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Train your customers first; an agile idea

Most agile practitioners would agree with me when I say that an agile project cannot succeed without the direct support of your customers. So here's a controversial idea; instead of starting a new agile project or agile business transformation by training your team, start by training your customers. We talk about investing in our staff so why not also invest in our customers? After all, they are the reason you are in business in the first place. 

Understanding Agile

Let's start at the beginning then: a new customer. The two most common questions that a new customer will typically ask are: 1. How long will it take? and 2. What will it cost? By asking these questions, your customer is demonstrating that they do not understand the agile approach or its underlying principles. You can overcome this by investing in your customer at the beginning, thus helping to ensure that they understand the agile business context and improve the likelihood of project success.

Developing Trust

Investment in your customers is also a great way of improving trust between yourself and your customer. When you first build a relationship with a new customer, you start at the lowest form of trust; reference and contract trust. However, it is hard to be agile when your relationship is based on a formal contract. Customers may not trust you to deliver a project where the total time, cost, and scope are variable. You need to invest in your customers so that they understand the context of agile, the agile delivery approaches, and the investment in time and effort that is expected of them.

Over time, as you move the relationship with your customer towards the top of the trust hierarchy and towards a full partnership, there are new questions to be answered. Do your customers share the same goals, do they want to partner with you, and do they understand the implications of this partnership?

This is not to say that you will automatically gain your customer’s trust just by training them, but it will ensure that all parties are aligned to the same goals. 

Benefits

Ultimately, by continuously investing in your customers, they will learn:

  • How you expect to do business with them 
  • The agile values and principles that underpin your agile business
  • The agile approach to product and service delivery
  • The agile approach to business and customer partnerships
  • Their obligations to the agile project (e.g. the fact that they "own" the project)
  • What your goals for the customer relationship are

Leave your thoughts and comments below?

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