Why leading agile teams are obsessed with their customars

Published 25 Feb 2020
by Satvik Sharma, Developer


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Do you know your customers? As in, really know them?

🥞 What do they eat for breakfast?

😎 Who’s their favourite James Bond villain?

🛁 Do they shower in the morning or at night?

Okay, so you don’t have to get that creepy…

But you do need to know a lot about the customers you’re developing products for. Otherwise, the features you’re working on might not be useful or valuable.

This is pretty important stuff, so let’s take a look at 7 reasons why it’s good to have a healthy level of customer obsession in your agile teams...

Scene from Mean Girls movie where Regina George asks Cady, “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

1. Agile and customer focus go hand-in-hand

Agile is all about the customer. At least, it should be.

It’s right there in the first two agile principles:

(1) Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.



(2) Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

You can’t really call yourselves agile unless you put your customers at the centre of what you’re doing.

2. Each sprint should deliver a better product for your customers

One reason why agile should (🤞 in theory - we’ll expand on this shortly) benefit your customers is that every two to four weeks, your users will usually get new features and upgraded products.

This is kind of a big deal when you compare it to traditional project management approaches.

Pre-agile, customers could be waiting many months or even years before they would see any changes. In many cases, by the time updates were released, customers, technologies, and requirements had moved on.

A lone tumbleweed rolls along a dirt road.

But when you’re agile, it means that:

  • Your customers can request updates, features, and changes at any time
  • Users should potentially see new features added to a roadmap and rolled out in weeks or months, not years.
  • If something’s not working, your customers can report the issue and provide feedback right away
  • Users can see how the product is developing and growing
  • Your product is moving forward and the customer is moving forward with it
  • The product becomes more valuable to your customers over time

… but it’s important to note that all of these really awesome benefits only really apply if you’re prioritising your backlog and choosing features with your customers’ best interests at heart 💞

3. Agile teams need to know what’s valuable to their customers

As we’ve talked about previously, “there is a chasm between the output of a team and successful outcomes for their customers. And the success of a team is measured by outcomes, not code.”

Fact is, your customers have different priorities to your developers.

Your developers likely want to work on projects that they find exciting or fulfilling. But the best agile teams know they need to prioritise the features that matter to their customers. Because if you’re not solving their most important problems, your customers will find someone else who will solve them 😨

4. Customer focus leads to better quality products

When you’re obsessed with your customers, you deliver products that actually matter.

One study found that “quality is influenced by top management’s commitment through customer focus”.

And this makes sense - if your team stays focused on your customers, there’s a much better chance that they’ll build the right things at the right time for the right people. And this is critical to the success of your product and organisation.

It’s also a great way to avoid building bloated products with unnecessary features.

5. Do better planning and prioritising

Your backlog shouldn’t simply be a to-do list. It needs to include feedback from your customers and attempt to tackle their greatest pain points.

Program Increment (PI) Planning in scaled agile relies on a healthy customer obsession to inform your product requirements.

During PI Planning, you’ll discuss the backlog with other teams in your Agile Release Train (ART), prioritise your features, and schedule work for the upcoming iterations.

Without a solid understanding of your customers to inform your backlog, you could end up planning an entire increment that doesn’t deliver anything useful or move the product forward for users. And that’s a pretty costly risk, if you ask us.

6. Do everything better with customer feedback

Teams who are obsessed with customers love getting customer feedback, whether it’s via customer interviews, surveys or just having a chat about their experience 🤓

Customer feedback is incredibly powerful because it can help you:

  • Understand your customers - Know what their biggest problems are and what they care about most
  • Motivate your agile team - Help your team understand the problems they’re solving, the difference they’re making, and that their work is meaningful
  • Spot trends and patterns - Ensure your product adapts to what’s in demand right now and what your customers will need in the future
  • Make better products - Find out what’s not working so you can fix it
  • Track your progress - See whether customers are happier with your product over time
  • Stay relevant - Because products and companies that solve problems stick around long-term
  • Get buy in - When your customers are involved in the process, they’ll feel more committed to the product, which can reduce churn
  • Improve retention - Reduce churn and keep your customers for longer when you incorporate their feedback and ideas into your product
  • Make data-informed decisions - Stop relying on your assumptions and let the data drive your strategy

So customer feedback is obviously awesome, but what do you actually DO with it? How do you share it with the team and turn it into actions? Well, that’s where user story mapping comes in.

7. Agile user story mapping is all about the customer

Most agile teams run user story mapping sessions to discuss what functions and features are needed in the product. User stories are a visual tool for customer focused development, ensuring your customer journey stays front and center throughout development.

This is where customer feedback comes into play. When your team can access a wealth of feedback from users, they can write user stories informed by real data. This gives them a much better chance of prioritizing features that will add value to users right away. And it means they’ll always know what features to work on next.

Plus, it makes it much simpler for your team to reach a consensus, compared to your team of developers butting heads about which features they think should be prioritised 😬💥

By the way, one of the best ways to help your team be more user-focused is to help them streamline the way they do user story mapping 👇

So, if the paper and sticky notes approach isn’t working for you, try a digital user story mapping tool like Easy Agile’s User Story Maps.

Simply enter your stories, click and drag to move them around, organise horizontally and vertically, and arrange stories into sprint and version swimlanes. Plus, the Jira integration means that any changes are automatically saved in Jira so that your team can get straight to work.

Sign up for a free 30-day trial of User Story Maps and let us know what you think!

Being more customer-focused is a solid strategy

If your team isn’t exactly obsessed with your customers, maybe it’s time to change that?

Because at the end of the day, if you’re focusing on your customers, you’ll make more of the right decisions about what products, features, and requirements you need to work on. Which means your team will find it easier to make decisions, you’ll waste less time, your users will stay loyal, and you’ll build a better product that gets better all the time.

It’s a solid strategy. Everybody wins! 🎉

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