Agile in the Business: Principle 1

Possibly the biggest lesson I learned early on in my agile career was the power of making customers feel they are part of the journey. When we listen to customers and incorporate their feedback, customers “buy in” to a product – they benefit when things are going well, they support us when things get a little tough and they show much greater brand loyalty.

The Agile Manifesto was written back in 2001, partly with this in mind. It was originally intended for software development, but its underlying twelve principles apply equally well across the business. In this series of articles, I look at what these principles mean in broader delivery terms and how they impact business practices.

Principle 1: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”

The driving principle of agile delivery is delivering what your customers need, delivering it early and delivering it continuously. In software development terms, this means regularly deploying small changes into the live environment, potentially many times each day. Amazon deploys new updates thousands of times a day – see this excellent 2011 Jon Jenkins talk on Youtube).

Three massive benefits of this approach over traditional large quarterly or annual updates are:

  • products get to market and start producing revenue much earlier
  • customers give feedback on early versions so improvements can be incorporated throughout the product lifecycle
  • issues can be identified and lessons learned early on, saving costly remedial work

So, how do we apply the first principle outside of software delivery?

At first glance, it may appear that this principle does not apply outside software delivery – after all, how can you make daily changes to a production line?

the things you invoice for are not your only products

The first thing to realise is that the things you invoice for are not your only products: HR provides a service to your people; customer services provide a service to your clients; sales, accounts, IT and many other departments all provide a product or service to somebody, be they inside or outside your organisation.

In most organisations, many of these processes will have been fixed for years and people have learned to work around their limitations. I was recently working with an excellent team from a major professional services provider: I challenged them towards the end of the contract and it turns out they were generally positive about their employer, but all I ever heard them speak about was the lousy expenses process that still didn’t work on a mobile app.

For them, expense processing was a broken product and Finance just weren’t listening to them. With an agile mindset, Finance would have been continually evolving this process. Employees would feel they were being listened to and would buy in to it. Ultimately, I would have heard about what a fantastic employer it was, not how crappy the expenses process is.

Principle 1 for the wider business

My starter-for-ten on a business-flavoured version of this principle is:

"Our highest priority is to satisfy all internal and external customers through early and continuous delivery of valuable services”.

What do you think?