Let’s start with a stereotype. I bet that when you think about lines people (you know, the people fixing the powerlines) you picture burly men with a no-nonsense attitude.

This was what I thought before I spent a few days with some Utilities companies. As I learned, the stereotype reflected my bias rather than reality.

To get to know people and figure out what matters to them most and how we could make their lives better, I needed to put my bias aside. I needed to listen to them, really listen. I needed to observe them and try to see the world through their eyes. I needed to put ‘me’ aside.

So, I did just that and was invited into a world I didn’t know existed.

One of the main things missing from the stereotype is an understanding of their frame of reference. Trying to understand people without knowing their context is like learning to drive by reading a book.

What I learned is that these people are extremely hard working, have a wealth of knowledge, and experience, and have immense respect for each other, and human life. Think about it; these people are working on power lines that are sometimes ‘live’, which means they are putting their own lives on the line.

They form a tight team, trusting each other with their lives. Bluntly put, one person’s mistake can be the other’s death. This trust is innate to the way that they work and operate. You can count on them. They are all in it together. There are not many roles around that have this innate and hard-earned implicit trust. It reminds me of war veterans. This picture reflects a lot about that innate trust and camaraderie.

These people are as much first responders as police and firefighters. They are the ones that bring power back after an outage so that everyone else can do their thing.

Having first-hand experience and understanding of our customers and their context, really allows us to better engage with end users and their employers. We can see the world through their eyes, without judgement, taking it for what it is.

Knowing what we know now about Utilities, understanding the people out in the field as much as the people back in the office, helps us develop better products. These products are aligned with their needs, rather than our assumptions.

During the process of development, a continuous feedback loop is crucial. Stakeholders are updated on our progress and we also talk to the lines-people every couple of weeks. They are the end-users and if they are not happy, our software will never succeed.

Smartrak uses human-led design as a way to uncover needs, to gain insights, and to develop software that is real.