Former Starbucks CEO Howard Behar penned a wonderful book on leadership called “It’s Not about the Coffee”, based on his experiences building the Starbucks brand. I had the good fortune to meet Behar and watch him present on the lessons he learned building a globally trusted brand. The real insight he (and many other authors) provides comes from supposedly counter-intuitive truths. Behar's title implies that the coffee doesn't really matter at Starbucks. It's the Starbucks people and their culture that make the difference. Coffee is just the little thing in the middle that connects them to their customers. But how can the essential thing you sell not be essential?
Many people in our industry enjoy a good cup of coffee. There are countless developers and business analysts working late into the night right now as I type this, doing what they love, and keeping their excitement and passion fuelled by that essential caffeine and sugar delivery suspension. The oxymoron of Starbuck's coffee not mattering to these folks borders on the ludicrous.
But the short of it is, Starbucks has it easy. With the accelerating pace of change, and information inflation taking place on a daily basis, a cup of coffee would have morphed into a pan-galactic-gargle-blasting googlebing a couple of years ago if the best in our industry were working on it. We would not even be able to trace the etymology of a cup of coffee back to the bean, as the bean itself would be past irrelevant (no offense intended to our Java developer-brethren).
In my opinion, the real counter-intuitive truth is that Howard's 'People First' principles are an order of magnitude more important today than he is aware. In our quest to innovate and stay at the forefront of our disciplines, we've taken these lessons as essential. We take pride in putting people first, and ensuring that our software projects and solutions are delivered in such a fashion that the journey itself is an essential part of our value. From “listening loud”, to asking specific questions on how we can over-deliver on software engagements with our customers, the journey is an important part of any project. We know that a happy customer is a repeat customer, and if your experience with us is a good one, we hope you’ll be back for more.
But the products and solutions that are created in our industry are morphing and changing on an hourly basis. And so are the requirements being placed on the new technologies rapidly becoming available to us. Couple these complexities with the simple fact that the software we provide at the end of the day is our legacy. It is what remains when we have finished our projects, and move into support engagements and other activities. A great professional services experience building software would not remove the sting of leaving poor software behind. And it isn't easy building great software. Unlike a cup of coffee, our solutions are not a single static thing whose best practices and essential truths are near immutable.
Our software exists to serve the people that require it, and that isn’t necessarily the people that stood in line waiting for it to be finished. In fact, the requirements probably changed a couple of times while those folks were waiting in line as well.
So for my two bits, the coffee still matters. It matters more than ever. It is constantly being redefined, and tastes a little bit better every day because the ingredients are getting better. And the cup is getting better, and the handle, and the cream dispenser, and everything else in the loop.
It would be much easier if the professional services we provide to our customers as part of their software solutions were the only thing that we were measured on. But our world doesn't work that way; and it is essential that we have the energy and passion to be redefining ourselves on a regular basis. Change is our constant. It is one of the great things about our industry, and a key reason why our company exists. And thanks to the good folks at Starbucks for providing a great cup of coffee in the meantime, to help us with the energy and passion required to do the things we love to do!