5 Ways To Apply 'Agile' To Customer Relationships - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Enterprise Agility
Commentary
11/25/2014
08:36 AM
Frédéric Lepied and Alexis Monville
Frédéric Lepied and Alexis Monville
Commentary
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5 Ways To Apply 'Agile' To Customer Relationships

Agile development strategies improve internal productivity, but you also need to use them outside the company walls with customers.

with the group and then prioritize the top four to five overall on which the development team will focus for the first milestone.

4. Produce a 360-degree project roadmap and schedule: While adaptations during development are inevitable, it's important to start with a roadmap and milestones. This will help team members from the client side stick to their commitments in order to meet our two-week delivery or "sprint" pace.

5. Develop a plan for testing and benchmarking: With all eyes focused on deployment, it can be very tempting to rush product testing, particularly if you're behind schedule. You've put in all of the hard work upfront, so don't hinder the overall success of the project by taking shortcuts at the finish line. Remember: It's much easier to address technical issues in the testing phase rather than in full production.

Regardless of the type of customer, industry, or technology being developed, our workshops have six non-negotiable rules:

  • Attendance is mandatory: All stakeholders from both the business and technical sides of the business must be present for both days. We typically host the workshops away from the customer's office to eliminate distractions.
  • Facilitate with a purpose: Workshops are led by an experienced facilitator who is skilled at reconciling differing points of views and reaching consensus and is familiar with the technology required and the effort and resources needed for implementation.
  • Be face-to-face: All of the workshops take place in person at a location convenient for the client. Conducting the session remote/electronically is not an option.
  • Capture everything: It's imperative to document everything that's discussed, particularly when attendees reach an agreement on a widely discussed agenda item. We use an online collaborative document and note-taking tool to share the notes with all workshop attendees.
  • Speak freely: Everyone is encouraged to voice opinions. All individuals are in the room for a reason, and if someone isn't actively participating, the facilitator should help draw information out as needed.
  • Don't do it for free: The workshops deliver tremendous value, and to be viewed as such and to receive full commitment from customers, we realized early on that, by charging for the workshop and not giving it away for free, customers will bring more focus and energy to the process.

The hard work you put in at the beginning of a customer engagement will help you meet customers' needs with minimal cost and time. Picture Abraham Lincoln sharpening the blade. Preparation is everything in Agile development and will help clear a path to a fruitful long-term customer relationship.

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Alexis Monville is Chief Agility Officer of eNovance (now part of Red Hat), a major contributor to the Openstack code and an active player in the open cloud ecosystem. Alexis is charged with creating and nurturing an agile culture that pervades the whole organization.

Frédéric Lepied is Vice President of Software Engineering at eNovance (now part of Red Hat). He has been involved with the open-source movement since 1996. At eNovance, his team is contributing to OpenStack and responsible for building eNovance's ... View Full Bio
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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
12/1/2014 | 1:46:29 AM
Re: Assessment has always been a good irst step
this days proper assesment is a must... or have idea/know your customers needs/req...
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
11/29/2014 | 3:10:41 AM
Re: Assessment has always been a good irst step
@kstaron: Do you think that the customer relationships depend upon how much assessment you do about your potential customers?
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
11/29/2014 | 3:05:43 AM
Re: 5 Ways To Apply 'Agile' To Customer Relationship
"I think relationship management is very much contingent upon the amount of focus you give on your existing customers and what do you do to make them continue feeling special."

@tzubair: I agree with you. Understanding customer liking patterns and making necessary regulations to please the customers yields in a long term trust from the customers. That is the rule to market success.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2014 | 12:16:09 PM
Re: 5 Ways To Apply 'Agile' To Customer Relationship
"You may not be able to get the one-on-one relationship with your customer that you could in years gone by, but you can easily retain and manage a complex relationship and set of needs in a way that makes it feel like one, if you put in a little extra work."

@zerox203: I think relationship management is very much contingent upon the amount of focus you give on your existing customers and what do you do to make them continue feeling special. A lot of companies actually pay very little attention to their existing customers and focus more on the acquisition of new ones. They end up with very high churn rates whereas the existing customers are far more profitable at times.

 
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2014 | 11:52:34 AM
Customer buy-in
I think agility in customer relationships does prove to be handy in ensuring that the entire system gets developed through an agile model. The best part about it is how the customer buy-in is being achieved at the initial stages. In most IT projects, the end users get to know about the system at the very end after everything has been done. Getting a buy-in at that stage takes much more time and takes away the agility from the project. A buy-in at the initial stages does make a lot of difference.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 12:55:33 PM
Re: 5 Ways To Apply 'Agile' To Customer Relationship
I definitely want to echo what others are saying about this approach - it may seem like an awful lot of work upfront and some of these points may seem a bit basic (having buy-in from stakeholders is better than not having it), but an ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure. Moreover, acquiring that ounce is a bit of a lost art in modern business - it's precisely thanks to all the technology at our fingertips, though, that we can manage these relationships more effectively, quickly and easily. You may not be able to get the one-on-one relationship with your customer that you could in years gone by, but you can easily retain and manage a complex relationship and set of needs in a way that makes it feel like one, if you put in a little extra work.

All that said, I wonder how useful this specific approach will be for a large variety of businesses. What if you have a large variety of smaller customers with disparate needs? What if you really are just selling infrastructure or something else from a short list of predefined packages? Your customer may not be looking for you to be this transformative to their business, and that's part of meeting their needs, too. I was expecting more suggestions on how to apply agile methodology internally (at your company) in your customer relationship management process to make for a more seamless experience for the customer, rather than how to embark on an agile journey together with your customer (as this seems more situational). Still some very good insight in here, though.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 9:15:58 AM
Assessment has always been a good irst step
I've used something similar in this when writing training materials. The very first step is assessment. You have to know where the goal is for training and where the people are at that will be taking the course. You write a different course for experts in their field than those just starting out. Assessment is handy to start with no matter what business you are in. Know your customers and know what they need so you can get them the right product.
alexismonville
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alexismonville,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/25/2014 | 2:57:29 PM
Re: No BS
Thanks for your feedback!
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/25/2014 | 1:22:55 PM
No BS
I love the no-nonsense nature of this approach. Mandatory in-person workshops with clear rules and clear goals, and measured results. 
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