Agile and CX: Prioritizing People over process

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This is the first in a four-part series of articles about Agile/Scrum and how we as CX practitioners and leaders can integrate the approach and theories of Agile Project Management in our work.  I’m framing the series by way of highlighting Agile’s four values as enumerated in the Agile Manifesto and also integrating what are called the twelve principles advanced by the same group that invented it.  You can find the introduction article to this series here.

In this installment, I’ll be reviewing the first Agile value of prioritizing individuals and their interactions over adherence to processes and the use of tools.

Now, clearly this seems like a pretty straightforward good idea in general, right?  Putting individuals over processes, and peoples’ interactions ahead of tools is a long-standing good practice to get the most out of our teams.  I’ll often say, when describing Lean Six Sigma or some other Process Engineering approach that has a lot of tools and techniques, that it’s important to “use the tools; don’t let the tools use you.”  Often folks will fall into the trap of considering a tool or procedure to be so clever and valuable that they don’t necessarily recognize the times when it doesn’t make sense to use it, or in other circumstances when its use should be modified for the particular situation.  I remember early in my career having to explain to leaders that using a control chart (at that time in this company, control charts were all the rage) to display our Customer satisfaction metrics made no sense.  I tried from all different angles to explain why Customer satisfaction, in fact, is best if it’s not ‘in control’ (I’ll take mine monotonically increasing, thank you).  Finally, I had to ask a leader of the organization who’d grown so used to seeing everything in control chart-fashion, “Okay, so what’s your corrective plan if you bust your Upper Control Limit on your C-SAT?”  That was a breakthrough day.

So yes, this value is, in part, about lifting our eyes up from the work we’re doing and understanding that there’s something more meaningful going on than simply the next step in whatever process we happen to be executing.  And I say that as someone who’s built my fair share of frameworks.

To illustrate and elaborate on this, let’s explore two of the twelve Agile principles,

Number Five:  Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

And,

Number Six:  The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Number Five makes good sense if you’re trying to build a culture that truly does put your Customers at the heart of all you do.  Naturally we look for compassion and Customer-centricity in the team members we bring onboard.  If you want a good CX culture, sure you’ll want to hire people with a passion for serving Customers.  Also, I’ve written previously about Customer-centric culture in general and more specifically about how important it is to build trust with your policies and systems in order to give your teams the authority to take care of your Customers.  So, this principle ties right into building out a great CX organization.

As for principle Number Six, this is a concept that, in terms of Agile project management, partly manifests in a daily stand-up whereby everybody on the team gets together to review what went on yesterday and what everybody’s planning to accomplish today.  I’ll have more to say about this practice and its related Retrospective in a future article on responding to change.  But the purpose of this principle is to encourage actual interactions and connections not just on the team, but also with our Customers.  When we apply this to CX, we can consider our VoC programs.  How are we engaging our Customers to solicit their feedback?  Sometimes the channel we use to collect the VoC isn’t appropriate and, even if we work tirelessly to serve our Customers “where they are,” we don’t always understand the importance of meeting them where they are when it comes to listening to them.  Furthermore, if we’re relying solely on surveys for our VoC, it’s naturally going to come off somewhat less than personal anyway.  Have you ever simply called a Customer to ask what her thoughts are?  Have you ever followed up on a negative survey result and asked a Customer to elaborate on his experience?  Do you interview your Customers?  Do you walk in their shoes?  We can even go so far as to take this concept of face-to-face interactions literally and expect that we knock on the doors of our Customers to inquire how we can better help them.  That may not be necessary, but if it simply encourages us to think differently about how we engage them to find out what they think, it’d be a great start and a great application of Agile principles.

There’s more to come in our Agile/Scrum journey, but this is just a taste of how we can apply certain principles that aren’t even from the world of CX into the work we do as Customer Experience professionals.

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