Saturday, June 6, 2009

Customer Interviews

In preparing for the next release as well as defining a "bigger picture", our Product Owner has been conducting extensive customer interviews.  This has involved traveling to their sites as well as phone interviews.  As I sat in on these calls, for the first time, I was able to get a better perspective on customers pain-points, desires, rational for certain functionality as well as what's good about our existing software.  (Which is nice to hear because when developing software, you tend to always be in firefighter mode and become thick-skinned to all the problems with our software.)

During the calls I worked on my mind-mapping skills and mind-mapped the interviews. I started to notice that there were some consistent themes forming among the customers.  My wheels began to spin as to potential epics we can start with for our release planning, (which by the way, is coming up fast and furiously).  

When doing customer interviews it's important to have questions prepared in advance so you can have a consistent framework to follow as well as an easy way to compare answers.  Keep the questions fairly open ended to allow them to elaborate as needed.  It's important to remember the goal of each question as often times the interviewee will digress and it's all-too-easy to digress down that black hole with them.  If they are having a difficult time with answering, then provide examples of what you are looking for.   Often times, this will trigger some ideas.   Just be careful to not put words into their mouth.  Remember the interview is about them and their needs, not about us.   

Another point to mention is that often times, what they are initially asking for, isn't really what they want.  Or they tend to tell you how they want to do something in the exisiting software.  When this occurs, it's good to rephrase the question to ask, "What is it that you want to accomplish?".  They are typically telling you how to do something, rather then what they want to do.  Remember, it is our job, as a team, to figure out the "how", it is the customers job to provide the team with the "what". 

The customers were all very willing.  Every one of them expressed appreciation and gratitude . They said that they felt valued that we took the time to solicit their input.  This was extremely encouraging for me as we now have the seeds planted for communication between us and them. The door is open to continue the dialog and involve them more during the development of our next release.  After all, isn't that what scrum and agile are about?  Pull in that customer as a part of our iterations.  

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