Back to Basics: Customer Collaboration

Young professionals business people discussing seriously in their meeting with documents over white background.

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We started our look at the Agile Manifesto by pointing out that Agile starts with people. The next value pair continues this thought.

Customer Collaboration
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Contract Negotiation

After all, customers are people whereas contracts are legally binding documents. A contract is important. Getting it properly negotiated up front is something that we cannot ignore, but the time we spend collaborating with our customers is so much more valuable. It’s more valuable to us, and to them.

Whatever your industry you have some kind of customer. This is true if you are working on creating software for the general public or fabricating custom tools for an internal manufacturing team. Where there is a customer there is a relationship with that customer. The long-term health of that relationship is more valuable than any short-term revenue from a cleverly worded contract.

One of the best ways to foster a great long-term relationship with customers, especially in an Agile setting, is by regularly collaborating with them. think about it. Your goal is to deliver value to the customer. If you are delivering them something every couple of weeks that means at the very least every couple of weeks you can verify what is valuable.

That initial contract is great for getting things started. To truly run Agile it needs to be worded in such a way as to let you and the customer work together to deliver the best value over the life of the contract, even if that value is not what was originally envisioned.

Think of home ownership. You have an idea of what is important to you when you buy a home. Over time you live in that house, which seemed so perfect in the beginning, and find little changes you want to make. In some cases it’s as simple as rearranging furniture. Maybe adding a bathroom becomes a priority. Perhaps you decide that for your family the formal dining room is a waste so you merge it with the office to get a second family space. The point is that as time goes on what you thought you wanted and what you really want changes. Even more so, what you need changes.

Your relationship with the customer will be as strong as your ability to work with them over the long-term delivering the value that they want and need. It needs to be a two-way street. If the customer feels more like a team member then a customer you are doing it right. If the customer is someone you just send stuff to you are doing it wrong.

How do you foster a good relationship with your customers?

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