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.


  1. There's a whole spectrum of client maturity. There are some that understand exactly what they want and just struggle to manage it all and get it to fruition. On the other hand, there are some that just want to increase there market share, release a product, may not be clear on what they want, or simply may be a little disorganized and may not have the right people. Regardless of the type, there's a similarity across the board. They all want to be in control of the projects, or at least have a feel of being in it.

    It's a consultants/BA's job to ensure that they feel so, even if you are the one calling the shots. And in order to make sure that you have that sort of control the first and foremost thing is to be able to hear "the voice of the customer". Afterall, it's their money and time that we are investing and they have trusted us to somehow grow value out of it.

  2. True. Anotehr thing that should be on the job descrition is "ability to make the client look good to his/her boss and peers."

  3. Also good to keep in mind what John Stewart said: "You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn't that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena."

  4. Jon Stewart as in the Daily show?

    Wouldn't he be a hoot to work with.