I recently joined one of our teams in their team room during a visit from a top executive. The room would be recognizable to many readers—walls covered in post-its and flip chart sheets. The executive was immediately skeptical of the post-its. At the end of the session, he didn’t leave the room convinced of the value of the post-it, but he was open to believing that the outcomes of the project would impact the business. It was clear reminder that the methods we bring to the table, while important for our work, don’t matter to the business.
While my tenure has included plenty of fieldwork, and I pride myself on the array of methodological tools in my toolkit, the impact that I and my colleagues in the “ethnographic praxis” world have on Pitney Bowes goes beyond fieldwork and user centered methodologies. In fact, I am not sure if anyone besides me at Pitney Bowes talks about “ethnographic praxis.” Nonetheless, the work and mindset behind what we do have incredible power to change the course of business. We bring new perspectives and ways of approaching problems in ways that impact the business, and it comes from many directions, and different groups within the company.
I work in the Strategic Technology and Innovation Center (ST&IC), an applied research and development group. My coworkers are cryptographers, physicists, computer scientists, and data scientists, and our collective goals are focused on enhancing the company’s future competitive position. This includes developing new technologies, applying existing technologies in novel ways, and understanding the broader context of work and use that are crucial for both developing new ideas and building them out in ways that people care about. For me, this often means using my research to enable colleagues in technology, strategy, and business to understanding the larger workflows beyond the specific task a single product may be focused on. For instance, though our equipment helps out clients send millions of bills a month, so there is an obvious business interest in bill payment. Ethnographic research helped demonstrate that while we (and our customers) may care about that single moment of bill payment, it can only be understood within the larger context of financial management.
But the impacts of ethnographic praxis are not limited to front end research work. Josh Kaplan, who will be presenting a paper at EPIC 2014, works in our Customer Insights (CI) group in the Marketing Division. Because his group’s work is tied more directly to immediate business unit requests, his work is focused on current customers and their perspectives and needs around our existing products, and by necessity is often more interview than observationally based. He brings deeply held perspectives around people and behavior to his analysis of findings and recommendations to the business, and works directly with colleagues that add quantitative research and secondary findings into the bigger picture.
Pitney Bowes also has a Global User Experience Group (GUX) that is truly global, with members across North America, Europe, and Asia. While many years ago the group was primarily focused on industrial design, today the growing group is getting as many business people out into the field as they can to bring client centricity not only to their design but to the overall development process.
Across our groups, we are finding ways work together to bring our knowledge and strengths in to parts of the process together to impact the company and create change. While in many ways extending this mindset beyond our groups is still nascent, we have had some successes. We have learned that success is most likely when all the stakeholders feel that their goals are being met by the process. As part of building a long term product strategy, ST&IC facilitated a series of working sessions with a business unit, built upon insights about technology, small business behaviors, trends, and business needs—a key part of my groups objective to drive innovation throughout the company. CI took an active role in making sense of the insights, and brought in their own direct customer research and analysis of the existing base product—furthering their work in supporting the business unit in understanding and marketing current offerings. The business was driven to both make strategic decisions burgeoning opportunity with hundreds of opportunities for feature enhancements, and to create new revenue opportunities. The series of working sessions ultimately led to a new detailed program roadmap as well as a new product for small businesses.
We continue to explore new ways to collaborate and bring in different stakeholders. GUX and ST&IC are currently working to develop an “Ennovation Team” to boost innovation and creativity throughout the product development lifecycle. This admittedly ambitious goal could encompass everything from the front end of concepts for new offerings, to larger portfolio planning strategies down to engineers solving “how to build it” problems. We are just now figuring out how to best engage new people in this thinking, with a mind toward helping everyone meet their goals. This is longer term process and a key aspect of it is to infusing a customer focus throughout the process—including more stakeholders in direct contact with people and grappling with the challenges they present.
About the Author: Alex Mack is a Research Fellow in Pitney Bowes’s Strategic Technology and Innovation Center. Her work is focused on developing ideas for new products, services, and technologies based on a deep understanding of work practice. She also serves on EPIC’s Board of Directors.