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