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Case study: The single and different size shoes test programme

Zappos fielded a call from a customer who had received the wrong size shoes. The shoes that the customer ordered were adult-sized cross-trainers that had a hook and loop closure instead of traditional shoelaces.

The customer was frustrated, as the shoes were for their grandson who has autism and was unable to tie his own shoelaces. What Zappos found, though, by immersing themselves, was that there was a huge gap when it came to footwear that met all types of special requirements and disabilities.

To meet this need, Zappos decided to give customers the ability to purchase a single shoe or make their own custom pair by purchasing two shoes of different sizes.

They worked closely with suppliers and shared what they learnt about customer needs, so they could develop products that worked for more and more people. Today Zappos offers a broad assortment of easy-on/off shoes, sensory-friendly clothing, reversible shirts and pants, clothing with magnetic fasteners, post-surgical clothing, diabetic shoes, and more.

How did Zappos get there? Not in one big-bang. But in tens of small increments.

After just a few years, the programme has gone from curating a small number of items that were already available on the website, to introducing many more brands, styles, sizes, and colours. What they offer now is a range, together in one place, to connect people with products that make their life easier.

There are thousands of shoe retailers, all of whom have a view of the world and their customers as Zappos do. How did Zappos make such an impact?

A metaphor about symptoms and root causes

During one particular rainy season, Owen’s ceiling started to leak.

Upon investigation, he discovered that the source of the leak was an old, overflowing bathtub in the attic. The previous owner must have placed the old bathtub in the attic to catch the drips from the roof.

This solution had worked well, for many years, until that particular rainy season when the rate of rain out-paced the rate of evaporation.

We can probably assume that the person didn’t actually believe that a bathtub in the attic was the right fix.

But given the choice of having the leak continue, this quick-fix didn’t seem like a bad idea.

And since the “fix” worked reliably for many years, it’s easy to understand why resolving the root cause never became a high-priority. 

HT: David Owen

Four handles

There are a limited number of levers that will bring the benefits you seek to serve.

  1. You can increase revenue
  2. You can reduce costs
  3. You can improve service
  4. You can ensure compliance

Every promise you make fits in, sits across, or hangs off these four handles.

The PMI effect

The public presentations that I’ve given over the last 10+ years can (mostly) be found here.

One that you can’t find there, is one I presented in 2017 at the worldwide PMI Virtual Business Analysis conference. And the response since has been incredible.

And by response, I mean gratuity.

Over 800 people have taken the time to say “thank you”. Even now, over 3 years later, people continue to pause for a moment afterwards and leave a comment.

The presentation has been viewed over 22,000 times, almost the same number as this popular one here on Slideshare. Yet on PMI’s Project Management platform, the community makes the effort to appreciate the work.

You can spend time crafting something of value that contributes yet receive minimal attention. Yet on the same professional platform have a simple selfie rewarded with 100 likes.

Wheres’ your community?

The simple stakeholder promise

Here’s a template, a three sentence stakeholder promise you can run with:

  • Who is it for? ________________
  • What do they want? ________________
  • Why is it important to them? ________________

And you thought that all you were here to do was write documents.

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