Saturday, June 20, 2009

Half-dead project saved! Thank you - Direct Communication

Picture (c) Przemyslaw Bielicki
In my previous post I shortly described the half-dead project in an over-waterfall company me and my team had to save three months before production. In this part I will show you how direct (instead of discrete) communication with customer or good Product Owner in general can help saving almost dead projects.

As I described earlier me and my team had a lot of problems with the systems we had to integrate - technical issues were present but they were not dominant, even taking into account the fact that the team was not experienced in .NET and T-SQL stuff.

Customer saved our project
After some time struggling with technical issues we finally were contacted by the person who knew how the product should behave. This person (let me call her Product Owner - PO) had all acceptance tests in her mind and knew exactly how to help us understand the product. PO was in fact our client - to be completely clear, the product we were delivering was either win-win or lose-lose so we had to cooperate and the success was our mutual goal.

PO was remotely available (although in the same time zone) but that was not a problem for us at all - we exchanged tons of emails and some phone calls and that was perfectly sufficient.

We were working like this for over two months and we delivered every single customer's request to the product. After the development phase our software had to pass the certification phase which, in fact, was couple-hour testing process in production. Our PO was present there and was helping other clients with testing (yes, there were other clients eventually using our product).

I could risk a claim that it was a huge success because we just found couple of minor issues that were not even concerning the software but insufficient or incomplete data in our production databases. Everybody is sure that what saved the project and what really caused it to be such success was direct contact and constant help from our PO. As I wrote in one of my previous posts, namely Customer Team Member - a way to winning together having customer as your team member is usually really good and efficient idea.

Fool's gold?
There are also (of course) problems with such attitude - the most "popular" one is the problem with actually having a customer. But even if you have a customer, how would you encourage him/her to be involved in the project (they usually aren't, especially at the beginning of the project)? It may depend on the actual contract i.e. how you define success or whether customer gain something by helping you - to know which contract best suits your current situation please refer to Peter Stevens' article: 10 Contracts for your next Agile Software Project.

It saved us - it can save You
To summarize, from my experience every time I worked with customer that was involved in the project I produced software with the highest business value (at that time). Every time I worked directly with involved customer I delivered the product that everybody treated as theirs, everybody was the owner - that's very cool feeling. This has also real business effect - satisfied customer is more likely to come back to your company. You gain credibility working together with your customers e.g. by showing them that you really work hard to meet their needs and to bring the best business value reducing costs. That usually pays off.

So, my final advice here for you would be to take some effort and time and look for a GOOD Product Owner. When you find her then start bombing her with emails, phone calls, whatever that can help your team deliver the product with highest possible business value.

What are your experiences with working directly with customers? Are they positive or negative? How would you improve thing in your project - could customer's involvement help?

Originally published on AgileSoftwareDevelopment.com

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