One of the more curious—and least expected—experiences in my professional career is how I became a professor at the US Air Force Academy. I wasn’t formally trained as an educator but learned at the knee of some wonderful academicians and thought-leaders in the field. One thing that I took to right away was analogizing, or finding different ways to explain or apply a concept. This is vital to education because a classroom full of cadets is a collection of different ways of looking at the world: If you can’t make some effort to appreciate different ways people grasp concepts, you’re in for a rough day in front of the class.
That translates into the business world in some interesting ways, most fun of which is leveraging one’s skills in ways that are less traditional or somehow different than they were initially intended. I’ve written a bit about the importance of leveraging Process Engineering generally, and Lean Six Sigma in particular to the field of Customer Experience. It’s the “do something” with the VoC that differentiates a truly successful CX effort from simply a survey reporting function within your organization.
All of that throat-clearing as a setup to introduce that, before I started the CX chapter of my career, I was also a Certified Scrum Master, coaching and teaching Agile Project Management and Scrum. Recently I was thinking deliberately about how the principles and practice of Agile and Scrum may apply to the CX field of work. As you may expect, I found many lines along which one can find the value and applicability of Agile in CX, as well as CX in Agile (there’s a joke about peanut butter and chocolate in there somewhere).
Over the course of four articles, I’ll break down what’s known as the Agile Manifesto and the associated four values and twelve principles (there’s always a framework, no?). As a note of address, the twelve principles don’t fall neatly into the four values articulated in the Manifesto (some are applicable to multiple, and there’s no doctrinally-ordained official one-to-one correspondence), but as a way of keeping things a little tidier, I’ve attempted to categorize them so the conversational flow isn’t distracted by all the moving parts. My intention here is simply to identify a connection between Agile and CX. Your mileage may vary on the specifics, but I think I’m on to something in general. I think CXers will find value here.
The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001 by a group calling themselves the “The Agile Alliance,” and, at the risk of minimizing their efforts, there’s a bit of falderal and self-importance involved in its origin and execution (after all, they called it a Manifesto…what would you expect?). Aside from that, though, the purpose was to supplant, or perhaps offer an alternative to, the traditional waterfall-style of project management (thnk PMP), at least as pertains to the development of computer software. Software development, the signatories reasoned, was too dynamic and fast to be stultified by forcing it into the frameworks of the traditional way PMs usually went about their work. Their new approach would be lean and based on cranking out code that could be assessed by the end-user with every iteration and therefore keep up with ever-changing needs and priorities.
Now, the spirit of the effort has a tremendous amount of value and the resulting approach is broadly applicable. That said, any discussion of the Manifesto itself is oddly cloistered among the original group that wrote it with an accompanying (and fittingly quirky) copyright statement that, although I’m not a lawyer, seems a little far-fetched and not altogether enforceable. It’s not some sort of religious-like sacred and secret text. It’s just that they handle their copyright in a weird way. Hey, these guys were software developers, they were at a ski lodge in Utah; my guess is some toddies were likely involved. Nonetheless, at the risk of offending the rarified nature of the statement itself, I’ll sum up these four values as such:
It’s about prioritizing people, getting a product to market, working in a team environment with your Customers, and being flexible. Based on those four ideas alone, you can see how applicable it is to CX.
I’ll walk through each of these four concepts and the related principles over the course of the next few articles. I think what we’ll find is that Agile principles are definitely well-applicable to Customer Experience and that we can learn a lot by adhering to them and keeping them in mind as we go about improving the work we do on behalf of our Customers.