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An Agile PM Walks a Mile in a Customer's Shoes

by Deborah Hartmann Preuss on Nov 02, 2007 |
Alexia Bowers, COO of Ternary Software, has lead numerous projects at Ternary, including managing and implementing custom e-commerce sites in Java and JSP, developing applicant tracking systems for Fortune-100 clients, and managing and developing large-scale web applications within the pharmaceutical industry. For a change, last year she played the role of customer (a.k.a. Product Owner), and told us how it felt in this Agile2006 Leadership Summit presentation, entitled Leading From A Position Of No Power: A Customer’s Perspective of an Agile Team.

Her lessons learned included: to clearly maintain the customer role, i.e. carry the vision and the "why" of things; not to shy away from conflict, but to use it constructively; and to be actively involved in the project, even though the customer has no real "power" over execution. She emphasised that the inevitable conflict between product and development should be channelled into finding better, faster ways to do things - instead of just a war over In-scope or out-of-scope.

The presentation sums up with advice for project participants:

Advice for Customers:
  • Be involved, not just present
    • Work with the rest of the team to get business value met
       
  • Expect good customer service
    • Ask for it if you aren’t getting it
       
  • Treat the rest of the team with respect
    • We are all working together
       
  • Ask your technical folks to tone down “techno-babble”
    • Get them to learn the business value vocabulary
Advice for Programmers:
  • Keep customer involved (but not micromanaging)
    • Give the updates & high quality info for decision making
    • Ask about business value, remember business value!
       
  • Avoid “techno-babble,” talk in terms of business value
     
  • Expect respect & provide good customer service
    • Remember where they are coming from
    • Help them get what they need
       
  • Encourage your customer to maintain the business value focus
    • Be sure to understand the business value of a solution.
View this 30-minute InfoQ exclusive presentation: Leading From A Position Of No Power: A Customer’s Perspective of an Agile Team with Alexia Bowers.

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