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Improving the Quality of a Platform with Empathy

Alignment
Architecture
Goal Setting
Company Culture
Roadmap

25 October, 2021

Mustafa Furniturewala
Mustafa Furniturewala

VP Of Engineering at Coursera

Mustafa Furniturewala, VP of Engineering at Coursera, describes how he improved the quality of his company’s online platform using empathy, enterprise mindset, and a company-wide vision.

Problem

A couple of years back, we were concerned that we would lose some partners because of critical issues with our platform. It stemmed from a problem with the slow velocity of our website. We realized that we had a platform built for our team but that was not enterprise-like; therefore, our new enterprise business clients found some bugs when they started using it heavily. We faced ambiguity, as there were multiple solutions to transition to a higher degree of quality.

Actions taken

We began by delving into the root cause of the problem. We tried to understand the business side of the problem first. Understanding how our company would struggle if we let our lack of quality continue allowed us to get quicker results. We formed empathy for our consumers that faced challenges in their workflow because of our platform.

We looked at the hotspots where bugs were common and noted them, compiling a complete list. This method was important on the engineering side of the problem. Understanding and having empathy for our customers would enhance their experience, but we needed to delve into the root of the problem to keep them around.

After understanding the logistical challenges we faced, we formed short-term and long-term goals based on these bugs. These were complex and fundamental goals that were planned for the future of our company. We then looked towards our options and viewed changes we could make during our redesign. As noted, we focused on keeping the same platform for our customers' ease of use.

Once we understood our goals, we created a roadmap and decided what architecture would allow us to achieve our short and long-term goals. We made sure that this procedure would work to fix our challenges while keeping the customer in mind. We sent a singular message to our team, customers, and engineering board portraying the changes made and why they were happening. We aimed to have complete alignment across the company, pairing employees and consumers together. This was important because sharing one message was the simplest for everyone to understand. It created unity within the confines of our company and allowed everyone involved to understand the basis of the changes occurring.

We aimed to improve our company culture around this change. This development revolved around two main principles: process and feeling. We added special adjudicatory principles to transition our processes around change. To improve the feeling of change, we shared our engineering vision with our team, including the importance of quality. This was based on our ability to empathize with our consumers, who were dealing with inferior quality.

Lessons learned

  • Something that benefited our platform was that we kept the initial principles from our platform's value prop when rearchitecting. We worked towards correcting the root causes of the bugs in our system while only remodeling specific features. We created to change with a conservative approach, only replacing what was needed but ensuring there was no longer a lack of quality.
  • Sharing our overarching problem with our team was essential. We created a codename for our project and talked with our entire team for solutions. Having a team in alignment establishes a team that operates well together.
  • Creating short and long-term goals after understanding the underlying issues in a system is key to improving your business. After we, as a team, established our goals, we created a roadmap that would lead us to the place we wanted to be. With specific goals in mind, it is easy to see the drawbacks and benefits of different approaches.
  • Using empathy for our customers improved the quality of our work. When we understood what our customers were dealing with when using our platform, we worked on a more versatile solution. Bringing the outside sentiment in was key to keeping empathy internally.

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