14 February 2006

The Disengaged Customer - A Funny Thing Happened

In The Disengaged Customer - Introduction, I spoke of a nice, rosy Agile Development microcosm in which dog and cats... er, Developers and the Customer were living together in harmony. The Customer was fully engaged with the project, and all were reaping the benefits of that involvement. Then a funny thing happened...

Well, it was funny in the peculiar sense. This client has a very large, dysfunctional project in the works. It has sucked up about a quarter of a billion dollars so far, with at least 2 years remaining. They are trying desperately to do a good job of using Waterfall to build this system. It isn't working. At any rate, our new Customer was directed by the Gold Owner to start working with the dysfunctional project team, while also working with us. After all, our project was humming right along, and didn't require as much attention as the problem child project.

Suddenly, the Customer wasn't available for meetings. Decisions that once took a couple of hours or a couple of days to be made were taking a couple of weeks. Where once the Customer attended our meetings, the Business Analyst on our team now had to go meet with the Customer when time permitted. All of these issues resulted in a critical loss of feedback.

We continued developing, assuming that the path we were on was the correct one. Of course, we had no way of knowing otherwise, since our Customer wasn't available to provide the feedback. We were able to get some feedback from a previous, interim Customer, but that person had a tendency to flip-flop on decisions (which is likely why she was a previous, interim Customer).

So, as a development team, we started to drift.

We weren't sure what our priorities were. We weren't exactly sure what to work on next. We pulled stories from the overall list, but there was precious little from the Customer in terms of what we should be working on. This went on for a few months.

Then, we found out that the Gold Owner was pissed - really pissed. We hadn't been working on what this person thought we should. Not being at the meeting in which my boss required Kevlar underwear, I'm not sure how much of a defence he put up with regards to the lack of involvement from the Customer. However, I'm pretty sure that it was a "read-only" conversation.

So, we were getting our knuckles rapped for not doing our jobs. However, from my perspective it was the Customer who wasn't there to steer the project. Similarly, the Gold Owner directed the Customer to focus on another project. The result was that our team didn't have the focus required nor was our work visible to the absent Customer. In the end, I don't believe that the Customer's organization fully understood the importance of the Customer's role.

Continued in The Disengaged Customer - Balkanization.