Gaining periodic customer feedback of working software is an important aspect of agile development, because it ensures that you are constructing a valuable solution for the customer. Without customer validation, you are not really applying agile; you are just doing a form of iterative development without aligning your work with the customer’s need. While the engineering practices applied within an agile project focus on building the product right, the validation practices focus on building the right product.
The notion of thinking through and establishing a serious validation approach for the product, which I term the “Agile Customer Validation Vision” (ACVV), is missing from agile projects—and even missing within the bailiwick of agile practices. This vision is a strategy for identifying the right customers, establishing validation sessions throughout the project, and then motivating the customers to attend the validation sessions.
When applying validation, should you limit yourself to the end-of-sprint review or demo—the practice most people associate with agile validation—or should you utilize other validation types where customers provide feedback? Where do the customers who attend validation sessions come from?
In this article, you will learn about the importance of the ACVV and how to establish a vision to benefit the product and each project therein.
The product owner should drive the establishment of the vision. On an agile project, this will be someone who is customer facing and has the best insight into the customer base or the potential customers. However, it is important for the product owner to discuss the vision with the team during development, since the team is also an active participant in validation activities. If there are several product owners on a large project with several Scrum teams, then the product owners can work together to establish the vision.
Initiating this vision toward the beginning of projects—for instance, during a “sprint zero” or during the early part of the first sprint—leads to success. Establishing the vision early ensures you are getting the most from the validation efforts. Once you have established an ACVV for a product, you should review it at the beginning of each release to determine if it still meets the needs and update as needed.
In order to establish an effective vision, you will need the following key elements: customer profiles, mechanisms to motivate customers to participate, and an understanding of the various types of customer validation.
Establish Customer Profiles
Customer profiles are important to a successful implementation of customer validation. A customer profile identifies common traits in your target customers, including demographics, buying patterns, and areas of interest. The goal is to identify and select customers who meet the profile you are looking for and who are willing to provide feedback. Customer profiles are not anything new to product management and marketing folks, but they are particularly significant in the agile space because of the importance of identifying customers who are representative of what the marketplace wants.
To begin, you should create a unique customer profile for each customer. As you prepare the profile, consider attributes that you would like to capture for each customer or potential customer. Some suggested attributes include:
- Company size—provides input for potential sales
- Company direction—helps you understand organizational focus
- License bought—shows current product commitment and buying patterns
- Current requests/issues—provides current needs and areas of interest
- Level of engagement—shows how receptive they may be to participating in customer validation activities
- Current product release—identifies usage commitments and whether they upgrade continuously or rarely
Think of each customer profile as a trading card or sports card. You will use these profiles to identify specific customers for validation activities.