Ever opened a beautiful app only to find an extremely long response time? Unfortunately, I ended up creating one, and here is how it went:
One fine French summer evening of May 2019, I was immersed in a project to launch a brand new fintech application for a Paris-based multinational. What started as a simple project turned into a living KOH-LANTA experience (French version of Survivor TV series). Les malentendus between what the business wanted, how the backends understood it and what APIs delivered was a difficult story to piece together and stitch. But somehow, magically, we did it. However, not without consequences.
Six months plus tard….
We launch the application in Google and Apple stores with much grandeur, only to find ourselves with a lot of instability. The application did the job it intended to. However, as the user base grew, so did our problems. Nobody could figure out what was happening. So, they hired some very intelligent, very expensive consultants.
As it turns out, the main issue behind our troubles was: “Tech empathy” or rather the lack of it.
Tech Empathy, what’s that?
I choose to describe it as a parallel concept to “user empathy” where we design not just with the user in mind but also with tech in mind. Where good UI/UX meets equally unparalleled performance and security.
We created a beautiful app, in collaboration with one of the top design agencies in Paris. However, what they failed to account for, was the technical complexity behind that beautiful UI. For a single homepage, the first screen after log-in, were 10 different API calls. Each call reaching out to at least 3 distinct backends. Bringing up the response time to 2s much higher than the below 400ms benchmark. Who was to be blamed? The backends? The APIs, the UI designers, the business?
There is light at the end of the tunnel. With combined efforts and some patience, we succeeded in reducing the response time by a half. Product teams re-examined the front-end as a result decreasing the number of calls being made. Meanwhile, APIs and tech teams strengthened their platforms and ensured continuity of services during peak time. While we saved the day, it wasn’t without added cost. Additional reiteration expenses that could have been avoided if: (a) the product was designed with performance in mind and (b) if the warning from tech teams were louder and paid head to.
This a classic cautionary tech tale of our times. It highlights beautiful the importance of aligning business vision, product design, and tech capabilities within a company. You can have the most beautiful app but if the infrastructure behind it is not scaled up or stable enough, then it’s all in vain. When thinking of launching new digital products it’s important to have not just user empathy but also tech empathy in mind.
Good questions to ask for building tech empathy could be along the lines of:
- How many users do we plan to onboard and is our infrastructure capable of handling that load?
- Does a UI/UX change increase or decrease the technical complexity? What are the trade-offs in terms of performance and security?
- Is there a way to decrease complexity and increase performance?
- For delivering a new feature, what will be the technical flow behind each screen?
At the end of the day, consumers don’t only want a product that’s intuitive and easy to use but also one that is quick and stable.
Cultivating tech empathy plays a crucial role in building cohesion between the product and tech teams. Product teams with strong tech empathy can collaborate better with IT teams to deliver a new solution by speaking a common language.
You don’t have to be a genius or a science student to build tech empathy. In the last article, we discussed how good communication skills can improve cohesion in product and tech teams. Tech empathy on the other hand is not a skill but rather an outlook. It’s the willingness to understand your product’s ecosystem and its inner workings.
Here are a few tips on how non-technical people can cultivate tech empathy:
- Spend time with the architects. As the name suggests, it is the architects that have the whole blueprint of the tech infrastructure. These are the folks that can explain the foundation on which your products are built. I promise you, just one afternoon with these wizards will be an unforgettable eureka moment!
- Shadow your tech teams. Heard of the innovation game The Apprentice? If we can shadow our clients to understand how they use our product then why not reverse engineer this game and shadow the developers who are building the product? Get to know the blood, bone, and code that makes up your product. This will help you not only to build tech empathy but also give you a common lingo to exchange with tech teams; a definite boost to your credibility as a product expert.
To conclude, tech empathy is not a skill set but an outlook that businesses and product teams can adopt to not only deepen the understanding of their products but also to achieve higher cohesion with their tech counterparts.
This article was a continuation of the series bridging the gap between business and IT. In the next chapter, we will examine the third pillar for the bridge uniting product and IT: Managing Expectations.