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2 February 2013

Line of sight to your customer

We are in the business of improving businesses and one of the best ways to get here is improving people's understanding of our customers.  There are many techniques that help us and today I want to share one of the simplest I know of.

Drawing a line of sight to our customers is such a simple activity it often gets overlooked, but it is a tremendous conversation tool. And literally rather than just metaphorically drawing the line of sight can make for a great persistent reminder of who we are working for.

The effects can be amazing as well, as this story illustrates.

In most applications of the technique this can be a simple conversation in the team meeting, coffee shop or in a project workshop. Ask yourself who we are here to serve; who is it that is ultimately paying for the work we do.  By asking this we start to generate insights into what we should be focusing on and our design of work becomes more customer centric.

A pair of variations I have been adding to this simple technique is to draw the value chain in a simple diagram, and to trace back a simple representation of what the customer and other upstream people from me care about.

This amplifies understanding our ability to understand the customer and also helps highlight what values underpin our thinking and where things are ripe for improving.

I'll give an example below.

As a manager of a PMO I saw one of my most important clients was the project manager community. A key aspect of my job was to help support them in being effective in the delivery of clients. There are other aspects of a PMO including portfolio analysis, governance etc, but in this particular role increasing delivery capability was the big win.

I was able to intuit this by asking myself (and them) who their main clients were. The project managers had multiple clients, and in this example I have selected the Head of Facilities as the case in point, but the other stakeholders, or partners had relatively similar situations.

The head of facilities, like many other department heads at the university needed to deliver a particular set of services to faculties at the university, who were basically providing services to teachers and students.

I hope you can see how this is useful for getting people to think about the end customer, and how it helps bring the customer closer to you or the people you work with.

The other day we ran this activity at one of the local meetup groups and as we were doing it on the whiteboard I was describing how it can be good for agile teams to trace back past their product owner through to the real paying customer.

The next aspect of this model is to ask, starting with the end user/customer what do they value most from the person they area dealing with in your model, and to repeat this all the way back to you.

When we ran the activity the other night the breakdown or corruption of what the customer wanted versus what was being asked for from the person I was interviewing was quickly apparent and in a real world scenario would lead to questions and actions.

Which would then, ideally, lead to better alignment along the value chain.

In this made up example you see the alignment breaks down when you get to the project managers who are governed around meeting their promises rather than what people up the value network are focused on.

Given I value making them successful that becomes something for me to go work on.

Do you have examples of this technique you could share? Do you fancy talking through your line of sight in the comments below?