Delivering Experiences for Real Customer Connections: An Interview with projekt202’s David Lancashire

Following is a transcript of projekt202 Chairman and CEO David Lancashire’s on-air interview with Steve Klein, host of “PlayMakers Talk Show.” This interview originally aired Sept. 18, 2015 on KAAM-AM 770 Radio.

Announcer: CEOs, civic leaders, entertainers and entrepreneurs, they all have something in common: the drive, vision and heart to achieve success. Steve Klein is a renowned business consultant, author and host of “PlayMakers Talk Show.” Each week, he introduces you to another fascinating personality who will inspire, educate and motivate you to persevere and find your own success. And now, here’s Steve Klein.

Steve Klein: This segment, we’re going to speak with David Lancashire. David is the chairman and CEO of a company called projekt202, and that’s projekt with a K. He leads a company that sets the standard for experience-driven application development.

With headquarters in Dallas and offices in Austin and Seattle, projekt202 is the world leader in applying design research, the development of mobile, cloud, Web and workplace software. The company is actively changing the way people interact with technology around the world.

Now, renowned industry analyst firm Gartner noted, they said, “The perspectives and processes projekt202 is focusing on will, over time, become standard operating procedure for any application development project.” We’re going to talk more about that in a moment.

Some of the clients that projekt202 works with are Samsung, eBay, Neiman Marcus, PayPal, Mercedes-Benz and Southwest Airlines. Under David’s leadership, projekt202 has made the Inc. 500/5,000 list for five consecutive years, ranking 161st in 2013, with impressive growth rate of — listen to this — 2,435 percent.

Well, David, welcome to “PlayMakers Talk Show.”

David Lancashire: Thanks, Steve, good to be here.

Steve Klein: Very impressive numbers. We’re going to talk about that in a moment, but before we get there, there are millions of apps available out there to anybody that wants them. There’s thousands of application development firms. How does projekt202 differentiate itself from other application development firms?

David Lancashire: Yeah, that’s a great question, and the answer really is about seeing that what you’re delivering is not a technology, but it’s actually an experience for a real human being. Different types of users, different types of consumers, different types of customers, whatever type of user that is.

Our whole reason for being is to improve those experiences that people are having when they interact with technology, and so we can go deeper into the methodologies and approaches we take for that, but the key difference is that we’re doing very specific things to make sure that those experiences are improved. We feel like the market as a whole has not woken up to the fact that there are really programmatic and trustworthy ways to go about figuring out what these experience changes need to be, so that big corporations across the world can improve the customer experience.

Technology now is becoming so pervasive and the number of touchpoints in a customer experience for a big corporation are so many that what we’re doing is kind of at the epicenter now of the change that’s happening, so we differentiate ourselves purely around the idea of changing that experience and the way we go about doing that. There are some myths out there about how you do that, and I’d like to try to dispel some of those today as well.

Steve Klein: We can do that. You’ve used the word “experience” a number of times and we were talking about this before the show started. This goes back to what I mentioned about Gartner, is that over time, what you’re doing is to become the operating standard for application development project, so let’s talk about that. You talked about some myths. Talk about that, but also talk about what you’re doing to develop that experience for your clients.

David Lancashire: Right. Well, touching on the myths quickly, you know, the first thing that people think is, “Well, let me go hire myself an experience expert, some kind of UX designer, and they can sprinkle some magic on my project or my product, and things are going to be great.”

And I’m not saying that you might not find your very own Steve Jobs to join your organization and get lucky, but what about the companies that have tried that and they’ve failed, or they want something more predictable and trustworthy than that. That’s one of the myths that I want to dispel and talk about how we address that.

And the second one is that, “Well, let me just go get closer to my customer, let me just go ask them what they want, let’s just go talk directly to them,” and with the lack of connection, with talking to the customer directly, of course we encourage that, but the problem with us as human beings is when people ask us what we want, it’s sometimes very, very difficult to articulate that, so I can usually tell you what I don’t want when somebody shows it to me, but to really think about what I want, that means I have to be thinking about all the little things I’m doing every day, all those things that are just habit that I may not mention to you.

I also may have to be able to envision a future that I’m not used to. There’s a famous quote attributed to Ford about if he’d asked customers what they’d want, it would’ve been a faster horse because their reference point was to a horse when he was envisioning the car. Likewise, so do I envision an airplane when I’m riding on a horse? No, probably not. So those are a couple of the key myths.

