Agile Human-Centric Design: What Is It and Why You Need to Know
Shaz Khan has been actively implementing SAP ERP eProcurement and Supply Chain applications for over ten years. Once he noticed procurement software wasn’t being fully utilized by businesses (even though they were already paying for it), he decided to co-found Vroozi. As the Company’s CSO, Shaz is a valuable resource to those who may be unfamiliar with the procurement industry, but are already deeply impacted by it.
Ultimately, Vroozi helps CEOs and their companies stay within their budgets and easily manage their spend, without having to micromanage the entire process themselves.
Delivering an e-commerce solution centered around B2B sourcing and procurement activities that is simple, scalable and deployable to the masses is no easy task.
But Shaz and his team have done it, and they’ve done it with the end user in mind. I had a chance to sit down with Shaz and pick his brain on his company’s approach to simple design.
Ryan Foland: You have been in the procurement space for two decades. Did it find you, or did you find it?
Shaz Khan: We found each other. I’d been in the space for a long time, specifically within e-commerce supply chain management and had started a number of different consultancies and software companies. My “ah ha” moment happened in San Francisco when my team was asked to write a 45 page PowerPoint training manual on how to order a stapler. Forty-five pages! We looked at this exercise, sat back at a bar and said, “We’re not going down this path of writing a 45 page PowerPoint.” Well, we got close. We did 35 pages, because that’s exactly how many steps are required to go through this ordering process. At that point in time, it was a no-brainer for us to enter into this space and make the process of ordering items a lot smarter, simpler and speedier.
Ryan Foland: I was poking around online getting prepared for this interview and one of the things that I loved was your comment about ‘adapting technology to people’s way of living.’
Shaz Khan: That’s incredibly important, and central to our internal mission at Vroozi. We’re a user-first company. Oftentimes, when you are conjuring up ideas to solve different business problems, you focus on the actual problem itself and on identifying a feature list that would solve that problem. This process, however, is not the best way to look at building and deploying applications, because it does not account for user experience. In problem solving, you must look through the lens of an employee or an end-user. How will they actually flow through given scenarios? Will their experience be effortless or complicated? How people use applications is the key component to consider when developing applications. At Vroozi, we’ve taken the user experience aspect very seriously. We’ve put together real symposiums with clients, so they can walk us through and give real-time feedback on what works best. We find including humans in the development process lends itself to building better products that are more adaptable to the end-user.
Ryan Foland: How would you define your approach?
Shaz Khan: We view Vroozi as human, user-centric design. In this industry, it is better known as an agile methodology. We are constantly developing new prototypes, personas, user experience flows, and iterating across a wide spectrum of users. Our unique focus is within Fortune 1000 companies.
Ryan Foland: How were things different in the past?
Shaz Khan: Before, you would work with an IT group on what needed to be built. While the IT people were hacking away on their computers, they wouldn’t be heard from for two or three months. When it was finally time to unveil, the anticipation would typically be replaced with disappointment. Sure, the code they produced got the job done, but the user experience was often a secondary thought. I remember looking at applications built this way and thinking to myself, “What happened to the user experience?” That’s how a lot of software was developed … with the user as an afterthought. It’s as if the developers were thinking, “Let’s throw every kind of feature and functionality into the product, and see what sticks.”
Ryan Foland: Very interesting. When you’re talking about an approach that includes your consumers in the process, doesn’t that get expensive?
Shaz Khan: Ironically, technology helps to keep the costs down. With the advent of web-conferencing technologies (like Zoom and GoToMeeting), the travel aspect of getting in front of people is simplified. This reduces the cost of including users in the development process. Internally, we use software that facilitates interactions with users to help us run our focus sections. There is definitely a time commitment involved, but we find that investing time upfront with the user population saves us time overall. The real costs are incurred when you finish building a product and then have to go right back to the drawing board. Making changes after something’s been built can take months off a development lifecycle.
I started reading a book called Sprint by Jake Knapp. The premise surrounds how to solve problems and test new ideas in only five days. We’re seeing this rapid testing concept become a new corporate lexicon. I can almost hear executives saying, “Let’s prototype it, put some screens together, then quickly see how the user experience flow works.” Based on these quick user tests, they can lock in user-centric features, then move forward with the true hard cost investment of coding.
Ryan Foland: So you are saying that the opportunity cost of missing the mark from a consumer-centric position can be a lot more expensive than these small sprints and constant validation?
Shaz Khan: Absolutely. As a company, we’ll use the time between cycles to breathe and plan for the upcoming sprints. We always approach our product with the question, “Can we use this within our own company?” And we’re by no means an enterprise company, nor even a mid-market company yet. We’re still in the classic growth stage of small business. But our systematic solution is solving the real problem of costs involved with purchasing for businesses of any size. Every company purchases products and services — whether they go to their local Costco, Best Buy or bistro to order catering. The process is laborious and time consuming, regardless of the size of a company. We’re looking to simplify that process.
Ryan Foland: Do you see any downside or negative effects that come from this putting-the-consumer-design-first approach?
Shaz Khan: Absolutely. To employ this process, you must have executive principles set out front within your company, and have systems in place to gain feedback from your customer base. But this system cannot be led by your customer base to a point where it’s no longer cost effective. For example: we’ve had opportunities where we’ve heard from a customer who asked us to build them X, Y and Z. While X might be within our framework, Y and Z might be so far outside that it can significantly increase costs and no longer make sense. You want customer feedback to guide you in the right direction, but you don’t want to follow any directions that will drive you off of a cliff. You must stay core to your mission and not lose sight of why you started the company in the first place.
Ryan Foland: Do you see any areas in the market lacking this type of customer-focused design, where there might be an opportunity for people to apply this type of methodology to really innovate or reinvent the way things are being done?
Shaz Khan: If you look at the government / public sector, there is an area ripe for opportunity across so many different sectors — not just procurement. The general process efficiencies gained by putting more information online (such as being able to pay certain traffic violations online or registering online with the DMV) are use cases that have been well established, but there are a plethora of other examples where companies are finding ways to integrate user feedback in the development or ideation process.
I am pumped up because there are so many opportunities right now for companies to really gain process efficiency and, in turn, create a happier workforce. Nobody wants to sit in front of a computer with a Windows 95-like interface processing a purchase order for two hours, right?