What’s Agile? Customer Satisfaction (Principle #1)
What’s Agile? There are so many ways to answer that question.
A Bit of Background on Agile
You can look at where Agile comes from. Agile can trace its roots back to the quality movement in manufacturing, the Toyota Way, Lean Manufacturing, and more. Learning about these broadens your understanding of Agile, where it came from, and how to apply it.
Or you can look at the various software development methodologies that started to adopt Agile principles in the 80’s and 90’s (and in some cases, even earlier). Scrum, Extreme Programming, Crystal Clear, DSDM, and others.
However, something extraordinary happened in 2001. Seventeen leaders in Agile software development got together and actually agreed on a set of values and principles common to all of these approaches.
Since then, these different Agile camps have continued with their own methodologies and frameworks. They’ve elaborated on the foundational principles, but nothing has been so clear, unifying, and universally applicable as the Agile Manifesto that they created in 2001.
The First Principle of Agile
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.Principles behind the Agile Manifesto
Part 1: Customer Satisfaction
The first principle of Agile clearly identifies customer satisfaction as the highest priority. This answers the question of how to measure success on a project.
If you think that your project is successful because it delivers the agreed scope on time and on budget, you’re mistaken.
I used to think that way. It’s a natural reaction to feeling that you can’t control customer satisfaction. You want desperately to define the scope of your responsibilities, and to excel in that space. You don’t want to be held responsible for what you can’t control. Benefits and customer satisfaction is up to the product manager, program management, or portfolio management. It’s outside your control. Or is it?
As a profession, we’ve come to realize that we can’t afford to think that way. We have to strive to expand our circle of influence. We need to understand the organizational strategy and the key stakeholders as well as we understand the traditional tools & techniques of technical project management.
Like it or not, if your project doesn’t satisfy the customers, it won’t be considered a success. And you won’t be seen as a successful project manager. It’s time to stop complaining about the situation, and start expanding your abilities.
Part 2: Continuous Delivery of Value
This is the part of the first principle of Agile that people seem to remember best, and that is the most visible. You see it in the sprints of Scrum projects and the sprint reviews (demos) that deliver working software to the customer.
The question is: Does your project deliver value (working software, in the case of software development) with every sprint? (If you’re using Agile on something other than software, that’s great!)
For some suggestions on how to provide value with every sprint, see 12 Practical Steps to Avoid Stabilization Sprints.
If you think that it’s impossible to deliver value with every sprint, then I invite you to think differently. Accepting that customer satisfaction is the highest priority requires you to think differently, and to become more than just a manager of scope, schedule, and cost. Delivering value with every sprint also requires you to change your mind as well as your approach to developing software.
You may have to do things that you think are inefficient. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from the quality movement and Agile, it’s that striving for efficiency on a small scale actually kills your efficiency and effectiveness on a large scale.
If you feel bothered by having to demonstrate value to the customer with every sprint, then you’re too focused on the software, rather than the customer.
That’s a great way to write elegant code that doesn’t meet the customer’s needs.
Read this next: What’s Agile? Harness Change (Principle #2)