Friday, November 2, 2012

Follow to your customers (Principle 2)

Introduction to the principles

In the starting post, I mentioned the following:
  • We get paid when we deliver something that our customers will buy
  • We stay in business when the customers pay more than we spend. 
This may need to be generalized out from the money aspect and focus on the word value. Money in short is a way to measure value. So whether we are a for profit, non profit, or volunteer organization, what matters is that our customers are delighted with what we deliver and that it brings them value. In order to do that, we must know our customers, hear from them and purposefully plan to delight them. At the point our customers become an inconvenience, the organization is on a quick path to losing those customers.

Do you have a customer centered organization?
Who are your customers?
How do you treat your internal customers?

The principle of following to your customers means just that. In some form or fashion, it should be a face to face delivery. It should be personal and the ownership should be there.And for those that have the opinion that I do not know the customer. My job does not put me in front of the customer. That may be true (and you should find a way for them to visit and see how the end customer experiences what you deliver). These same people can quickly work with their internal customers.
  • Dev to QC.
  • Dev and QC to Services
  • Support calls based on current release
  • Spend a day taking support calls
  • Visit a customer. Walk around and see people experience what has been built
  • Did you delight your team members
  • Did you create meaningful unit test
There are many customers to serve on the ultimate journey to delivering value to the end customer. A culture that values both internal customers and the final customer will have a multiplier effect. It will be baked into the organization. Search on Zappos customer service to see what this looks like. (sample article)

Here are some red flag statements that could signal trouble with how the people in the organization view following their work to the customer.
  • Works on my box. My favorite. We will just ship your box to the customer (and you along with it).
  • That is not my problem, that is dept xyz's problem
  • We will fix it later
  • That's not important, that team just uses customer issues to get what they want.
  • That is too hard
  • I am just doing as I am told
  • We did a great job, that other group is just a bunch of complainers
  • Yeah, it could be better, but the rest of the team is not willing to help
As with any of these principles, they can be practiced at the personal level and be effective (for one). As leaders, it is our job to create the space and environment for the principles to thrive.

I have often run into the wall between development and qc. I have seen arrogance on the developers side touting the incompetence of the qc people (by name in some cases). I have seen the iron wall of qc teams rejecting deliveries on the most minor of issues just to "teach" development a lesson. Again, I am huge fan of agile and these issues (when done well) become a team problem and you will be amazed at what a committed team can solve.

As a leader, if you are going to pick a side on any issue, pick the side of the customer. Do not align with your role as dev leader, qc leader, or whatever leader. Align with how to deliver better value to your customers both internally and externally.

So the best place to start is face to face and seek first to understand. As a leader, I often want to use my power to force my way. Maybe I will lobby up to the big boss to get my way. I am right of course (so I think). It has become so clear to me with my children. I hear these great stories of the injustices they inflict on each other. On the surface, the case is compelling. I need to correct this breach of humanity. Being the judge and making the decision will reinforce with them to always petition to me and I will fix it. I feel powerful. I have just become the prisoner. I now send them off to work it out. At times, I will help facilitate. We talk about the needs of each other. We talk about alternatives. We talk about consequences. They get focused on success when they realize they both can loose.

So is the same with our teams, coworkers, parallel departments and all the places our customers live. Start with a face to face conversation. As a leader, coach and teach your team to do the same. Be respectful and polite. Partner on how to deliver better value to the customer. If you run into organizational or people barriers, do the best you can in the short term and look for bigger ways to influence change. Data can be your biggest helper in this areas. If you can tie back to sales, cost of support, cost of development and how to improve, you will get the attention of those that may be ignoring you.

I look forward to your comments, stories and questions. Keep moving forward.

  1. Define and own the problem 
  2. Follow your work to your customer(s)
  3. Practice continuous improvement
  4. Provide professional growth
  5. Build and practice teamwork
  6. Provide accountability

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