Courtney Hemphill, Partner–Product, Engineering, and Design at West Monroe
Back in college I was a science major but gradually realized I wasn’t passionate about it, so I took a bunch of computer science courses and I wanted to learn more. After graduation, my friend and I wanted to be a part of the commoditized Silicon Valley, so we decided to sell posters online. It was quite fun. We did everything, from rolling the posters to shipping to the basic programming and the internet system. I learned how to code on the job. The whole experience showed me what it’s like to start and run a company.
My next step was founding a company based on user experience best practices, testing development, and programming, called Carbon Five. We got to work with some cool companies like Facebook, Chime, Square, Stitch Fix, and Masterclass where they’d come to us with an idea, and we’d work with them around product, design, and software engineering.
Carbon Five was acquired by West Monroe, so I–along with a bunch of my team members–joined then. It’s been fun. With the merger, we found that now we have a great opportunity to bring our expertise in product, design and software engineering and pool that with the wealth of expertise in industries like healthcare, energy and utilities, and financial services that West Monroe serves. I’ve been at West Monroe for a year and I’m excited to see what’s to come.
What’s fun for me is to be able to use what we know–best practices around modern application development, human-centered design–and apply these skills to accelerate growth for our clients. At West Monroe, we work with companies in different stages of innovation. That may be a new company, or a company about to launch a new product or in a new market, or even an established company which may have pre-existing software but need to modernize–that’s where we come in. We bring our years of expertise to solve these problems in real time to help our clients the best and fastest we can. So, rather than creating static solutions, we dive into working on the software, designs, or product and collaborate with our industry partners, and the clients themselves.
One thing our clients appreciate is that we don’t just come in and do something on their behalf. The best products I’ve seen are not created in isolation but in collaboration with the industry. Therefore, our approach to working with the clients helps train their leadership. With the collaboration approach, we not only create an upskilling experience for the employees, but also craft a culture that creates an opportunity for new talent to be a part of.
Project mindset is more of predicting the outcomes and customer needs and backlogging all the features in the product. The product mindset is more about taking a step back, and rather than pre-defining the features of the product, you make it more adaptable, so it can evolve according to the customer’s needs.
As for the shift, I’d say it was born out of necessity. You want to ensure that everything you deliver has incremental value to balance the maintenance cost, which the product mindset ensures.
Overall, a product mindset ensures that every line of code that's written is aligned to something that is going to be beneficial to the business.”
Among the 10 most valuable companies right now, based on market cap and those founded in the last 30 years or so, all of them have something in common–they treat software engineering as a profit center, not a cost center. A great example of one of the forerunners of this shift is USAA; they made a dynamic shift as an organization to move their IT cost center to a profit center, driving more revenue and more profits, and became the gold standard for mobile banking experience at the time.
We take collaboration very seriously. We've broken down barriers between product management, design, and engineering to create an environment for innovation. We’ve found that with no barriers the teams are more optimized, happy, and frankly, the product is better. Additionally, we look holistically at the expertise that different teams, along with the client, bring in. Overall, we’ve seen the benefits of a collaborative work environment with our clients when the whole team gets together and communicates their needs and wants efficiently.
I think the biggest mistake is just understanding customer behavior. While creating products and software with utmost security and vigilance in mind is essential, it’s also important to examine how the customers use the product to ensure optimization and efficiency.
Additionally, if there’s a problem, it’s important for teams to take a step back and evaluate it before diving into complex solutions. You’d be surprised how many times a problem that may seem complicated has a very simple solution.
I think the best of it is yet to come. I hope that digital and how it evolves will bring us together in great ways and support humanity, not replace it.
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