People & Strategy Summer 2017 Vol. 40 Issue 3 - 66
Sense and Respond: How
Successful Organizations Listen
to Customers and Create New
Authors: Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
| 2017 | 256 pages
Reviewer: Victoria Hendrickson, Ph.D.
Organizations are facing a digital revolution. The marketplace, fueled by technology breakthroughs, requires
rapid innovation cycles to bring products and services to
market while serving the needs of current customers with
increasingly high standards. We've long heard that markets
are changing, and the accompanying doom-and-gloom
prediction that if we don't change, we'll be left in the dust.
Authors Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden initially addressed
this current crisis in their first book, Lean UX: Applying Lean
Principles to Improve User Experience, in which they describe a
work approach rooted in agile methodologies designed to
meet these market needs. Though few can argue with the
approach, many were left wondering how to make it work in
their own organizations. Enter Sense and Respond: How Successful Organizations Listen to Customers and Create New Products
Sense and Respond is a leader's playbook on how to set up
their organization to operate in an agile, effective way. Gothelf and Seiden argue that the digital revolution requires
not only novel product development efforts, but also a new
approach to how organizations are designed and managed.
In short, organizations must be set up to sense and respond.
They must sense shifts in the market as customer needs
change, and respond in a meaningful way that adds value to
The authors provide a framework for leaders to design a
sense and respond organization:
* Create two way conversations.
* Focus on the outcomes.
* Embrace continuous change and continuous processes.
* Create collaboration.
* Create a learning culture.
Part one is dedicated to the rationale behind Sense and
Respond. The authors make the argument that in this digital
PEOPLE + STRATEGY
revolution, every organization is in the software business,
and as such, should be set up to operate under agile software development methods. The authors are bold in this
claim, which feels like a leap for organizations that aren't
tech companies by trade, though the argument is compelling. Examples of organizations that have made a successful
transition by using sense and respond strategies range from
Zara to Select Sires to Cooking Light-not exactly traditional
software companies. I would challenge any leader to claim
their business is not in software after reading chapter four.
Part one advocates for building a sense and respond
organization by describing the implications of rapid change.
The model of precise project plans with carefully scheduled
work handoffs may have been the answer in the industrial
revolution, but it is thrown out the window in today's digital
revolution. The authors illustrate that the nature of today's
market is anything but predictable. As such, they lay out a
new approach to managing complexity in a customer-centric
manner at scale.
Once the authors have made their case for the importance of building a sense and respond organization, they
provide a much-needed playbook on how to get there in
Part II. First, they break down the five-part framework listed
above. Each component is described in detail with examples from the authors' own experience in their design firm.
While the playbook implies changes in work process and
team design, the underlying shift is in leadership.
A sense and respond organization requires brave leaders-those willing to let go of defined outputs and move
The digital revolution requires not
only novel product development
efforts, but also a new approach
to how organizations are designed
toward experience based outcomes as goals. These leaders
must also be willing to learn continuously. This approach
won't be for everyone, because not all leaders are ready to
admit that they don't know all the answers, and not organizations are ready to step into the ambiguity, trusting that they
will learn from customers to inform next steps. For those
who are ready, the playbook is a great resource on how to
scale the agile methodology into a customer centric organizational design and culture. Each chapter focuses on one
component of a sense and respond organization, chock full
of transformational examples, tips, and warnings of what to
The book provides a compelling call to action for leaders. The authors' emphasis on the importance of understanding and engaging with customers is clear, and their