Customer Collaboration–or Go Home

Simply put, Agile is not Agile without customer collaboration–the second plank in the Agile Manifesto. It’s a team sport, and your business partners are your most valuable players. Without them, everybody loses.

The first question you should always ask is, “Should we do Agile?” (The answer is not necessarily “yes” but that’s beyond the scope of this post.) The second and more important question: “Even if we should do Agile, could we do Agile?”

The 12 Principles of Agile state: “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.” Without this real-time business collaboration you cannot do co-creation, progressive elaboration of requirements, emergent design, iterative and incremental development, adaptive planning, etc. That is to say, you cannot do Agile.

Imagine you were contracted to build a house. Without customer collaboration, you risk the conversation you never want to have:

“Welcome to your new home!”

“Um…that’s not what I ordered.”

“Well it’s what you said you wanted.”

“No it’s not!”

“Yes, it is! We even have documentation, and you signed it!”

“This is NOT what it means!”

One of Agile’s underlying Lean principles is “fail fast.” If you’re going to fail, you’d rather fail sooner than later. You’d rather here “that’s not what I wanted” nine days later vs. nine months later. And, by the way, when we’re paying attention, we learn much more from our failures than we do from our successes.

“But,” someone might object, “I won’t have much to show in nine days.” Show whatever you’ve got, again and again, in an iterative and incremental fashion.

Too many of us make too many faulty assumptions about engaging our clients. We assume that they actually know what they want. They generally know what they want but, the fact is, they often do not know specifics around what it should look like and feel like until they see and touch it.

Then we assume that, even if they know what they want, they can effectively communicate that knowledge to us in such a way that we know what they know. Again, that’s too often not the case.

Finally, we assume that, even if they know what they want and we know what they know, that we can build and deliver it before the whole world changes. That, too, is just not true; the world changes every day, and faster and faster.

So, beginning with your product owner, your business stakeholders must be actively engaged all along the way. You want to deliver that house one room or, better, one brick at a time—iteratively and incrementally—with the customer in the driver’s seat.

Without proper business collaboration you will get some incremental improvements with Agile but you will not realize the full benefit.

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