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Taking the Best Parts of Agile: Part 2 – Connecting with Customers

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Connecting with Customers

I had this epiphany when I came to Agile. As a solution architect I had been spending a lot of time getting sign-offs from customers to make sure we had the right solution before we started the project.

The problem is solutions are like art. Often customers don’t know what they want till they see it. Further, they may not even know what the underlying problem is. What they do know, is what is they don’t like what they have today.

While customers are not experts at understanding how to take a problem apart and find an answer, your solution team is, but, your solution team may not know what is most important to the customer. Worse, they often think they know and move forward to test that theory by delivering a finished product – that’s an expensive experiment!

The epiphany I had was: Take the customers who understand where their pain points are and know a good solution when they see it; put them together with teams who are experts at root cause analysis and developing innovative ideas and you create the perfect environment for innovative solutions that meet customer needs.

How to Connect with Customers

Whether you are developing software solutions, creating marketing campaigns, developing education curriculums, or changing a business process, chances are you are trying to think of the right solution for your customers. However, if you have ever delivered a finished project and the customer says “Oh, now I know what I want,” – this is the strong an indication that there’s an opportunity to improve.

Here are some steps to make this actionable:

MOVE FROM DOCUMENTS TO CONVERSATIONS.

Most of what we say is nuanced in inflection and body language. Get a conversation going between teams and customers to better explain what is needed, why, and allow time for questions. It’s even better if teams can watch how people are working today.

BREAK UP THE TIME

Instead of trying to get all the answers at the beginning, provide space to let customers provide an explanation, teams to create a prototype, and customers to provide feedback (made possible by breaking projects into smaller pieces)..

TEST IDEAS WITH REAL CUSTOMERS

Agile teams often create something new and then don’t take the time to get feedback. They’re missing a huge part of the value. The best feedback will come from real customers and you won’t get much value from the opinion of a higher-up – you need to know if the solution makes sense to those who will actually use it in their day-to-day work.

The biggest benefit to getting customers and teams connected is it allows teams to focus on the right problems and quickly test solutions. That means:

As an organization – teams that understand customer needs and spend more time developing customer value. They also waste less time creating low value items, which also means a cleaner product that is easier to support.

As a customer – you get the right solution, the first time, without having to wait for the mythical Phase II. When teams and customers work together, they often provide solutions customers didn’t realize were possible.

As a team – it’s a lot simpler to have a conversation with a customer than to try and guess on a document. It’s also satisfying to see when you hit the mark and have a chance to change it when you miss.

As a project team, it’s your responsibility to figure out where to focus your time. There are elements to any product that customers don’t see that make the end result possible. You don’t need customer feedback on those, but for anything that is customer facing, it’s better idea get feedback from the people who are using it. You may be surprised at what you find.

Next post, we’ll cover Part 3: The Power of Teams.

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