The Disengaged Customer - Introduction

What happens to a successful agile project when the Customer is no longer engaged? This is part 1 of a series of entries of how important the Customer role, specifically, an engaged Customer, is to agile development.

In the next couple of weeks, I'm moving on from a client where I've been working for a little over 2 years now. When I joined this team in October 2003, it was was what I would consider to be a successful XP/Agile project, incrementally delivering value to its Customer. One release had been made to production, and I joined just as a second release was being made. I thought that it was a good sign that by 10:30 in the morning on my first day on the project I was writing production code while pairing with one of the other developers.

I did note that the system's Customer was only present twice a week for meetings with the team. We had a business analyst who met with the Customer more often, but she wasn't really in a position to make yea or nay decisions about the system. However, the Customer, when she was with us, was quite engaged and provided good feedback. She had bought into agile development after a couple of iterations, and seemed to enjoy working this way.

This continued for a few months until this particular Customer was moved to another project, and was replaced. The new Customer was quite laid back, but had a tendency to waffle somewhat on issues. It wasn't unusual to make a suggestion about a story and received, "Sure, that's fine with me." as the answer. A couple of days later, she would change her mind. A couple of weeks later, she'd change it again. This was a little aggravating, but we were able to accommodate it.

This started while we were developing a web component to our system. About a month into this, we were directed by the Gold Owner to work on a new priority project. No problem, we said! This project came with a new Customer, who was as engaged as the first. Her answers were either definitive, or she would go back and get a definitive answer very quickly. We also decided to crank up our agility somewhat, changing to one week iterations from two, and using point-based estimating rather than using actual time. We cranked out that new part of the system very quickly, with few problems, and the team really clicked. I was quite happy with our progress, and figured that we were approaching XMM Level 5!

Continued in The Disengaged Customer - A Funny Thing Happened.