Listening is the best interpersonal skill to know and practice.
If you haven’t already doubled down on your reading, learning and practicing the skill of listening I highly recommend a deep dive.
Successful execution of Agile Manifesto Principles depends on it.
The Agile System of Listening, Speed and Value
You’ve heard the statement, “the customer is always right”. And then you’ve heard the statement, “The customer is NOT always right.” The second quote is typically from a Steve Job’s history buff who knows that Jobs created a market that didn’t exist.
These questions are non-sequiturs … useless questions. Let’s throw them out and have a dialog.
The Dialog and Listening
Satisfying a customer requires deep listening. Principle #1 of the manifesto assumes that an agile team or Product Owner has super human listening skills to capture the desires of the customer.
When it comes to creating something new, many customers have vague ideas about product end goal. The Vague ideas result in ambiguously written descriptions about what they want and then those ideas are translated into a Frankenstein looking software product that can be revolting to the customer.
Agile has evolved to provide the minimal and valuable product to the customer as fast as possible. The dialog that occurs during this iterative process requires a tight communication loop.
Delivery something to a customer in a minimal and valuable form requires significant creativity and a determination to be lean.
My organization recently did a workshop on Agile Innovation and we created the minimal viable products (MVPs) in a couple interesting formats
MVP on a Flip Chart
The first format was a flip chart with a graphical layout of the most important feature of a web application. After a couple iterations of designing the system using our hand-drawn illustrations, a person outside the design team was brought in to walk through the final illustrated version of the web application and give us feedback.
In about 20 minutes we completed the loop of deep listening, speedy delivery and customer evaluation. That’s agile.
MVP in a One Act Play
The second delivery format was an interactive experience where people on the design team acted out the different inputs for a GPS mobile app. It was very interesting to observe the event and glean valuable information.
In both MVP experiences, the goal was observing, listening to the interactions and learning.
This step is one of the most rewarding and also difficult.
It’s rewarding because you have something to show and sometimes the customer is very happy with the results.
It can be difficult when the customer provides negative feedback on small nitty gritty things that don’t have a huge impact on the function of the system.
Tip for Agile Teams: Typically you want the customer to provide direct feedback to teams so the there is no distance or confusion about what the customer wants. However, when you have a customer that gives consistently confusing or blunt unfiltered feedback it’s helpful to isolate the customer behind the Product Owner so the team doesn’t feel demoralized.
The loop of listening, speedy delivery, and customer evaluation is the goal of the Agile Manifesto. The team’s #1 priority is getting the highest value to the customer (internal or external customer) and then taking feedback to create more value and a better product in the next iteration.
How to learn to listen
In order to be a good listener, you must have the mindset that supports listening and then skills to back it up.
Call it old school, but it’s one of the best ever: Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has the best bang for you buck when it comes to learning a listening mindset. Habit #5, “Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood,” is the discipline that you need to increase your capacity to absorb your customer’s needs and echo back a valuable product.
Learn to listen and take feedback and minimize the product that you put in front of the customer. This will result in faster delivery time and better feedback from the customer.
What is the most difficult part of your customer interaction? Leave a comment about that or contact me directly using the ‘Contact…’ tab.
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