Focusing on the Customer

Agile emphasizes (among other things) focusing on the customer, right?

So, why are so many agile teams still ignoring them?

Agile is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for the majority of IT projects.  However, most business divisions and customer-facing organizations still don’t know what agile is, or what it means to their organization. 

Agile is still viewed as an “IT thing”.  Business stakeholders continue to ‘outsource’ their responsibility to IT and fail to take ownership of the ‘Product’. 

How can we get Agile/Lean beyond the walls and halls of IT and into the hands of business leaders and stakeholders?  I believe this to be critical to the continued success of Agile.

First, Agile teams need remember to focus on the Customer to better understand who they are and what they really need out of the Product.

Let’s start by reviewing a few Agile Principles:

Principle #1 – “Our highest priority it is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” 

What is the key concept here?   Is it “early and continuous delivery”? Is it “valuable software”?  Yes, and Yes. But, how about “satisfy the customer”?

Principle #2 – “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.  Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”

This principle clearly focuses on “change”.  But, we should also be asking questions about our ”customer’s competitive advantage”

Principle #5 – “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”

Working together daily throughout the project sounds easy enough, but there are often organizational/cultural and geographical/logistical constraints to this.  We can work around geography and logistics.  Organizational and cultural constraints can be much more challenging to overcome.

How can we better understanding your customer?

A few techniques I encourage teams to employ include:

Context Diagrams and Onion Diagrams (during Visioning) to provide a high-level view of stakeholders and how they may relate to our product.

Use Case Diagrams take us a level or two deeper in understanding how each key stakeholder/user relates to the key features or themes of our product.

User Personas and Empathy Maps are excellent visualization techniques to help gain a deeper level of understanding of customers.

How should Business view Agile?  How can we go from simply achieving Business / Customer “engagement” to  “ownership”?

You need to help them answer the question – “What’s in it for Me?”

How should we collaborate?

  • Deeply – Invite stakeholders into the process and even share in designing the process
  • Effectively – Maximize the time your have together and develop a common language
  • Sincerely – Seek true co-ownership, not just a token gesture or necessary evil

Start thinking and acting like Partners. What would Partners do?

  • Stop thinking of IT as a “Service provider” and of Business simply as the “Customer”
  • Start reflecting together, as a team, on how to improve your working relationship
  • Start sharing Goals and Accountability
  • Start focusing on Organizational Agility, not just Project Agility

Make sure to truly use the Product Demo (aka. Sprint Review) as an ‘inspect and adapt’ event. The goal is to get customer/stakeholder feedback – so you can be sure you’re delivering valuable solutions, that they’re satisfied with the product increment, AND to help them harness change for their competitive advantage…

Facilitate a Retrospective with your business partners and customers to ask:

  • How well are we collaborating?
  • Are we producing real business results?
  • Do we have the right measures for success?
  • Do we have the right expertise to be effective?

If we limit Retros to just the Development team, we’re limiting our potential as an organization.

Finally, change your language – stop limiting conversations to IT or Software only applications of Agile/Lean.

We may replace “software” with “solution(s)” in order not to limit our thinking to software-only applications of agile principles.

OH! – and stop using the “Pig and Chicken” metaphor!  We can still reinforce “committed” versus “interested” without this awkward example.    Think “whole team”.

Although Agile (Scrum, XP, etc…) started with IT, the future lies in bridging the gap with business stakeholders, place these principles and practices in their hands so that we may seek organizational agility.

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