If you are always saying no, you are doing agile very wrong!

“The essence of Agile movement … rests on two foundational goals: delivering valuable products to customers and creating working environments in which people look forward to coming to work each day.”

Jim Highsmith

Modern agile principles may have strong roots in technology companies, but they have found their way into all sorts of businesses in recent years.

Unfortunately, pre-packaged “agile processes” are often implemented with a focus on compliance, rather than a focus on the underlying principles of being agile and being adaptable.

Speak the language of your customer

It starts with the language you use. Like most good business principles, the concept of speaking the same language as your customer is not new and not unique to agile environments.  But one of the most unfortunate trends in technology companies over the last few years has been a huge increase in the amount of jargon used when speaking to their customer.

Instead of listening to customer’s first, and then speaking about their needs, a technical elitism has arisen in many technology companies where the first step of working with a customer is seen to be educating the customer about why their processes are wrong, and yours are right.

“Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work and serve the customer!”

Gene Buckley

Agile development techniques can help companies to adopt more flexible, responsive, and results driven customer service.  But forcing your customer to speak in terms of “sprints”, and “scrum masters” or telling them “that’s too waterfall” is not helpful, it’s not solving any problems, it’s not agile, it’s just jargon.

Try to change the process not the customer

Your customer should be thinking in terms of results, not the process you use to get there. If you are not also thinking in terms of results, you probably won’t get there no matter what process you use.

If your customer is asking for something they need, and you are explaining to them sorry but you’ve got your next three months’ worth of iterations already planned out, you have moved away from being agile and have a process that is getting in the way of customer service. This is dangerous to your business.

You should always change the process, not try and change the customer.

Shockingly, I’ve heard agile processes used more times to justify a “no” than accommodate a “yes”. The principles of agile are about flexibility and the ability to respond to change! If the way you implement agile means you don’t respond to changes in the customer’s needs, you are doing it very wrong!

Speak about reality, find excitement, and measure results

“The customer’s perception is your reality.”

Kate Zabriskie

A simple challenge for you. Next time you are asked for something by a customer, talk with them only about what will be left once you’ve jointly completed the task.

If your customer isn’t excited about those results, find out why. Understand from their perspective what the goal is. Keep going until you are both excited.

When the customer is excited you’ve got your vision of what success looks like.

When the unexpected comes up match it against that vision of success. You’ll then be coming from the same place as the customer in looking for a solution. You’ll look for ways to solve the problem, not to block the change.

If you are using agile principles internally you should have the ability to respond to these changes naturally within your day to day processes. This is when agile is being done right.

Most importantly, never allow yourself to compromise a customer’s vision because you are too “agile”.

When you reach the vision, take a look around, measure the results.  Then you are ready to create a new vision you can work on together.

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