Building something? Start with a Point of View document

If you are starting a new project, building a new feature, or can’t figure out why your team seems to be focused on the wrong things, you have a problem being unified with the same perspective. A Point of View document is one way we’ve found to join engineering, IT, database, UX, design, marketing, communications, and any other team involved in a project. Human nature causes us to tackle problems from our perspective. By writing it down, you’ll find your team headed in the right direction, together.


Definitions are important because words have meaning. Often, different parts of an organization will believe they are working towards the same goal when in reality, they are both working from two different perspectives.

Perspective: boat versus land

If you’re stuck on an island or stuck on a boat, your definition of success will look very different. Artist Source: Unknown

The first time I introduced a written Point of View document to a client it wasn’t met with enthusiasm. Why did we have to waste time on this exercise when we had a hard deadline to get a feature built? It seemed like a step back and maybe even a bit insulting, as surely everyone knew what they were working on.

But my perspective was different. I saw IT feverishly building towards a hard a looming deadline, with little business guidance, while the business was convinced that the new solution would solve a customer experience problem that had been around for over five years. Hearing the business talk while looking at the IT solution, it was really apparent that the two groups were not aligned.

I gave everyone in our planning session a 3×5 card and had them take a few minutes to define the purpose of the project in just a couple of sentences. Like a traditional elevator pitch, it could only be a few sentences long. We then had everyone read his or her card out loud and by person number three, it became very clear why this exercise was so important.

A point of view is a statement, definition, or perspective that allows a team to unify around a standard set of beliefs.

We assumed that everyone in the organization understood what we were doing and why we were doing it. The disconnect wasn’t malicious, it’s just that everyone had jumped in and became more focused on the details while missing the larger picture of what we were building and why.

 

What is a point of view?

A point of view is a statement, definition, or perspective that allows a team to unify around a standard set of beliefs.

Written at a 5th-grade reading level, points of view are often simple definitions that have a big impact. They often change the entire way a business, website, app, feature, or database functions.

Let’s bring it to life with some different kinds of points of view.

 

Different types of perspectives

The basics

Clearly state your business’ purpose, what you’re selling, and how you’re selling it. This isn’t your mission statement or corporate values, but what you are doing in exchange for money. Be very clear and very simple.

  • Who are you? What do those words mean? Don’t use industry terms. Replace any specialty language with common language. If you can’t explain it to a 10-year old, you’re making it too complicated
  • What are you selling? You’re writing for the people building the feature, not your customers, so cut out all the fluff
  • Why would someone buy something from you? They need you and you need them, so explain why
  • Are you part of a larger company? What is the purpose of your department within this company?

If needed, expand your initial perspectives to explain what a “medical service” is (if you’re a hospital) or what a “drilling site” is (if you’re an oil and gas transport company). You’re using these basic perspectives to set fences up around your focus so your strategy and solution architecture can support who you are.

The more clear you are on these fundamental statements, the more your team will succeed.

 

Who you are

The number one mistake I see with organizations is missing who and what they are to their customers. If you don’t define this, you will likely architect your digital experience to be completely wrong. I can’t emphasize this enough … It is not unusual to spend millions of dollars on a new solution just to find out it is fundamentally flawed. Your services can’t talk to your locations and your data across departments isn’t connected. The big-picture perspective that you envisioned had been lost by the folks that implemented the details of the solution.

  • Are you one company with many locations or many locations that together make up one company? Think about yourself in terms of a national retailer. When you go to Target.com you are able to see “all the things” that Target sells in a single bucket, then filter by what each location offers. In contrast, if you go to Dominos.com, you first have to pick a location before you see what menu items they sell. This is not a UX decision; it’s a fundamental requirement based on who each company is at the highest level. You must define this in order to get your feature or solution right
  • Do you operate with first-come/first-serve, appointments, or a combination of the two? You know what you’re selling by working through “The Basics” above, but now you need to figure out the way your customer purchases what you’re selling
  • Are there regulatory concerns that limit access to your product? Pharmaceuticals, medical devices, firearms, specialty healthcare clinics, and chemicals are all different industries that have their own regulatory challenges
  • Do you have standards that must be met to work with a customer? You might be a B2B company that doesn’t sell directly to the public, or minimum quantities, or you only sell through your dealers
  • What are the pillars your company stands on? Is it convenience? Cutting-edge science? Security? Sustainability? How does this impact who you are? We had a client who stood on just one pillar, which is their technology that allowed their customers to wait at home for their service. But it turned out that it was a use case that rarely happened, as most of their customers didn’t have to wait. They spent millions of dollars in signage, messaging, traditional media, digital media on this pillar that meant nothing to their customers
  • Why should a customer care about you? What do you do for them?

