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Involve Everyone in Creating Value for the Customer

The company obviously gleaned important lessons from its mistake. After Olympic, Dell started talking about "relevant technology," meaning only those technologies that are important to its customers. But Olympic also taught Michael Dell that just about everyone needs to be involved in serving customers—even engineers and technicians. It would have been easy to blame Olympic on the engineers, but Michael Dell felt that it wasn't their fault. Why? Because, for structural reasons, they didn't know the company's customers. What to do? The company began to encourage its engineers to spend more time with sales teams and get more involved in product planning. While some resisted, many welcomed the chance to play a more prominent role in the entire process:

Teaching bright technical people to think beyond the technology and in terms of what people really want—and what makes for good business—isn't always easy. It can take time, but it can best be done by immersing them in the buying process and involving them in the strategy and logic that go in deciding what creates value for customers.

The lessons Michael Dell learned from the failure of Olympic are relevant to the vast majority of organizations, and are worth noting here:

  • ORGANIZATIONS AND PRODUCT MANAGERS CANNOT, AND SHOULD NOT, IMPOSE THEIR VIEWS ON THE MARKETPLACE. Don't assume that just because you make a product—even one that you and your co-managers believe is spectacular—it will sell. Customers will always have the final say, and customers have a way of surprising you.

  • INVOLVE CUSTOMERS AS EARLY IN THE PROCESS AS POSSIBLE. If you ignore customers during the product-development process, you do so at your own peril. Involve customers as early as possible—and then keep them involved in the process.

  • GET AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE INSIDE THE COMPANY INVOLVED IN SATISFYING CUSTOMERS. Silos in organizations tend to develop over time. Functional areas like R&D and engineering tend to get insulated and isolated over time. The challenge for management is to involve as many individuals and departments as possible in determining the preferences and needs of core customers.

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