, focusing on meeting the basic needs first and then addressing the performance and excitement needs as appropriate.

  5. Continuously monitor and improve: Gather customer feedback and monitor the product's performance to understand how well it meets their needs. Use this feedback to improve and simplify the product development process.

Following these steps, you can use the Kano model to simplify product development by focusing on the most critical needs and requirements based on customer feedback. It will help you to not overdevelop and force product features on your customers that are not wanted and, in turn, allow things to unfold more naturally. In Wu-Wei this is known as Effortless-Effort by only applying energy to what is genuinely needed.

To close, Wu-Wei can be applied to product development by embracing change and allowing the development process to unfold naturally, being open to new ideas and approaches, and letting go of control and trusting in the process, the team, and the customer to guide the development. This approach can lead to better organizational flow and more customer-centric products.

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