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We Agile Developers Lost Our Customers

Yes, it’s convenient to think up your own requirements. No annoying second opinions. No superfluous intervention by a person who has no idea anyway. When has the customer ever known what he wants?

Misconception 1: The Customer Is Stupid

As a developer we sometimes think, we know what the customer wants. Especially when we are working in a domain that is slightly familiar to us. It is not the first time that we overestimate our knowledge. The path of product development is peppered with the carcasses of self-overestimation and know-it-all attitude.

We do not develop products to satisfy our personal needs, but the needs of our customers. Having the wrong attitude with not help us conquer the hearts and minds of our customers decreasing the potential for a successful product substantially. That does not mean that we can not help the customer to understand technical limitations or consequences of certain choices. But in the end the customer has to have the feeling of having gotten the best possible solution to his problem.

Misconception 2: The Customer Can’t Say What He Wants

There is a communication problem between developers and customers. And it is not on the customer’s side. I know I might be a little controversial here. But think about it: Is the customer able to express his ideas for a product in layman’s terms? Usually he is. But sometimes he is more comfortable speaking in business jargon.

Can the customer understand developer language? Not really. So who should go the extra mile to get an understanding of the business domain, when both try to talk to each other? I would say the developer. Maybe we developers need to master the art of talking to the customer in his language, to get a viable result.

Misconception 3: The Product Owner Knows the Customer

This is a subtle one. We preclude that a Product Owner is in direct contact with customers. It is supposed to work that way. The Scrum Guide and other sources of agile wisdom expect the “customer” in the same room as the developers or at least as the Product Owner.

But where in big enterprises is this really the case? Oftentimes there are layers and layers of middle-men and -women between the customer and the developer. This situation is unfortunate. What can we do about it? Help the Product Owner to get closer to the customer and you as a developer will be closer to him, too.

Misconception 4: The Organization Is Hiding the Customer from Us

This misconception actually is partially true. But only to the extent that the organization actually does not know any better. As the organization is no uniform individual with its own will, it can not deliberately hide a customer from us.

The problem often is that the organization actually wants to optimize operations, making processes and people within the organization more efficient. Unfortunately this often leads to the side effect that nobody aspires to in the first place: the direct access to customers is obscured and hindered.

Do not blame individuals that they are hindering your effort to get in contact with real customers. Use them instead to find out who in the organization is closest to them.

Who has to go over the books now?

We developers often think that the surrounding people have to pave our way to be able to work in an agile manner. I doubt this is the case.

Instead we need to model and mold the environment we are working in. We have to put in the unpleasant and tedious work ourselves. We get no gifts or free-bes.

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves?

Fancy some other nuggets of wisdom on making agile implementations work? Sign up to the book I will be publishing soon on the topic.


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