CX and Agile: Collaboration over negotiation


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This is the third in a series of four articles about applying the concepts of Agile and Scrum to Customer Experience.  I introduce the concept here, and parts one and two are here and here, respectively.  In this installment, we’ll consider the value that considers Customer collaboration to be more important than contract negotiation.

Now, if I tell you that collaborating with your Customer is a better approach than spending time in contract negotiations, as a CX professional, you’re likely to respond with, “well, duh.”  Of course, and remember that Agile project management comes from the world of software development.  In that world, designers (or their project managers) expend tremendous effort up-front on a project ensuring they’ve got the precise parameters from the Customer’s needs statements and requirements.  This approach, the thinking goes, enables the development team to nail down exactly what is expected of them, freezes it in place, and then they set off executing against those desires.  You don’t need to be a software engineer (and if you aren’t, and you can otherwise appreciate what I’m about to write, you should have extra sympathy for them when you consider the nature of their work) to appreciate the tendency all projects have to grow, oftentimes out of control.  We call it “scope creep” and it happens to everybody.  That’s why traditional PMs not only endeavor to get the most comprehensive picture of the requirements of a project at the outset (so as to avoid as many surprises as possible), but institute very exacting and burdensome procedures for introducing changes as the project rolls along (so as to both discourage them in the first place but also mitigate the disruption they inevitably bring).

Conversely, in Agile project management, we embrace the volatility of change requests and new needs of the Customers.  We don’t lay down rigid timelines and specific deliverables months and quarters into the future.  Every “sprint” of effort is centered around accomplishing what can be done in a relatively short period of time—typically two weeks—so that every two weeks there’s progress.  Moreover, every two weeks there’s an opportunity to say, “what do you want next?” and even adjust your priorities at that time.  Rather than having to submit paperwork for a change request (which may happen that frequently anyway), you’ll never have to wait more than another two weeks to have your new needs addressed.

There’s more to it than that, but by now I’m sure you’re asking, “what the heck does that have to do with CX?”  You may also be saying, “Yea, Z.  You had me with ‘Customer collaboration’ but now you’ve lost me.”

Well, here’s where we can really learn a lot from Agile project management.  In the typical PM world, Customer requests or requirements are developed, boiled down to calls for action, frozen in amber, and then tossed over the fence to those who are doing the work.  Does that sound familiar?  Does your organization take the insights from your VoC program, package them into a PowerPoint slide, present it to leadership and call it a day?  Or maybe, even if it’s using those insights to help guide your Process Engineering efforts, how involved are your Customers after they click “Submit” on their survey?

Here let’s turn to a couple of the Agile principles:

Number Four:  Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.


Number Eight:  Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

The analogy here is that the work you’re doing to improve your Customers’ experiences can’t be done in a vacuum, but rather requires consistently teaming with your Customers (Number Four—here consider the “Business people” as your Customers) and is a cycle of continuous improvement (Number Eight).  You can’t simply take your VoC insights, squirrel them away with your PE team and hope they come up with the best new Customer Experience (in a month or two or whenever they’re done with their project).  Nor can you consider it a ‘one-and-done’ whereby they identify the problem, isolate it, fix it, and then move on to the next.  After all, sometimes ‘the next’ is just a continuation of what you just fixed anyway, right?

The bottom line here is that taking action on your Voice of the Customer insights is neither something that can be done internally by your team without continuous collaboration with your Customers, nor is it something that you just nail once and then move on from.  Your Customers (and their needs) are constantly changing; what they want today is not what they wanted yesterday.  And as Agile teaches us, it’s best to sit down with them through the entire journey, leverage their thoughts and insights, and be open to (no, be hungry for) their feedback.  Only by taking that approach can you truly be Customer-centric.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB
I’m a Customer Experience executive, certified Process Improvement professional, Agile Scrum Master, dynamic educator, change management strategist, and in-demand business and leadership coach. I've worked from the inside and from the outside; in organizations large and small; public sector and private; from oil and gas to technology to non-profit (with lots in between too). I've seen a lot, but I haven't seen it all.


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