Software update requirements used to have a seemingly eternal turnaround time—20 years ago, the average wait was at least three years for the DevOps cavalry to ride in with a life-saving application revision.
Enter Agile software development. Agile cut its teeth in the early 1990s in response to this very problem.
Agile software development is the process of providing small, rapid software updates to customers on a very frequent basis.
Developers gain and lose customers depending on how quickly they can meet the customer’s ever-changing software capability demands. As such, the Agile Manifesto’s 12 basic principles have resulted in far-reaching benefits for customers—what used to take years to bring to product now takes a matter of days or weeks.
Agile software development methodology and customer satisfaction
Customers’ love for Agile methodologies might be, in part, due to the speed with which changes are made. In his book, “Agile Project Management for Dummies,” Mark C. Layton indicates that customer satisfaction is consistently higher when using the Agile method for several reasons.
Using Agile keeps customers engaged, as their feedback is solicited throughout projects. It also gives them immediate access to the owner of the product, an expert who should be able to attune to their needs.
With each rapidly and frequently delivered software release, effective working functionality is immediately evident to customers, allowing developers to consistently deliver a quality product to the market.
Constant collaboration between customers, product managers, and software developers results in a well-oiled machine of software releases responding directly to customer-specific feedback.
Motivated individuals receive the trust and autonomy they need to deliver a high-quality product that resonates with customer requirements. The customer, in turn, can provide superior service to their own clients.
Ideally, the whole Agile process results in a synergistic return on investment and progress that can be measured rapidly.
Below, I’ll discuss how implementing the Agile method has been revolutionary for my company, Giva, and discuss five tips your team can use to deliver better products and react quickly to ever-changing customer requirements.
1. Focus on fast, small bites instead of slow, large chunks
As I mentioned previously, responding quickly to customers’ change requests is key to customer retention. Using the Agile approach helps developers divide and prioritize tasks into more manageable bite-size releases rather than slow, large chunks, resulting in prompt, nimble responses to specific customer requests.
Beginning in 2001, we used Agile very successfully. However, in 2012, we made a mistake by moving to only three releases per year. Realizing that this gave us less flexibility in responding to customer requests, in 2013 we moved back to the Agile process in full force so that we could more rapidly help our customers achieve their objectives.
In 2017, we completed an entire user interface design change in about three months thanks to the Agile process and an exceptional team of people who live and breathe Agile. We have usability experts, designers, product testers, and a lot of engaged and passionate customers working with us on our cloud help desk and customer service software.
But with Agile, it’s never finished. We keep on making incremental changes every few weeks, and we’ve found that this has a cumulative stacking effect and, over time, a big ROI payoff for our customers.
2. Gather customer feedback… and don’t make them pay extra for changes
A software vendor has to be open to accepting feedback, and a process needs to be in place to obtain that feedback from customers.
It’s important to us that customers can open online requests and talk to account managers. Some vendors use forums to collect feedback, which can work if moderated properly. However, many customers appreciate the option of having a knowledgeable person, such as a product or account manager, to speak with.
Most customers don’t ask for major changes in our products but, instead, have minor improvement suggestions which are very important to them. With the Agile method, we can keep a steady pulse on our customers’ needs and solicit feedback with our virtual feedback door always open. We respond with new feature and functionality updates every three weeks in order to help our customers.
One important key to gathering great customer feedback is to not charge customers any fees for new modules, features, or enhancements.
Customers are much more engaged when they know that their ideas may be implemented at no cost to them. Customers enjoy seeing their ideas rolled into the products they use, and they feel a deeper sense of ownership throughout the process.
This also increases customer retention, or “stickiness.” We’ve found that this method has helped us retain many customers for over a decade, and some for much longer.
3. The quickest way to solicit feedback is to go live with changes and then refine them
Software vendors also have to be ready for surprises. For instance, we thought we had it right once when, based on a relatively small sample of customer feedback indicating that some new UI elements looked great, we pushed the release into production.
After the release went live, a very large group of customers had some strong objections to the changes. Instead of wringing our hands and wondering how we made such a big mistake, we listened and quickly iterated. Through this process, we learned that it’s better to go live and then refine. The only mistake you can make is being slow and overanalyzing.
So go live, iterate, and make constant improvements. There’s gold in that process!
4. Seek outside feedback
Using the Agile process, we completely rewrote our setup. We pushed out new incremental changes in releases as part of the new setup administration and then asked prospects for feedback since they had never used the former administration.
Why prospects and not current customers? Because only a prospect with no history of your product can provide unbiased feedback. And current customers generally don’t like changes in some areas where they’re wired or conditioned to a certain process in your system.
5. Opposing feature requests aren’t the end of the world
Finally, when you’re opening your doors to constant customer feedback, you might find that you’re getting a lot of contradictory requests. So how do you deal with those incoming feature requests when they’re completely opposed?
For example, we have a lot of customers who are younger and mouse-centric. We also have many experienced customers who are more keyboard-centric. We learned that we have to optimize for both groups of customers to keep everybody happy. This can be difficult, but it just takes more patience, design work, and feedback loops.
It’s like maintaining a carefully groomed bonsai tree—building beautiful and elegant products is not for the impatient.
What are your experiences with Agile software development methodologies?
I know my company isn’t the only one using Agile software development methodologies to communicate effectively with customers. Has your team tried using Agile methods to implement changes quickly and frequently? What were the results?
Let me know in the comments below.