How do I help our developers work closer with customers?
A part of me wants to say that scrum masters don’t help developers work closer with customers, that is on the product owner. But then I am going to step back from theory and step into reality and tell you that, as a scrum master, you need to be supporting these relationships.
You need to be speaking to the people who potentially get in the way of developers talking directly to customers. I’ve worked in organisations where people are shocked and terrified of the idea that a developer would talk directly to a customer.
They are so used to middlemen, customer service agents, etc. engaging clients whilst the developers stay locked in a back room somewhere. Read my article https://www.johnmcfadyen.com/deploy-improve-scrum/customers-and-developers-in-the-same-room-wtf/ for more insights into that.
In my opinion, who better to talk to people that have a problem than those who are capable of solving that problem? Who else would you want in that room to understand what a customer wants or needs, and how best to create that product or feature for them?
And that is how I generally start the conversation.
Imagine a scenario where you hop into the shower and all of a sudden there is water spraying everywhere. You’ve gone from a safe, convenient and happy place to a place of crisis where there is significant potential for damage.
Would you rather speak to a plumber directly or would you instead choose to speak to someone who has no idea of how to identify what the problem is, let alone actually fix the problem itself?
If you choose to speak to the intermediary, they may incorrectly diagnose the problem and send out someone who is incapable of solving the problem or isn’t in possession of the right tools to do that.
If you speak to the plumber directly, the arrive immediately with the right tools and are able to sort out your problem immediately.
When you speak to intermediaries, everything is slower. There is a whole bunch of stuff happening that adds zero value.
They need to understand the problem and then they need to find a plumber and then they need to describe what they believe to be the problem and so forth. It just slows everything down and creates a potential for misunderstanding, miscommunication and a slower solution to the problem.
It becomes very easy to understand the problem when we speak of plumbers and water leaks but why is your organisation any different? Why must there be an intermediary between developers and the customers who have the problem?
Why do organisations think that developers are incapable of speaking to other human beings and that doing so might bring the whole deck of cards crashing down?
What you need to do, as a scrum master, is work with your product owners and product stakeholders to understand that. Help them understand the value of customers being included in conversations and reviews with developers, and how that can speed up delivery and ensure that the right product is being built, at the right time, that creates the most value for customers.
Very often, customers will let it slide if the developer they are speaking to lacks the eloquence or style of a top customer service representative if they know that they are speaking directly to the person who is most capable of solving their problem or creating what they need.
They do this every day in other contexts. From ordering coffee directly from the barista to ordering bread directly from the baker. They aren’t fussed about whether or not that person is the most polished and eloquent person in the room, they just want their coffee. They just want their bread.
A customer wants the person who can solve the problem to hear the problem. They want to voice their problem and help the developer understand why it is such a valuable item to them or why it is critical that the problem is solved, as quickly as possible.
You may well find that your organisation has stronger relationships with customers as a consequence of allowing developers to engage customers. You may even find that your customers are willing to forgive small delays or errors because they feel directly engaged in creating the solution.
As a scrum master, you need to help product stakeholders, leadership teams and product owners understand the value of developers interacting with customers directly. You need to enable those connections and help grow the relationships between developers and customers.
Doing so will empower your teams to build great products that truly delight customers and lead to greater opportunities and revenue for the organisation down the line.
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