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The Customer is Not Always Right and Neither Are You

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At the recent Agile 2018 conference, Natalie Warnert gave a talk titled The Customer is Not Always Right, and Neither Are You!, in which she gave the audience thought-provoking concepts on how to make sure we are building the right thing. She presented three traps that teams fall into and strategies to avoid them: The Incorrect Customer Trap, Premature Solution Trap, and Drowning in Data Trap.

These traps are easy to fall into, yet can create products that are not fit for purpose and what the customer actually needs.

The first trap, The Incorrect Customer Trap, is when teams are getting feedback and asking for feedback from the wrong customer. These include internal stakeholders rather than real customers, or proxy customers. To avoid this we need to continue asking ourselves:

  • Who IS the customer?
  • How does this change we are making impact the customer?

Proxy customers, and internal stakeholders are often making assumptions about what customers want and need, or are focused on building a solution to focus on an organization's view of a problem, not focusing on the customer's pain. Without real customer involvement, we risk missing the mark on what they truly need.

The next trap, The Premature Solution trap, is when teams have a solution in mind and go full steam ahead. The team avoids testing their assumptions and validating that the solution in mind will solve the customers problem. This issue with this is that customers don't care about your solution ideas, they care about solving their problems. So, if the team is not focused on solving their problems, you will likely miss the mark and cause more cost to the organization, and lose customers along the way. A team focused on a solution without questioning what there is to learn about the customer problem will take longer to deliver value.

The third trap, Drowning in Data Trap, is when we use data as the ultimate truth, and end up using the data to our own detriment. This happens when we have a selective memory and a confirmation bias looking at the data in terms of our own preset ideas. We make poor assumptions and poor decisions based on a limited view of the data. We should be looking at data curious to learn, rather than confirming what we think.

Do you recognize your team in any of these traps?

Some remedies to get unstuck and move towards great products:

First, ask yourself some critical questions:

  • Do I have a problem worth solving, and can the team articulate the problem from a customer point of view?
  • Are we building something a customer needs and wants?
  • Are we learning about the customer as we build and evaluate their feedback, or are we just cranking out features?

Next, check your working hypothesis:

  • Many of these traps are due to the team working off of a "poor hypothesis".
  • Can you identify what hypothesis the team is working off of? Is it focused on a customer problem or an organizational point of view?
  • For example:
    • Poor Hypothesis: The customer needs a feature to sort their order history.
    • Better Hypothesis: We believe that if the customer is able to sort their order history, it will solve the problem of a high number of calls into the customer service center to inquire about a previous order. What happens to calls about order history if we give customers the option to sort their order history online?
    • The hypothesis should be focused on learning something about the customer, not trying to prove something.

She asked the audience - are you focused on learning about customer problems more than what stakeholders say they want, predetermined solutions, or data?

Warnert gives us much to ponder!

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