Sunday, August 7, 2016

Anti-Patterns impacting Customer Value


Value is in the eye of the beholder.  Smart people will say that the beholder is the customer. While in most companies there will be a similar saying to the “customer is king”, some have lost their way and have somehow forgotten the importance of customer and their feedback.  The result is organizational anti-patterns that impede successfully getting to customer value. There are a number of anti-patterns on why this occurs and below are four: 
  • Believing that you can pretend to know with certainty what the customer wants upfront.  The danger: the consequence of limiting options and being blind to customer feedback to shape product direction.  Otherwise known as the Pretend Certainty anti-pattern.
  • Focusing primarily on driving efficiencies through cost cutting and high resource utilization.  The danger: the unintended consequence of a lesser focus on the customer with little room to innovate and adapt.  Otherwise known as the No Room at the Innovation Inn anti-pattern.
  • Sub-optimizing for the comfort of having a well-established plan and set of well-defined processes.  The danger: the consequence of restricting change at the expense of adapting to customer needs.  Otherwise known as the Sub-Optimizing for Comfort anti-pattern. 
  • Engaging few to represent the whole.  The danger: the consequence of understanding customer pool, ignoring potential customers, and missing customer feedback to shape product direction. Otherwise known as the The Few and the Missing anti-pattern.

When you are a start up, you realize the importance of being customer value driven because if customers don’t buy the product, then your start-up goes under. Because of this and their small size, most start-ups will stay very close to the customer or potential customer.  When companies become larger, there is a greater chance these anti-patterns appear.  More process and more controls are often put into place and unfortunately this leads to restricting change.  A company may sub-optimize for their own processes and plans that distances them from their customers.  

The question is, do you see any of these anti-patterns within your organization that impact your ability to achieve customer value?  Avoid the poor “aim of the anti-pattern’.  Instead, engage with your customers and use their feedback to help you hit the customer value target!

For more information on the topic of Customer Value, consider reading the following articles:



Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pokémon Go to Agile Go

Pokémon Go is an augmented-reality game that recently launched in Australia, New Zealand, United States, Germany and a number of other countries. In a nutshell, you search for Pokemon in the Poké world in your actual, geographical location, which you can explore by physically walking around.
Allow me to introduce you to my newly invented game called Agile Go.  Like Pokémon Go, Agile Go is a reality based game in which you search for people within your “Agile World” (aka, your company) that are exhibiting Agile behaviors aligned with the Agile values and principles.  Take a picture of them and tag it with “Agile Go”.  In Pokémon Go, you capture pokemon.  In Agile Go, you capture the moment where people are exhibiting Agile behavior.  What Agile behaviors should you look for?  Here are some real time scenarios to look for:
  • Business and development collaborating together
  • Product Owner or Team welcoming change to requirements
  • Teams self-organizing around the work
  • Team or Product Owner demonstrating an iteration of work
  • Product Owner getting feedback from actual customers
  • Team member applying a secondary skills to help others 
  • Anyone applying face-to-face communication 
  • Team identifying work not needed during grooming 
  • Anyone completing an action for improvement 
  • Manager or anyone removing an impediment to progress
If you see someone exhibiting any of these Agile behaviors or others you deem as aligning with the Agile values and principles, take a picture of them, write the Agile behavior they are exhibiting, and tag it with the “Agile Go” logo (see below).  Then share the photograph with them, letting them know that you appreciate them exhibiting positive Agile behaviors! Even consider tweeting their picture with the #agilego hashtag.  Go Agile!

© Agile Go All rights reserved. Anyone may use the Agile Go logo for non profit and non revenue basis

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dangers of Certainty in Realizing Customer Value

Don Quixote was certain he saw Giants instead of windmills. In this epic story, he believed he knew the answers and saw what he wanted to see.  Unfortunately in many organizations, there is this same phenomenon, a need to act as if we are certain.  In fact, the higher up you go in an organization, the compulsion of acting with certainty becomes greater and greater.  Statements like “That’s why we pay you the big bucks” are used to imply that the higher in an organization, the more you are expected to just “know”. 

