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Ari Koli: “Empathy is essential in user-driven development”

Published in People, Agile

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October 12, 2021 · 4 min read time

All of our experts are united by a genuine desire to help our clients shine in what they do. In addition to having extensive expertise, Nitor employees are, of course, individuals with their own passions to promote and develop. This text introduces you to our Lean-Agile consultant Ari Koli, who could briefly be described as an empathetic expert in his field.

During his over 25 years in service development, Ari Koli has had the opportunity to watch and experience software and service development from the box seat. His career has taken him from Sonera to Nokia to the position of Lean-Agile consultant at Nitor. The overarching theme over the years has been a user-driven and human-centred approach: what value the developed service has to the user and how could the daily life of our own staff be improved.
The most essential insights Ari has gained from his career are related to people both as service users and members of a work community.

“As a student, I was working on a practical work assignment and wanted to know how well the software programme I had made worked. I asked another person to use it. When that person asked questions about it, I realised that development really has to be user-driven, and that realisation has ever since been guiding my work,” Ari tells.
His people-oriented approach gained new dimensions at the turn of the millennium when Ari stepped into a managerial position.

“I quickly realised that I couldn’t work as an expert anymore. Instead, it would be essential to be able to help people in their own work and development, so that they could experience feelings of success. Empathy, or the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes, plays an essential role in both user-driven and people-oriented thinking.”

Goodbye waterfall

The early 2000s took Ari to Nokia where he became familiar with several different business operations. Nokia Ventures opened a new door to business development igniting a lasting love for service development. Nokia Research Center offered an exciting challenge in the world of joint development projects and consulting. At Nokia Multimedia, in turn, an agile mindset and operating models, as well as DevOps, became integral parts of his toolkit, as Ari worked as a Scrum Master and Product Owner.  

The last years before Nitor Ari spent working as the leader of the UX DesignOps unit at Nokia Design. His responsibilities included portfolio management and project leading as well as developing the working culture and practices in the department.

“It was a different kind of challenge, as I had previously been working with software development teams. Suddenly the audience consisted of designers. The change out of the established waterfall model to agile operational models and quick validation of thoughts took its time. Gradually, as the cooperation began running smoothly, we started to achieve better results,” he says and mentions one more insight: “While working with designers, I got to know the Design Thinking approach, which I had actually been employing for my whole career.”

Pursuing practical agility

Ari has over 15 years of practical experience with the agile operational model. He finds the people-oriented approach and quick experiments fascinating. The model also affords a culture where failures are easier to tolerate.
“I used to be involved in waterfall projects and I have learned what their challenges are. In quick experiments, even failures aren’t expensive. But if you fail in a waterfall project, it’s a completely different story.”

Ari emphasises the importance of taking people into consideration, particularly in changing situations:
“You shouldn’t start too many experiments at the same time, because then the situation gets easily chaotic and it is impossible to learn from the experiments.”

Over the years, it has become clear what the most essential values for Ari are: communality, passion for improving practices, and pragmatism. These are also the core values of Nitor, which may explain why Nitor was the next logical step in his career.

Right things or things right?

In his current position, Ari is particularly fond of projects in which he can work with business and product development.
“It’s important to look at these from two different perspectives: are you doing the right things and are you doing things right. Unfortunately, the focus is too often only on the latter one without any understanding of the relevance of experiments to understanding customer needs.”
The same perspectives are also featured in the training sessions held by Ari, as he specialises in training representatives of product management and business operations. They play a central role in which it is essential to develop empathy skills.

Read more about Nitor’s courses coached by Ari:

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