The Importance of Customer Feedback to Building the Right Product
Out of curiosity, I have asked numerous people in the software industry if customers attend their iteration reviews or demos. I learned that many do not conduct iteration reviews, and of those that do, about half have actual customers attending. This anecdotal evidence is supported by the 9th Annual State of Agile Survey, where only 53 percent of participants said they conduct an iteration review.
The premise behind customer feedback is that it helps you adapt to what the customer finds valuable, ensuring you are building “the right product.” In order to make that customer feedback useful, it is important to get feedback from the right customers and incorporate it in a timely basis. If no customers are attending the demos or no demos are occurring, I have to ask: What are you adapting to?
The lack of focus on gaining customer feedback emphasizes that we still have a long way to go to achieve the business benefits agile can provide. If you find yourself in this situation, what can you do? Actionable customer feedback is critical for adapting to customer needs and involves several elements. Let’s explore each of these in more detail.
The first is ensuring you identify the right customer sets for the product you are building. To do this, establish personas—a representation of a user of your product. You should invite the customers who fit the characteristics of each persona when those features are being demonstrated. For example, when you are demonstrating a feature that focuses on administration functionality, then the best feedback comes from users or customers who represent the administrator persona.
The second element is motivating customers to attend feedback sessions. Invite customers to just one iteration review or demo. Customers who have not experienced agile before are typically impressed to see working software so early in a release lifecycle. If they like the first demo, then invite them to the next demo and excite them by highlighting where you’ve incorporated their feedback. At this point, ask the customers if they want to participate periodically on a sprint cadence.
The third is immediately capturing and incorporating the most useful feedback. I have seen feedback languish, which defeats the point of gaining it. To improve, review the feedback and immediately incorporate parts of it into the next planning and then the next demo. The feedback you gain should be linked to the persona and the user story.
As you work on these three areas, consider incorporating them into an agile customer feedback vision. Once you have established the elements of this vision, share it with the team for awareness and the importance of the feedback activities. This provides a healthier inspect-and-adapt model—and gives a greater chance that you will build the right product and enjoy more customer success.
Mario Moreira will be presenting his session Actionable Customer Feedback: A Key to Product Success at Agile Development Conference East 2015, from November 8–13 in Orlando, Florida.