Any views expressed within media held on this service are those of the contributors, should not be taken as approved or endorsed by the University, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University in respect of any particular issue.

We need to change our thinking about development – sense and respond

I’m in the middle of reading the new book by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden: Sense and Respond. I’ve finding it pretty inspirational and yesterday at our Web Publishers Community session a short webinar on the topic prompted some interesting conversation.

I’ve talked about Jeff Gothelf’s work quite a bit in the past. His previous book – Lean UX – changed how I thought about user research to a great degree and I’ve found talking about requirements as hypotheses with managers around the University has often resonated with them too.

My previous posts on Lean UX

If the previous book was for UX practitioners, the new one is for senior managers. I think that makes it all the more accessible for a broader audience, and have been recommending it to colleagues.


At yesterday’s Web Publishers Community (our monthly meet up for web folk across the University), we played a recent webinar in which Jeff and Josh run through the key concepts behind the book. We held our own discussion at the end of the 20 minute seminar rather than watch the live audience question and answer session.

Watch the Sense and Respond promotional webinar on the Harvard Business Review Facebook page (no login required)

Excerpt from the book’s intro – 5 key principles

I’ve snipped this from the book’s intro chapter as I think it summarises things well. You can read the full intro chapter for free on Amazon.

“We’ve named this book Sense and Respond because we like the way this phrase describes the basic mechanism, the feedback loop, at the center of this approach. The most important themes that underpin the sense and respond approach can be found in these five key principles.

Create two-way conversations

Digital technology has given us the new ability to have two-way conversations with our markets and our customers. What does the market want? And by market here, we mean people. (When we talk about being user centered, customer centered and human centered, we’re referring to this idea.) Understanding the unexpressed and unmet needs of the people who are using our products, services and technology is the key to unlocking value. In this ability is the key to success in the digital age: we don’t have to predict what will work. Instead, we can listen, make a credible guess, get feedback in nearly real time, and adjust.

Focus on the outcomes

In the digital age, it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to predict which product features are needed in the market. Yet often, we plan our features and manage our business cycles as if we know exactly what’s going to work. We manage by specifying outputs—what we’ll make. Instead, we need to focus on outcomes: management needs to declare the business outcomes they wish to achieve and then set up their teams to figure out how to get there. This means that we have to create the conditions in which teams can try different approaches, experiment, learn and discover what works through trial and error.

Embrace continuous change and continuous processes

Modern digital development practices allow teams to make small changes in an ongoing way. This allows them to make the adjustments they need to make when they’re using a sense and respond approach. But it also changes how we plan, because we’re continuously learning and adjusting our plans as we go. And it changes how we budget, because we can no longer afford to make commitments a year in advance when we’re learning every day. And it changes how we market, and sell, and… so much more. We have to move away from big-batch manufacturing processes and adopt small-batch, continuous processes.

Create collaboration

All great digital efforts are collaborations – between a creator and the audience. Between developers and operations people. Between designers and business stakeholders. You need to embrace collaboration deeply and break down walls where you find them. This means that we need to consider how we organize our teams, our departments, our programs and our initiatives.

Create a learning culture

Sense and respond means embracing a way of working that is about continuous learning, which requires significant changes to process and organizational structures. This need to change, in turn, means we must build a learning culture, and that requires openness, humility and permission to fail. It means supporting curiosity and collaboration. It means having a willingness to admit we don’t really know the answer and an eagerness to go find it. Finally, it means embracing change and embracing the idea that software is a continuous,mutable medium.

Read the full introductory chapter of Sense and Respond at Amazon

Engage with us

If you’re a member of staff working in digital at the University of Edinburgh, I encourage you to join our communities.

Edinburgh digital communities information

If you’re interested in using Lean UX techniques to improve how you deliver your product or service, maybe I can help. Get in touch.

Neil Allison’s contact details


1 reply to “We need to change our thinking about development – sense and respond”

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Report this page

To report inappropriate content on this page, please use the form below. Upon receiving your report, we will be in touch as per the Take Down Policy of the service.

Please note that personal data collected through this form is used and stored for the purposes of processing this report and communication with you.

If you are unable to report a concern about content via this form please contact the Service Owner.

Please enter an email address you wish to be contacted on. Please describe the unacceptable content in sufficient detail to allow us to locate it, and why you consider it to be unacceptable.
By submitting this report, you accept that it is accurate and that fraudulent or nuisance complaints may result in action by the University.