Agile 2011: Stephen Denning on Creating Customer Delight

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Two sessions that I was really looking forward to at Agile 2011 were Making the Entire Organization Agile and Creating Customer Delight by Stephen Denning. My first exposure to his work was through his 2010 book The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century. In it, he discusses how some companies are changing their structure and purpose to follow agile and Scrum principles in order to create customer delight and success.  Coming from an agile environment, this made a lot of sense to me and it was very interesting to see how this scaled outside of engineering and into the entire enterprise.

In his first session, he described five general interlocking practices and principles of traditional management structures:

  • the business exists to make money for the shareholders
  • workers are controlled by managers
  • the business is run through bureaucracies of rules, plans, and reports
  • efficiencies are driven though seeking to cut costs
  • the business is run top-down through command and control structures

These structures are becoming less suited in modern business for many reasons, including:

  • the increase in highly skilled knowledge workers that have different motivations than making money and climbing the corporate ladder
  • the availability of information to allow individuals to make informed decisions about what products and services they want to buy
  • the ability of individuals to share opinions and experiences and significantly influence the decisions of others

Organizations need to respond to these changes with a new management approach of five modern practices and principles:

  • the primary goal of the business is delighting the customers
  • workers are self-organizing with support from management
  • organizations are dynamically linked to respond to market situations instead of following plans
  • the business moves from the value of the company to the values of the company
  • progress occurs through conversation and collaboration amongst workers and between the company and its customers

The second session was a very lively and informative workshop on angles to consider when trying to delight your customers.  It is fun brainstorming exercise to run through with the product or services that your company currently delivers.  Some of the steps to think about include:

  • committing the organization: in order for the organization to delight the customer, there must be commitment and vision from all levels of the organization
  • targeting your core market: you must understand who your core target market is; these are the first customers that you must delight
  • focusing on the primary feature: there are typically a small number of problems (or even one) that your customer is trying to solve. make sure you solve this problem
  • reading your customer’s mind: you must understand what your customer is looking for, possibly even before they understand it themselves
  • innovating in stages: selectively add new features to the product once you have addressed core needs first
  • exploring new features: before adding new features, explore them deeply to ensure they are consistent with what you have already built and will solve your customer’s problems
  • customization: provide ways for customers to customize your product to make their experience more personal and deeper
  • partnering with customers: work closely with your customers and welcome their feedback very early so that it can meaningfully influence your product
  • empowering the organization: ensure that everyone in the organization has the tools and responsibility to resolve customer issues
  • measuring: determine and measure the metrics that allow you to know you are delighting the customer. See The Ultimate Question
    by Fred Reichheld

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