WWWA = What’s Wrong With Agile
Hope you had (is having) a great long Easter Holiday with your family. Back to reality.
A quick recap to the goal of this series, which will stay same on every following article – to make some space in our brains for this to stay in:
#3 – Experience in a Customer Service role is mandatory to understand Agile
Agile is still very much a software development philosophy that we are trying to adopt, mostly due to the fact that it was born within it. Although it applies to any product development as we already know. The candidates who wants to know more about Agile are somehow connected to a career around software development. That’s the biggest blocker in establishing a company wide Agile mindset as it is not considered suitable for everything else. But to understand Agile, we need that consumer focused environment on areas other than software.
People – We tend to avoid the term “Resource”. It’s disrespectful to call someone that. Semantics may seem irrelevant at times but are way more important than you think in this context. If you are letting someone call you a resource, you are equally responsible to what comes after. This “People” aspect is what makes it necessary to understand your consumers and get experience on how to serve them. Yes, you “serve” them by not following all instructions they tell you to do. You stay focused on delivering a good customer service.
Serve as a Doctor and not as a Servant.
Before we go deeper in the subject, we need to explore a key aspect of our surrounding culture, the people.
Personas surrounding Software Development and Agile et al
The Hard Workers
Future aspirations includes but not limited to moving on to a managerial/leadership role.
A typical software development professional get where they are by taking the formal route: the learning phase such as BSc, MSc, PhD or similar. Building a software is a knowledge work right? It require investment of multiple years of hard work trying to sharpen those specific skills that helps in doing the technical bit of software development. After all that technical bit is the “actual work” isn’t it?
For MBA (or similar) graduates it’s the non-technical bit that matters the most and ofcourse it’s much better than the the low level work carried out by the technical “Resources” isn’t it?
They all start off with a theory they have (or given) and aim to apply it in practice as a career on their respective fields. “Freshers” are therefore more comfortable in a controlled environment as that’s what their environment was during the learning phase. That’s what they have been taught and that’s what they have been asked to write on exams. Unless they won’t get a ‘Distinction’ required to be placed in an organisation providing “Internship”. They are usually behind (module wise) when compared to the real world.
Future aspirations includes moving up on the ladder to a role requiring Technical Excellence
These are the over enthusiastic kind – the non-academics who excel in every aspect without a formal education. These borderline vampires were busy being that nerd who hates direct sunlight or something. No, it wasn’t me. These form a majority of extremely good developers we see around us today, simply because it’s their passion. Most probably then don’t even consider work life as a separate part from their personal life, which is not necessarily a bad thing (up for a debate).
Road to Customer Service
During these learning phases very few “lucky” academics and non-academics above work (or got a chance to work) in a consumer facing environment e.g. sales, retail, call center or a restaurant. You will find out soon why they are lucky. How do we expect the majority of these candidates to learn what “feedback” means? How do we propose they learn about making a “end user happy” while staying in the boundaries and policies of their controlled environment? How can they possibly know what it takes to be “fair” and honest when they themselves are confused? The dissertation which some are proud of becomes a small book and doesn’t help, again, in a controlled environment with set rules.
Unless a customer looking straight to their eyes and say “You know what, let me speak to your manager” – they haven’t seen customer service at all. If they cannot handle a overweight diner going on and on about a £2 overcooked chips, how exactly are they planning to handle that £2M revenue generating client breathing down their neck? They have a lot to lose, they have spent a fortune (on their passion and certificates/degrees) to get that job. They have to bend at some point because they are more vulnerable and exposed.
The Naturals – Wildlings
Future aspirations always to move up on the ladder to a managerial/leadership role, challenging the status quo with necessary improvements.
Then there’s an interesting third kind, the opportunists, the naturals, the wildlings – one that enjoyed their youth until the mid/late 20s or so. They were confused about what the hell they were supposed to do in life or simply was too busy working on customer facing job to pay the bills in time, assuming that was it. Suddenly one day they found something that they actually love and decided to raise hell by doing something different to make that extra cash and become a software developer (alike) to start with.
The tutorial videos we find in YouTube helped them learn more languages compared to a university degree. Attending those conferences or meetups helped them learn even more in an hour, that they couldn’t have possibly learned in a month by reading a book. Soon they realised that learning a lot is worth fuckall unless they can apply it in practice.
