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The Agile Manifesto's Customer-Centric Approach

by Steve Ostermiller

Forrester has released its 2016 annual industry research predictions. Of those findings, the power of the customer is prominent, and many companies still don’t operate accordingly. The impact of customer involvement on the success of business is nothing new—it’s something we emphasize every day through agile values and principles.

From the agile manifesto:
•    “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.”
•    “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
•    “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
•    “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.”
•    “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”

Customers often don’t know exactly what they want until they interact with it. So, getting your product in the hands of customers as early as possible, and then frequently delivering a little bit more, and a little bit more keeps you connected in a feedback loop telling you constantly whether or not you’re on track.

An example of developing new products with close customer collaboration is Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab. In just a few short days, a development team iterated a product idea with in-the-moment customer feedback to deliver what their customers were looking for, even though the customers may not have known how to articulate it at the start.

You may not have direct access to your customers for every product requirement, but you can increase customer access and collaboration on every project from where it is today. Whatever it takes, get your customers involved in your product strategy and development process as early and often as possible. 

Enable your teams to deliver working product at the end of short iterations, and plan regular releases into the market as frequently as possible. You can only find out what your customers want as soon as they get their hands on it.

The old customer service adage, “the customer is always right” applies. Customers have more options than ever. Agile techniques will enable you to build what customers want, and help them figure out what they want along the way. It’s a perfect partnership.