Agility at scale is one of the crucial issues for large organizations. We interviewed four experts in order to put together an ebook, allowing to understand the contributions of agility at scale and SAFe. The following article is an excerpt from this ebook and allows us to determine the role of customers in a scaled agile approach.

jean-claude delagrange coach agile
Jean-Claude DELAGRANGE, agile coach

Consider the different points of view of customers

A central one of course, as is set down in the agile values and principles!

Depending on the steps (defining the global feature backlog, the product-user stories backlog, sprint reviews and testing), customers will be involved differently, with the overall organization based on the network of POs, coordinated by the Product Manager.

The difficulty is less about reconciling the views of different customers than gaining the agreement of those who represent them (digital marketing and sales teams). The other difficulty comes from integrating internal users, who have a more or less direct relationship with customers, and whose points of view may be opposed (with a multiplication of checks, data needed for back-office processing or for control purposes, and habitual ways of doing things).

At the stage when the global backlog is defined, the “digital marketing” departments are involved from the outset in a UX-oriented approach and design thinking sessions; they jointly identify the features and develop the product strategy under the guidance of the Product Manager. Epics can emerge at this stage, but in the form of major themes.

All of these elements, even if detailed, have to be noted and saved for the next phase.

“The need is what customer is missing in order to resolve their problem”

François Delivré
Laurence Hanot coach agile
Laurence HANOT, agile coach at Zenika

Make sure to involve the client throughout the development process to get their feedback

Yes, it should be central! But even though it’s sometimes difficult to involve customers with a Scrum team, it can be even harder in a context where customers are even “further” away from the teams.

SAFe incorporates several interesting concepts on this subject:

  • the role of the Business Owner is defining the value of team deliverables from a user perspective;
  • the measure of predictability in a PI, based on this value rather than on the velocity (which is of no use if you have a good delivery cadence but are not delivering the right product: “Do the right thing, Do the thing right and Do it fast”, as per the Henrik Kniberg video “Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell” -a must see if you haven’t watched it).

Needless to say, “customer centricity” has been placed at the heart of SAFe 5.0, but if you look closely, these are simply design thinking practices and so aren’t really anything new.

In any case, in a scaled agile context, it’s just as important for an organization to involve its customers throughout the product development process so as to get their feedback: gathering their needs or bringing out a new product (the design sprint is great for this), regular demos, managing their feedback, delivering at the right pace, and so on.

And of course, to make sure that the key roles conveying the customer’s vision and voice are properly connected with both the customer and the teams: Product Managers, Business Owners, Epic Owners, Product Owners etc.

Laurent Charles
Laurent CHARLES, CEO and co-founder of Enalean (Tuleap)

Implement a customer loyalty approach

The customer? The organization for which we’re doing all this and without which everything we do wouldn’t exist?

One thing is certain: if you forget to put the customer at the center, and especially the value delivered to the customer -as if it isn’t always possible to have access to the customer- you’ll fail. But this isn’t only truc for agile approaches: whatever your approach, if you forget about the customer, you’ll fail.

On the other hand, having the customer at the center doesn’t mean you have to do everything the customer asks for. Keeping the customer at the center doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. Knowing how to say no -“no, not like that,” “no, I can’t do that,” “no, I don’t know how to do that”- is also a way of beign loyal to your customer.

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