 

Your customer

Always define who your customer is. If you have something you’re selling in exchange for money you now need to define who you are selling to. This is especially important if your team provides support for both internal and external customers, if you are a B2B company, or if different parts of the organization service different types of customers.

There is a hesitancy leaders have to leave their offices and get into where their Customers are. Don’t be this person.

  • What is a customer? Is it internal, external, another business? This isn’t a persona, but a simple explanation of who they are. Make sure it’s simple like, “A customer is someone that pays us money to transport their natural gas to the processing plant.”
  • What do they care about?
  • What is your customer looking for? Pull from industry research you’ve done and/or interviews with employees that are with your customers on a daily basis. An example to highlight the simplicity that needs to be here is, “A customer is wanting a quality, affordable haircut with a wait under 10 minutes.”
  • Does a customer have to physically go somewhere to purchase your service or product? If they do, where do they go? What is this “place” they must get to?
  • Can a customer purchase your service or product online? Where can they go? How do they find you?

 

Operations

A digital solution has to be looked at holistically as very few businesses exist only in the digital space. Even in e-commerce, a customer can interact with Customer Service (via the phone or email/chat/text) and they also have to physically receive a product to their home or work. Operational perspectives set the stage for a proper digital integration as these critical points.

  • Who makes decisions at the local level that can impact what you’re doing? This can be commission salespeople, nurses, administrative assistants, customer service professionals, etc. SPEND THE TIME IN OPERATIONS TO UNDERSTAND THIS. There is a hesitancy leaders have to leave their offices and get into where their Customers are. Don’t be this person. Take one day and hang out behind your information desk or sitting next to the person who answers Customer Service emails. Understand the people who interact with your Customers the most and learn about their jobs. You will find the best information here. (If you need inspiration and practical tips on how to do this, check out our article on how to talk to your Customers)
  • Who are the primary people a customer interacts with from your company? How important is what they do to the success and failure of what you’re trying to do?
  • What data points need to be integrated for success to be achieved?
  • How can your project, specifically if it’s digital transformational, impact the current organizational structure? This is a big one, as no digital transformation can take place without organization change
  • Are there any key stakeholders that need extra handling? A great example in healthcare are projects that impact doctors. Given their importance and political standing in an organization, it’s important to acknowledge these during the Point of View process

This part of the process can start to overwhelm even the most grounded leaders, as the operational impact can be massive. Your Points of View are just statements acknowledging operational needs, not defining the scope or breadth of these needs. You’re just doing this to get everyone on the same page, not to find the solution. Save that for another day.

 

Visionary

In a world where you can tweet a pizza emoji and order a pizza, innovation is important. Very few people actually order pizza from Domino’s Pizza this way but the amount of publicity that it has received has been immeasurable. It allows their brand to be seen as innovators meeting the needs of their demographic, adding one more way to the 18 different ways you can order pizza.

Points of View that inspire and excite your team can offer insight into the possibilities.

  • Are you trying to standardize an offline customer experience with an online one? If I am looking at Walgreens.com to find the right kind of vitamins for my child and then I walk into the store, just to find out they only sell art supplies, I would be left confused, frustrated, and would likely never come back. Be clear on the kind of customer or patient experience you’d like to see
  • How do you want your brand to be perceived by the public? Get your corporate brand or public relations people in a room, strip out all the jargon, and get a clear sentence on who you want to be
  • What could your business look like with fully-integrated data? You can do anything you want, right? Good data allows you to create whatever patient experience you’d like to test. So write that down and make it clear what you’re wanting to accomplish

 

How to use Points of View

After you have your Points of View it’s important that you refer back to them at every stage of your project. It’s easy to get distracted with the details and forget who you are what you’re trying to do.

  • Validate them with your team, especially the people that will be implementing the feature. At the lowest levels, every person responsible for getting the project complete needs to know the hows and whys
  • When you get to a decision point, go back to your Points of View. Why is the information architecture (IA) team offering a solution that categories data by division when your Point of View clearly stated that a Customer doesn’t know and care what your internal divisions are?
  • Use them to integrate with other parts of your organization. Digital can no longer be seen as a separate thing outside of the rest of your business. Your Customers or Patients see you as a company providing them with a service. Make sure you begin to onboard other departments within your organization to use the same language, same thought process, and databases. This is how to you digitally transform a company

 


Words unify people. They bring clarity to projects, especially those in large organizations that are typically made up of fractured teams. Taking the time to write down your words, your perspective can help set your next project up for success.

Give it a try. I promise that it will completely change the trajectory of your work.

Jackie Martin

Jackie is the founder of Branch Strategy. With over 15 years of experience with all stages of web and software design and development, she works with her clients to identify, plan, and implement data-driven digital marketing solutions. Her passion is to help leaders who don't know what to do and don't know where to start.

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