How Close Was The Customer Collaboration?

So I was near a conversation that kind of went like this;

A developer was asking the actual user of his team’s software for some feedback about the product.
I was heartened to see the invitation and he had a lean in to listen better.  He was taking mental notes (I could see the gears moving) on how to make this better. The developer also explained how rare an actual customer interaction had been over the past several years. The user didn’t have much in the way positive to say about the software and was matter-of-fact in conveying that it really wasn’t all that usable and we needed some extra fields and the training needed to be a lot better – to reflect how they were using it. I watched his wonderful continued calm as the developer wasn’t at all defensive, continuing to listen. Then a third person, who thought they knew the next step, interrupted to say that the customer needed to get project funding.

This is where my head leaps in and explores.

The customer really doesn’t care about someone else’s internal processes for funding.  And at time this is going to be some organizational telekinesis that is way too big for them to tackle. The customer may feel alone – like they were left to swim in the middle of the ocean. No Hope.

There are at least three things that need to be said here ….

1)      Good job for the developer – not just to invite, ask and listen. I have the distinct impression that this will continue.  I heavily encourage it.

2)      The ‘Future funding’ is simply a stall tactic to put off our being responsible today.   There is a current project that didn’t even include the customer. Why not open that up and start inviting them to the reviews, as a first step.  Get their feedback. Developing a trust and a responsiveness with the end-user will help in all sorts of ways.  Elicit their help in building and testing it.  Now I am not saying that funding isn’t needed.  Typically however funding never really gets at all the hidden costs within an organization to get the software out the door and into the customers hands. The definition of being done means that it is fit for use.  The requirements aren’t sitting down at some desk using the software to get a job done – a person is.  We should ever cherish and understand that.  Maybe over time – the software, the job, both change. Who knows.

3)      Why would anyone want to continue funding a ‘redo’ when it wasn’t done right the first time.

Now pullback a year or more, and there is a conversation that I had with a director about his organization.  We talked about involving the customer and he wanted to hold-off on doing exactly that.  The argument went something like… my customer is internal since we develop our own software.  My customers are not going to innovate, adopt change, and discover ways to do things better.  Just put it out in the field and they will use it as we leverage external sources for creativity and innovation.

My counter was that we required a balance.  No matter how creative we are, if software isn’t usable – then we have a great big point of failure once we’ve deployed.  The mix of this balance might be slim in the beginning as we learn to work together.  20/80 or even say 10/90 but if we just absolutely brick a Berlin wall and shut out or silo the left hand from the right – we are going to miss the inevitable handshake that is coming.  Over the course of the next year, took a while to grow that relationship.  As the new teams learned from the experienced field about the app, they also grew to trust the deliverable more.  Slowly the field also started not only accepting changes but also leveraged opportunities with more suggestions.  The field started getting used to the idea of being innovative just as they were able to share their experience.

Both sides were far richer for the interaction.  Expectant convergence about the end-results were also happening more often.

What also started to happen was that the teams were increasingly aware of Everything it took to move software through the organization and into the customers hands.  Processes started improving. Requests for infrastructure were aligned to support business objectives.

It is my experience it takes a while to move some big things like an entire organization.  You do it by being part of the culture and then changing it.  A little at a time.  Some things catch on and sometimes you even have a motivational brush fire within an organization that started from a just a few sparks.  The fire within us, helps us along whatever journey we have.


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