Sunday, December 10, 2017

In your Business, what are you Optimizing for?

Do you optimize for your customers or for the ease of following a plan or process? Many companies like to say that they optimize for their customers.  However, upon a closer look, you catch the scent that some companies optimize for their own internal processes or plan instead.  When you change the plan, it can disrupt schedules and make it less clear on what will be built for the release, as things tend to evolve.  It will also force re-planning, which can impact dependencies and staffing of the work. One of the Agile values states “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” In other words, Agile advocates the importance of interactions with customer.   

One example of optimizing for a plan or process (instead of the customer) is purposefully avoiding customer feedback because it can force you to adjust the plan which can be messy. Another example that I’ve witnessed several times is when actual customer feedback is captured that indicates a change to customer needs, yet the feedback is ignored since sticking the plan is an easier path.  This is a sign that the organization may be optimizing for their internal processes or the comfort of sticking to the initial plan. When paired with management objectives of sticking to a schedule, this often leads to a mindset of avoiding any change. Does this sound familiar?  Be careful not to fall into this trap.  It can be very easy to do.  It can lead to losing touch with the customer and poor business results.
When you optimize for the customer (external), it will often lead to change.  One of the Agile principles states that you should “Welcome changing requirements”.  The more you interact with your customers (which you should be doing), the more they will provide thoughts or feedback on what they really want. This, in turn, leads to adapting the plan to the great benefit of building something the customer wants.  The net result is an increase in better business results. 

There are several ways to gauge if you are optimizing for the customer or for your internal plan or processes.  A first way is to identify how often you actually engage with customers (and how many) in ceremonies like demos and sprint reviews. Engaging with many customers indicates you are optimizing for the customer while none or few indicates a leaning toward the internal plan.  A second way is to capture how often you actually incorporate customer feedback.  Methodically incorporating feedback indicates that you are optimizing for the customer while incorporating little feedback may indicate a leaning toward following the plan.  As you look around your project, product, or company, ask yourself, who are you optimizing for?  Who should you be optimizing for?       

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