C is for Customer Collaboration - Power of Engaging Customers

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C is for Customer Collaboration - Power of Engaging Customers

Jacqueline: Today’s letter is C. Our word for today is customer collaboration. Working collaboratively with customers is a key value within the agile and lean framework. To collaborate with the customer is something that should be constantly and consistently done throughout the software development lifecycle within the agile framework. Using agile tools to enhance the product will result in an elimination of unneeded work such as waste, keeping it lean and ensuring that the product vision is met and that you’re delivering high-value features throughout to help optimize your return on investment.

Listen to the Podcast – C is for Customer Collaboration

Let’s understand what each of those different words and phrases mean within the definition. Foremost, one of the things agile emphasizes is face-to-face communication. When we talk about the customer, by and large we’re talking about the product owner. This is what we call the person who is responsible for the decision on your agile product in regards to the solution and helping to prioritize and to identify and rank the business value. The product owner is an important role. It doesn’t mean that the product owner has to do it in isolation.

They should have a product owner counsel, a group that meets that might include subject mater experts, end users, the product sponsor, and even other product owners from other areas of the business and the business units. They come together, and the product owner should collect that input and then provide decision and direction in those conversations with the rest of the agile product team. Instead of direction coming from a lot of different people, it will come from the product owner.
The product owner represents the voice of the customer. The product owner is talking with the rest of the team, which includes the developer, the business analyst, the tester, the designer, and anyone else involved in helping to find the solution. The product owner should attend things like the daily scrum, and that’s something we’ll talk about when we get to the letter D. They should be engaged and available. The product owner should be able to meet even at ad-hoc meetings. That said, oftentimes the product owner’s primary role and job is being a part of the agile team, which means their other responsibilities take a secondary role. This can be quite extreme in some cultures, but it needs to be understood and established, because if the product owner isn’t accessible and available to the team, this could greatly impact the team’s velocity and ability to deliver on a committed timeframe.

Another important part of customer collaboration is that the product owners have to start to get more familiar with what is involved with software development and software design. They have to learn to get comfortable with the decisions that have to be made, and they have to become comfortable with the language around business value and business value management. It’s not that someone is just named a product owner and they start showing up for meetings and can just start making decisions. They actually need to go through an orientation and be introduced, even coached, into agile. They need to have some experience. One of the things that I say, because of the importance of the product owner role, because they’re the key to customer collaboration, it’s oftentimes augmenting and supporting the product owner with an agile business analyst.

The business analyst can help with the learning curve and also help elicit, collect and organize the information that the product owner will use for their decisions. What product owners have to understand is that some of the big decisions they have to make aren’t just things they can do off of gut reaction or off of just simple instincts. Product owners oftentimes have years of experience, and so they may know a lot about the business. But, that has to be used and applied to building software. That’s where the learning curve may come in. They’ll have to focus on things and understand the role of data, business rules, user interfaces, interfaces between systems, the source and destination of data, and different data output and formats. This is the area that is new to a lot of product owners.
Customer collaboration, which is the key to agile, is that interactive, real time and access so that we can have lean documentation. That’s why we can use things like the user story and the card. Small; concise, but that’s because it’s augmented by ongoing conversations with your customer, aka your product owner.

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