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Go read about Zara or their parent company Inditex. Go On. I’d not heard about their particular business model until I read an insightful article in the Financial Times last Thursday: “A better business model”.

Clothes being designed

To paraphrase the good bits of the model: Inditex ensure that constant feedback from customers in stores gets fed back to designers in HQ who tweak existing designs and dream up completely new ones. Using this feedback, they predict needs and those clothes in need are back in store sometimes within two weeks of being designed. They do this by ensuring all relevant departments are mostly conveniently located on HQ campus in Spain as well as ensuring the whole process is fast and efficient. I won’t poorly paraphrase their business model any further here, but the feature of gaining and responding feedback intrigued me. Can we apply this to how an IT department gains feedback from the business and responds to needs?

Systems are conceived, designed and built according to a variety of ‘methodologies’ some of which involve rapid prototyping and play-back with users. Most involve heavy business interaction at system requirements gathering phase. I’ll leave this particular area alone.

I’m talking about the business-as-usual bit between system designs and implementation. Do we listen to our users? Do we gather feedback? I guess some organisations may do this, and may be good at it, but most clients I’ve worked with have only a vague far off notion of understanding new user needs and behaviours. It’s because it’s difficult to hear that a new system has flaws, or doesn’t quite meet the needs of its users. It’s because new stuff requires new money and new effort and Top Dogs don’t understand that. “I just paid for one, go away” they’d say.

I wonder why we don’t do more to understand needs. Systems could be built with usage tracking and ‘screen click’ tracking. How are folks using the system? We could build qualitative and quantitative feedback regularly into our interactions. I’m talking about MORE than the yearly staff survey. I’m talking about instilling a culture of giving feedback. If we can make our business users WANT to give feedback regularly, and our key project stakeholder want to go get it, we can do something with it. Fact is they don’t.

Inditex’s secret is that they have both customers who give and staff who regularly gather and feedback the nuggets of goodness, as well as processes to do something with it. That’s what a good back office department should get good at.

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