The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Customer Intimacy

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In the Myth of Excellence, authors Crawford and Mathews examine customer-vendor interactions and relations. Interactions are evaluated by the following attributes:

  • Access/Ease
  • Experience
  • Price
  • Product
  • Service

The customer-vendor relation is assessed on the following four level scale:

  • Consumer Underworld
  • I: Consumer accepts the company (Operate at Par)
  • II: Consumer accepts the company (Differentiate)
  • III: Consumer seeks the company (Dominate)

Combining these two “dimensions”, Crawford and Mathews present a 4X5 table, as follows:

Myth of Excellence

As can be seen in the table, the customer Experience at the Consumer Underworld level is dehumanize me, disrespect me, ignore my needs. In contrast, the Experience at Level III is establish intimacy with me by doing something no one else can.

Between the Customer and the R&D Lab

Quality of software and responsiveness  by customer support are often a matter of furious exchanges between the customer and the software vendor. Escalations to the executive level in order to get better response on various software defects and deficits are quite common. On many occasions, an escalation becomes the battle of the spreadsheets. The customer steps into a meeting armed with a long spreadsheet of defects that have not been fixed in a timely manner.  Typically, the customer also presents a long spreadsheet of unfulfilled requests for enhancements (RFE’s) that were promised, implied or expected. The vendor typically comes to such a meeting with as long spreadsheets demonstrating how responsive and diligent the service to the customer has been. Even with good intentions on both sides, such meetings are often loaded with defensive routines. Frequently they become adversarial. Some even conclude with a forceful customer statement such as “I want my money back”.

The mirror image of such customer escalations is the chronic complaint in the R&D lab about lack of good requirements. By the time the needs of multitudes of customers have been translated and aggregated to produce a market requirements document, a lot has been filtered and some has been distorted. Furthermore, as product managers are often stretched very thin, developers and testers interpret requirements only as best as they can. The loss of direct touch between customer and vendor can lead to results such as those reported by the Standish group in their 2002 “Chaos” study:

Standish Group

A Model for Including the Customer in the Agile Process

The state of affairs described above has multiple causes which will be explored in depth in forthcoming posts. Whatever the causes might be, direct connection between the customer and the developer/tester can help reduce mutual pains. The method for so doing is straightforward:

  • Customer participates in Release Planning
  • Customer participates in the bi-weekly demo.
  • Customer participates in Release Retrospective

Regular participation in these three activities amounts to 100-150 hours per year. The advantages to the customer of making this time commitment are significant:

  • Influence product direction
  • Gain deeper understanding of the product
  • Develop relations with members of the vendor’s project team
  • Gain experience in Agile methods

For the software vendor, customer participation along the lines recommended above is as beneficial, enabling the vendor to:

  • Get over the us versus them mindset
  • Raise the probability of doing the right product and doing the product right
  • Gain precious insights how the product will be used
  • Win over an evangelist: a customer employee working in such a manner with a software vendor’s Agile team tends to be proud of the product and his contributions to it

Back to The Myth of Excellence

Examine the Customer-Vendor Interaction and Relations table pasted above. The inclusion of the customer in the Agile process directly addresses the Experience and Service attributes for Level III:

  • Experience: Establish Intimacy
  • Service: Customize the product or service to fit my needs

An indirect benefit that is likely to materialize is with respect to the Product attribute. An agile team that experiments on an on-going basis, using the bi-weekly demos as the “firewall” for containing unsuccessful experimentation, is likely to be quite innovative without accruing higher risk than acceptable. Hence, inspire me with an assortment of great products is an outcome that could be expected in the longer term.

Market-of-One

As pointed out in the recent Cutter Consortium essay,  experienced Agile teams can cater to the needs of their top customers by providing  Market-of-One. The very many advantages of so doing will be discussed in forthcoming posts.

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Written by israelgat

January 20, 2009 at 9:36 am

Posted in The Agile Leader

4 Responses

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  1. […] of the product – a $1 product could  for most practical purposes cost $2-5. Readers of the Customer Intimacy post in this blog might recall the characterization given by Crawford and Mathews to Consumer […]

  2. […] R&D. The real customer is not iteratively integrated  in the development process. In spite of a ton of data to the contrary, we often drive the iterative development process under the fallacy that the customer problem is […]

  3. […] time” user feedback, the confluence of speedy development with fast deployment reduces the risk of developing features that are never or seldom used. It applies to both start-ups and established enterprises. It opens the door for new software […]

  4. […] a comment » Readers of the posts Customer Intimacy and Enterprise Software Innovator’s Dilemma might recall two observations made in this […]


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