Knowing multiple programming languages may sound impressive but mastering only one of them makes us valuable.
Also they have learned that the above “technical bit” and the “administration bit” complement each other. Both are useless in absence of the other and both needs to work alongside for a successful product/project/business whatever the goal is.
Road to Customer Service
Customer service is something these naturally skilled individuals did everyday since they can remember, it’s their second nature. These personas have knowledge and skills which can rip apart some of the most highly qualified certified professionals, if given a chance. They follow every single word of that Agile Manifesto, which they may not even know is called Agile (to begin with). These candidates are the fastest learners you will ever find in a workplace.
BUT who do these “Naturals” follow and learn from in future? That’s right, most probably from the first 2 types who have already occupied the leadership roles with next to nothing experience on “customer service” in the first place. Back to square one.
Customer Service is about Honesty and Fairness – not bending over when shouted at for money
Honesty is when we convey the truth, doesn’t matter how good or bad it is. Fairness is knowing if we are being transparent and unbiased; and then expecting the same from the end user for their own good. Transparency, accessibility and length of feedback cycle plays a very important role. Just because the end user wants it by next Saturday, doesn’t always mean they have figured it all out. Development work is not as predictable as manufacturing where following a set of precisely designed steps can get to the solution on a predictable date. Development is unpredictable that’s why we need the principles of Agile which can be summarised in the one sentence below:
Being agile needs a swift change in one’s personality:
from knowing how to get shit half done before deadline
to get the most important shit done first, properly.
Stop judging, Start helping
So how do we teach them what customer service is? So far I did manage to judge all the personas above and assumed we only have these 3 kinds. Consider these 3 to be the most popular routes rather than an absolute number of types. However, we have no right to judge anyone of them, as we can barely make a difference by pointing out what is missing in their journey towards agility. Unfortunately, our approaches can be patronising at times as no one likes to hear that then need to improve. For some, whatever we do to help them will never get their attention.
The way I see it is, none of them are perfect and need help to understand what Agile or Lean or XYZ means. There are so many similarities in all type of mindsets, we might as well drop the names and focus on the principles. To do that you need an Agile Coach or some call them Lean Agile Coach or a Scrum Master.
The 3rd kind above, shows the highest potential to become a good Agile Coach due to their “nothing to lose” attitude.
Make 1st Line Support a mandatory role during Probation
We cannot expect any employees to work following Agile principles without giving a formal hands on training, coaching and mentoring. Then making sure they continuously use those lessons in practice in relevant fields. It’s not possible in a controlled environment. If a company paid to make the employees agile in few days, they have been robbed in broad daylight. If our employees are shadowing us they will probably assume we are being agile, as we are good at throwing the A-word now and then.
Making everyone work for a month or so in the 1st line customer support, will expose the new employees to understand the customer needs on that business. Support them and ingrain these basic principles before they actually start working on the relevant teams with relevant skill set. This may sound out awkward but can create a culture which focuses on end users first.
Don’t be Shy, get Help !
To get help in creating an agile mindset in your organisation, find an Agile Coach “per team” (to begin with). Just make sure –
- You know why you are hiring them for
- Stay out of their ways, as it will most probably won’t be the same as your’s
- Listen, listen and listen again.
- Agile Coaches need the most support as they have no authority over anything
Most Agile Coaches I have come across so far are the mix of all kinds mentioned above and one way or another they live by those principles in their personal lives as well with an aim to be the 3rd kind and stay like that.
If you have hired an Agile Coach as a “Trophy” to show your clients, don’t expect any improvement.
And don’t blame Agile for your own arrogance and bias towards command and control. At first hiring a dedicated Agile Coach per team may seem out of your yearly budget but it is necessary for the longer run (if you really care) as they create lasting changes, which stays when they leave. A true Agile Coach respects the status quo but doesn’t tolerate it. Make sure you understand “Agile” before hiring an Agile Coach unless you will never like what they propose for a change.
P.S: Scrum Masters are Agile Coaches. If you don’t agree, you are most probably the above mentioned hard working 1st kind. Open for a debate here.