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Technical Value vs Business Value: why engineers don't always know what's best for the customer

Engineers like to solve problems. Show me an excited engineer and I’ll show you a man with a problem. Noodling with algorithms and figuring out how to connect one thing to another excites a problem solver like nothing else. In technology companies, it’s always an advantage to have people who love the challenge of diving into complexity and emerging with simple, elegant solutions. These can then be sold to customers - provided the solution is actually something the customer wants.

When I’ve worked with businesses struggling to convey the value of their product or platform to their customers, I sometimes begin by looking at what the engineers are doing. If it looks like there’s lots of technical solutions and impressive coding and implementation going on, I usually dig a little deeper to see if we’re looking at the technical value or business value.


Technical value: This is the value built into the technical implementation of whatever solution you offer by the engineers in your organisation. Complexity of solutions and advanced technology add value. Simpler implementations and common technology reduce the value.

Business value: This is the value extracted from your solution by the customer to run their business. This is the WHY of your whole solution - why the customer would want to use it in the first place. Usually, this value can be measured in terms of revenue, growth, reduction of complexity in business systems, saving of time and simpler transactions - things that help your customer improve their business

Selling to your customer means conveying what they value, not how cool your tech is

Often the more complex and difficult a solution is to build, the more emphasis is put on the time and effort put into building it. When you're using the most advanced technology available and your coders are the among the only ones in the world to master it, it's common to think this is more important than what all that tech does for your customer. Sometimes this can be compounded by a technical CEO or business leaders who have a scientific or engineering bent themselves. Although they’re obviously aware of the need to win customers and grow the business, sometimes the temptation of a big juicy technical problem to solve with a stable of engineers is just too much. I’ve seen many business leaders go from a state of boredom to full on orgasmic glee in an instant when I ask about the latest thing the engineers are working on. New concept companies are especially susceptible to the shiny new object syndrome - because they’re working with bleeding edge technology or ideas, they’re especially free to experiment and innovate. In fact, curiosity and solving problems is how they got to where they are in the first place.

Working according to established systems like lean methodology and storytelling arcs are ways in which you can introduce systematic analysis and problem-solving to engineering environments so that the output is Business Value for the customer. When developing and selling value for your customers, use the constraints and rules of creative disciplines like writing and creativity to satisfy the engineering mindset of solving problems while at the same time tapping into the human and business needs of the customer.

Andrew McAvinchey