It’s like, “Hey, let’s hire a UX magician and/or let’s go talk directly to our users.” What is the way that one can approach this in a programmatic way? Well, that is, we can use elements that have been around from psychology and anthropology that are about the observation of people in context and asking questions based on seeing what they’re doing, so very, very intelligent and context-specific questions, you know, that’s really kind of the essence of it.

There’s also another point that people are in different emotional states, so, very quick story:

I went to East Germany once before the wall came down and I was sitting on this train journey with a very nice older lady who’d visited her family in the west, and I was trying my best German, but she was a super-friendly lady, chatting all the way.

We get to the border and on get the police to come and check your IDs and passports and so forth, and she whispered to me, she goes, “Die blauen! Die blauen!” – which basically means “the men in blue,” their nickname for the police that would come on at that time.

And from that moment forward, as we went from the border all the way into Berlin, her entire persona changed. Literally, she froze and we barely said a few words after that, and yet, I felt like we were friends after the first half.

So I just use that story, people’s emotional states can be completely different at different times. What’s been great about some of the experiences we’ve had with applications – maybe your favorite application, people like Pinterest, they like Uber, whatever it is, the experience, that said, “Wow! I’m having fun using this particular technology” – is that there’s almost an emotional connection point as well.

So what we’re talking about here is an opportunity to really get at the true aspirations of what a user or customer would really ideally like to have, how we can connect with them at a potentially emotional connection point, which is by understanding their actual state of mind when they’re doing certain things where they might be interacting with technology.

And so these are a lot more sophisticated things and when you consider that just a decade ago I was running a company that’s in a similar space and we built over a hundred million dollars’ worth of software applications, but we were kept at such a distance from the user, the end user, the customer of the system. We used iterative incremental, risk-based project management to deliver all of our systems, our clients were super happy, we did a lot of business, they came back for more, but there was this sense that we were treading on eggshells if we were going to go get a little closer to the customer and talk to them. So this is a profound shift, it’s something we should all really welcome.

But the key is, we want businesses across the world to realize there are real programs available today that they can trust in and that can actually revolutionize the experience they’re delivering to their customers. That’s what we want to make people realize: there’s an investment they’ve got to make, this doesn’t come by magic, you know, sprinkle this magic fairy dust on the project and it works; it’s about getting close to that customer.

So that’s where we start to dive into design research and the observation of people in context and we have a whole bunch of sophisticated processes that we use in that, but think of it, you know, in summary as getting a clearer, deeper understanding of a specific user type of the technology that you’re trying to deliver.

Steve Klein: Interesting with the behavioral science and psychology and the anthropology that goes into all that. We’re speaking with David Lancashire. David is chairman and CEO of projekt202. Their website is projekt – and that’s with a K – p-r-o-j-e-k-t-2-0-2-dot-com.

Switching a little bit, you have a leadership style at projekt202 that fosters a likeable workplace culture. What is that?

David Lancashire: Well, I would like to think that the essence of that is about empowering people. Having built a company before in the similar space and observed all these changes that are going on in the industry and positioning us for success going forward, one of the things that was in my heart was that I wanted to give other people a chance to be very successful in ways that I had been in the past.

That same sense or leadership style pervades our organization now, so we actually set up each new geographic location – today, we’re in Austin, Dallas and Seattle, and we’re looking at several new locations across America right now – but when we set up a new office, we set it up as a separate subsidiary of the main company and create an entire ownership stake for the team that’s going to be building that particular office.

While that’s sort of a symbol of what I’m talking about, what we really try to do is empower those teams, to be successful in their geography and to have all the elements that they need for success. The corporate team is there really to remove obstacles rather than be there to actually help make that team successful, so they should be able to succeed on their own, but we’re here if there is an obstacle.

I really feel like the environment comes from, one, the space that we’re in, we genuinely are passionate about helping people have better experiences, so the reason you go to work every day is kind of a fun reason, but coupled with that is that our second philosophy is to empower the members of the team to really go about business in their own way and to subdivide every area of our business into small businesses so that people are running their own thing. You know, many companies have done that successfully in the past, but I really, really subscribe to that point of view.

Steve Klein: Interesting psychology in the culture of the company and the culture of what you do for your clients. Tell everybody one more time how they can get ahold of you and the company.

David Lancashire: The best way would be to go to That’s projekt with a K.

Steve Klein: Yes, and matter of fact, I’d recommend going there, there’s a number of videos, one specifically with David that is a longer of the three or four that are on there – it’s excellent – to find out more about projekt202.

David, thank you very much for being a part of “PlayMakers Talk Show.”

David Lancashire: My pleasure.