The Product Development Team and the Voice of the Customer

June 13, 2006 — Posted by Jim Trott

Listen to the podcastThe Product Development Team and the Voice of the Customer

If there is one thing that was drilled into my head in my Lean Six Sigma training, it was the ultimate importance of the Voice of the Customer. If this was important for manufacturing and service efforts, it is even more so for software development. We cannot provide good value to customers without knowing what it is that customers want or need. And if we aren’t providing good value, why do the work?

So, on this gray day in Seattle with dreams of Summer still in my head, I am turning to Dan Rawsthorne.

It is interesting to listen to Dan. He is a PhD Mathematician with significant experience in Artificial Intelligence with the US Department of Defense. Now, his journey has taken him to focus on use cases and the understanding customers and customer requirements. He feels it is one of the hardest problems in software development. He has found that Agile provides a framework to help us work with customers, to keep them in the middle of the loop.

Today’s discussion introduces this idea and dives down just a bit. Dan covers:

  • Why the traditional (waterfall) approach does not really well for getting customer requirements
  • The impediments to getting customers involved
  • The approach used in Lean-Agile Software Development for getting and keeping customers involved. We use a team-based approach. The Team is composed of two halves with two roles in each half (see diagram):Lean-Agile Product Development Team
  • Customer half. With two roles: The Product Owner (who prioritizes what to work on and speaks for the Customer) and the “Available Customer” who acts as day-to-day SMEs for the team and help to test
  • Developer half. With two roles: The Technical Owner (who is responsible for technology) and the Developers who are primarily responsible for coding
  • ScrumMaster. The other essential role is called the “ScrumMaster” – the person/role responsible for facilitating the team, protecting the team, removing impediments. The job of the ScrumMaster is unique and interesting and something we will cover in a future podcast.

In some sense, the Technical Owner and the Product Owner, together, fill the role that Mary and Tom Poppendieck call the Chief Engineer.

Dan believes that the full team – customers and developers working together – is essential for Lean-Agile. At the end of this talk, Dan makes a really interesting claim based on his experience:

You can’t really do Lean-Agile if you cannot get the full team. Perhaps you can put Agile methods into place, but it is going to be really hard to do Lean, because Lean has a great need for customer involvement. With Agile alone, you can still get better code but not necessarily get a better product. Better product only comes with the Voice of the Customer. In fact, you might end up with a particularly nasty result (what Lean would call “waste”) – Making the wrong product really efficiently!

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About the author | Jim Trott

Jim Trott is a senior consultant for Net Objectives. He has used object-oriented and pattern-based analysis techniques throughout his 20 year career in knowledge management and knowledge engineering. He is the co-author of Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design, Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility, and the Lean-Agile Pocket Guide for Scrum Teams.



        

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