Why Prototyping is Like the Tango

tango dancers dancing feetThe professional services group I work in is dedicated to implementation – getting customers up and running with our platform so that they become addicted to it, expand its use throughout their organizations, and renew.

That last part, renewal, is crucial, because of the economics of enterprise SaaS (software as a service): in general, it costs so much to acquire and launch a new customer that you lose money if they don’t renew beyond the first year or so.

Lately, I’ve come to appreciate that in some implementations, a key factor separating success from failure is how effectively we prototyped the customer’s primary use case. For instance, providing the customer champions with an early preview of what the complete solution will look like can help them rally essential political support for the implementation.

Prototyping requires special skills, because it’s a dance in which the customer and the software gracefully coordinate their activity. But this isn’t like dancing with my wife, where at least some of the moves are familiar; this is new territory with each customer, and requires even more careful listening to their rhythm, their patterns, their way of doing it.

By the time an organization licenses enterprise social software, it typically has already identified use cases, from the standard “improve communication and collaboration” to specific high-value applications unique to its industry, products, or technologies. In the prototyping dance, we discover how our software’s features can best be applied in the context of each company’s very different business objectives and processes.

The process is challenging, stimulating, and always unique. But it’s also terrifically satisfying to see new solutions spring to life.

So, when the music starts, get up, listen to the rhythm – and don’t step on the customer’s toes.