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8 August 2007

The Voice of the Customer is Fallible

Listen to the “voice of the customer” - a popular catch cry for six sigma aficionados. But to what degree do customers actually know about what they want?

A colleague of mine recently lamented the customers, or users, on an agile software development project. Agile usually prioritises work to customer articulated requirements priorities. The users were only focused on avoiding negatives (eg not increasing average call handling times in a call centre) and were not focusing on the positive aspects of the solution, such as an easy to navigate user interface, or the ability to manage sales simply and quickly.

If you are going to use “Voice of the customer” you should manage it through a framework that helps extract the most important. Kano’s quality framework is an established and useful one. It gets customers to rate features as mandatory, one-dimensional or delighters.

Furthermore the management, or facilitation, should be done by an expert in requirements management. A business analyst or expert user, with strategic sensibilities and commercial acumen is the minimum expertise you should call on when managing requirements.

If an Agile project sponsor wants to hand over his star operator to be your user specialist as a reward for good service, take the time to assess whether they have what it takes to manage requirements properly for the project. If they don’t, then make sure someone on the team with the right level of expertise is there to help them through the process.

Requirements are too important to be left to tourists.