Posts Tagged With: customer satisfaction

Essentialism is agile

I’m reading Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and many of the lessons within it echo the tenth principle from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development which is “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential“.

In the past, I’ve mostly considered this principle as it relates to how we deliver value to our customers. It provides a constant reminder that practices, ceremonies, tools and artifacts are just a means to an end, and shouldn’t be elevated as an end unto themselves. Minimal sufficiency should be our goal when expending effort on anything which doesn’t create business value for our stakeholders.

But we can also apply this principle to our products.

While Greg’s book provides a lot of insights, there’s one line which really resonates with me: “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”

Greg provides an example of the company Vitsoe which applies this filter when hiring new staff, but the same principle could be applied when deciding what to include in product backlogs. Let’s consider the example of the mice provided with the first Apple Macintosh computers. The design team at Apple could have added multiple buttons and scroll wheels the way future generations of PC mice were designed, but a single button sufficed to allow a user to effectively use the Macintosh graphical user interface.

This principle is key when defining Minimum Viable Products (MVP). A good MVP should generate empirical evidence to support or refute a hypothesis and adding features which won’t directly support that learning is waste.

But minimal sufficiency could be applied beyond MVPs to general releases. By doing so we can reap some of the following benefits:

  • Reducing learning curve. One of the attributes of well designed products is that they can be used with minimal instruction.
  • Reducing ongoing maintenance costs. To quote Scotty from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain
  • Reducing ongoing regression testing efforts. As system complexity grows, the points of interdependence between seemingly unrelated components makes it almost impossible to avoid regression defects.
  • Focusing development teams on core capabilities.

To quote Greg, the next time you are considering whether or not to add a feature, ask yourself the question “Is this exactly what I am looking for?

 

 

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Categories: Agile | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Have courage!

When we think of the characteristics of a good team player, we tend to come up with attributes such as demonstrating selflessness, possessing empathy, or being a good communicator. While these are all critical to creating a high performing team, one trait of effective project managers and team members is the ability to do things which take them outside of their comfort zone. In other words, courage.

Why do I consider courage to be so critical?

Courage won’t guarantee that right decisions will get made, but it might prevent some bad ones.

Presented with an unrealistic deadline to deliver fixed scope with fixed resources and budget, if no one demonstrates courage by raising concerns or by negotiating for a feasible commitment, the team might have just signed up for their very own real-life Kobayashi Maru scenario.

Perhaps a sponsor or other senior stakeholder is pushing for the use of a particular delivery approach for political reasons. If it is not the best fit for the needs of the project, it’s rare that the accountability for this bad decision would fall on that stakeholder but it’s more likely that the team will bear the brunt of the issues.

Maybe the business case for your project is no longer attractive. It might be safer to keep your head down and continue to deliver according to approved baselines, but wouldn’t it be better for your company, your team and your own career if you were to bring this concern to the sponsor or other appropriate governance body?

Maybe your organization’s project management methodology requires the completion of a particular artifact. No one on your team believes it adds any delivery or risk control value. If you don’t have the courage to ask “Why?” or to seek an exemption, you’ve likely lost some credibility with your team members.

Courage preserves integrity by enabling us to operate with transparency

It’s hard to tell your customer that there is a unrecoverable variance or other critical issue with their project. But if we candy-coat this message, or worse, avoid telling the customer entirely, the truth will out, and the fall out is likely to be much worse than if we’d summoned the courage to break the bad news in a timely manner.

Maybe one of your fellow team members is behaving in a manner which is irritating others. If we don’t have the courage to provide coaching or constructive feedback sensitively but directly to that team member and give them an opportunity to respond, we aren’t demonstrating respect for that team member or our team.

Courage enables us to grow

Whether your project is being delivered using an adaptive or a deterministic life-cycle, team members and your company as a whole will benefit if they occasionally work on activities which fall outside of their core specialization, if doing so benefits the team. Developing generalizing specialists will take support from both functional managers and from one’s peers, but it also requires a healthy dose of courage for us to try something for the first time, knowing that we might fail. This applies not only to the activities performed by team members, but also the types of projects or work assignments we ourselves take on.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou

 

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons in customer service from my Xmas getaway

My son and I just enjoyed a few days of sunshine, good food and great customer service at a Caribbean resort. Our journey home made for a jarring return to reality thanks to the more than fifty degree drop in outside temperature but also due to the poor customer service provided by the airline.

For my last post of 2017, I thought I’d share one bouquet and two brickbats in the hopes of encouraging more of the former and a lot less of the latter in 2018.

Our resort is one which we’ve visited once before a year and a half back. A few months before our trip, I’d dropped a note to the front office manager letting her know that we were coming back and providing her with a few requests. I was not expecting that we’d be treated any different than any other guest given that we’d spent less than a week during our last stay. Not only did they upgrade us to a higher tier room, they also left a fruit plate, a cheese plate and a decent bottle of rum in our room along with inviting us to a repeat guests cocktail reception midway through our stay. Sure, the cost of these bonuses is a fraction of what we spent for our stay, but this thoughtfulness did a great job of cementing my loyalty.

Delighters, like recognition, don’t need to be big.

The inbound flight for our journey home was delayed a half hour due to bad weather in the Greater Toronto Area. The ground and flight crew made fast work of getting our plane ready for the return flight and we departed with just a slight schedule variance on the scheduled departure time. However, once we landed, we spent an hour on the runway waiting for a delayed plane from a different airline to free up our gate. Through this process, the flight crew did a good job of providing us with updates.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there.

Once our gate was available, we spent an additional forty-five minutes waiting for ground crew from the third-party provider contracted by our airline to provide these services. Few updates were provided by the flight crew and they took every opportunity to pass the buck for the issue to their service provider.

When a customer buys the sausage, they rarely care to know how that sausage was made, just that it tastes good and meets quality requirements!

Once we had de-planed and made our way through immigration to the luggage carousels, things didn’t improve. We waited an hour for bags to start showing up but none came. A few of us made our way to the luggage enquiries desk and requested an update from the airline’s agent there. Upon our request she called her duty manager who tried to get a hold of baggage services (again contracted by the airline) without success. Once again, the airline’s agent tried to defer ownership of the issue, first to her duty manager and then to the third party service provider. Repeated requests to have her duty manager (who was at the airport – somewhere) to come down were ignored.

More than three hours after we landed our bags finally arrived.

Issues will occur but how your company handles them when they do is what your customers will remember. Training staff to avoid the blame game and ensuring that someone empowered to make decisions shows up in person can turn a public relations nightmare into a minor blip.

 

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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