Some think they must act with “pretend certainty” for the benefit of their career.  Others have convinced themselves of “arrogant certainty” where they believe they know the answer or solution but don’t (or can’t) provide any solid basis for this certainty. Unfortunately this arrogance can be interpreted as confidence that can be dangerous to the success of a company.  Nassim Nicolas Taleb refers to “epistemic arrogance” that highlights the difference between what someone actually knows and how much he thinks he knows. The excess implies arrogance. 
What has allowed certainty within companies to thrive is that there is a distance between the upfront certainty and the time it takes to get to the final outcome.  There lacks accountability between certainty at the beginning and the actual results at the end.  Often times the difference is explained away by the incompetence of others who didn’t build or implement the solution correctly.

Of course, the truth is somewhere in between. The concept of certainty is actually dangerous to an enterprise since it removes the opportunity of acknowledging the options and allowing the enterprise to apply a discovery mindset approach toward real customer value via customer feedback loops and more.

We also want to avoid the inverse that is remaining in uncertainty due to analysis paralysis.  A way to avoid this is to apply work in an incremental framework with customer feedback loops to enable more effective and timely decision-making. Customer feedback will provide us with the evidence for making better decisions. Applying an incremental mindset will enable us to make smaller bets that are easier to make and allow us to adapt sooner. 

A healthier and more realistic approach is to have leaders who understand that uncertainty is actually a smart starting position and then apply processes that support gaining certainty. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to have an approach that admits to limited information and uncertainty, and then applies a discovery process toward customer value. In the end, the beaten and battered Don Quixote forswears all the chivalric false certainty he followed so fervently.  Is it time for management to give up the certainty mindset they think they have and instead replace it with a discovery mindset as a better path to customer success? 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Power of Agile is in your Customers and Employees

I’m Agile, you’re Agile, everyone is Agile.  Or folks think they are.  But are they really? If Agile is only a process to you, Agile will fail. If Agile is pretending certainty without validating with customers, then Agile will fail. If Agile is commanded from above with little ownership from the team, Agile will fail.  More importantly, not only Agile will fail, so will your business.  Agile is a move to a lean culture focusing on customers and what they find as value and focusing on employees who are the engine that can create that value.  Agile is effectively about creating a thriving business. 

I believe there are the two primary success factors in creating a thriving business: a culture where customers matter and employees matter. I’m not talking about the lip service that is prevalent today. In some cases, we see quite the opposite, where employees are disenfranchised and customers are rarely engaged. Instead, the goal is to have a culture and practices in place that truly gain the benefits of engaging with customers and employees. Through the customer and employee, a company draws their power within an agile culture and, I contend, within any thriving company.
When you have a riveting focus on the customer and you believe that an engaged customer matters, then you have the basis for a relationship where you can truly understand what the customer wants. When you have a sharp focus on employees and provide them the space to make decisions and own their work, then you will begin to understand the value an engaged employee base can provide.

If the values are sincerely translated to organizational objectives and agile approaches are applied, then it can act as a differentiator between the success of your organization compared to the success of other organizations. Of course, every company likes to say that employees and customers matter, but are their objectives and actions really aligned with these values?
Upon closer inspection, the values should translate into objectives focusing on customer engagement and employee engagement.
  • Customer engagement focuses on establishing meaningful and honest customer relationships with the goal of initiating continuous customer feedback to truly identify what is valuable to the customer. This includes establishing all of the activities involved in a Customer Feedback Vision.
  • Employee engagement focuses on empowering employees so they can self-organize into teams and can own and be a part of the decision-making process at their own level.  When employees have ownership, they have more passion in their work.  When they have more passion, they give 110%. 

Then we add the “secret ingredient” of applying a continuous and adaptive approach (a.k.a. agile culture, processes, methods, practices, and techniques). If done properly with the ability to adapt, this can lead to an increase in customer sales and an increase in team productivity. This finally leads to your incentive, which is an increase in company profits.  

Now is time to take a moment.  Are employees disenfranchised or fully engaged?  Are customers rarely engaged or is their feedback continuously engaged?  Is Agile just a trend that others should do or are you serious about Agile and the culture shift it requires?  Keep in mind, the combination of customer and employee engagement within an Agile context isn’t just a good idea, it is great for business.  

PS - to read more about the importance of customers and employees, consider reading Chapter 3 of the book entitled Being Agile.