Improving agile with service design

Improving agile with service design

How integrating two approaches can lead to a great customer experience

Many organisations want to become agile, yet most of these transformations don’t succeed [1,2]. The promised increased productivity, shorter lead times and faster ROI’s are not achieved. Introducing the customer perspective to agile transformations, increases the chance of delivering the expected results.

Developing solutions that are viable, feasible and desirable

In most organisations, IT naturally leads agile transformations. With requirements driven by sales or marketing departments, product development often results in solutions that are both feasible and viable. Feasible means it can be made with the existing technological infrastructure. Viable means it can be sustained after implementation with the current capabilities of the organisation [3] and provides a healthy business case. However, a third and highly valuable aspect is often overlooked: desirability for the customer.  Companies that decide to complement business and IT perspectives with the customer viewpoint will deliver customer experiences that are higher quality as well as being in line with their business and operational objectives. 

Example: Rabobank launched a new version of their mobile banking app in 2015 [4]. Unfortunately user adoption was poor and their average App Store review dropped to one out of five stars. Through extensive user testing, Rabobank turned the ship around. After numerous updates the app became increasingly desirable and customer reviews rose to an average of over four out of five stars within two years. Today they are at 4.6 stars and continue to improve [5,6].

Bringing out the best in both agile and customer experience

We strongly believe agile and customer experience informed approaches can live in harmony and even boost one another. To illustrate this, let’s look at the two from both angles. 

Agile is highly valuable when it comes to two key organisational challenges: alignment and prioritisation. A customer experience perspective can elevate this effect even further by introducing a shared view on the customer. We will elaborate on this in the following paragraphs.

The other way around, agile environments provide opportunities for gaining insight into customer experience as well. Rapid product iterations, combined with a ‘measure and learn’ mindset, allow room for the customers’ voice to be considered continuously. 

Integrating the two approaches effectively does require some flexibility and creativity from both sides. Here’s how.

Creating alignment in multidisciplinary teams

Agile fosters alignment through team empowerment, ceremonies and multidisciplinary collaboration. The latter unfortunately often comes with conflicting interests and miscommunication. One of the underlying reasons is that business objectives and technical feasibility can sometimes conflict.  Introducing a shared outside-in, customer perspective on the work at hand can streamline multidisciplinary collaboration through a consensus on what needs to be built.

For instance, at adidas we introduced the use of a customer lifecycle to IT teams from the digital sales department. This visual representation of the entire customer experience exposes the organisation’s key customer journeys and how they relate to one another. By referring to this visual overview in alignment meetings with different stakeholders, they have been reaching alignment around their shared responsibilities much more easily.

Stakeholders gathering around a customer lifecycle for alignment.

Prioritising the ever-growing backlog

Evidently, knowing what to build is important for agile teams. A separate challenge is knowing what needs to be built first. In other words, how to prioritise the backlog. Agile supports this through cross-functional collaboration with scrum or kanban, for instance. By considering the business value and technical requirements of each item on the backlog, viability and feasibility are covered. However, this is exactly where desirability is overlooked. Explicitly considering the customer value of each backlog item will boost the overall value that’s delivered in each sprint.

Example: What we’ve seen as a very effective approach to prioritisation is to first evaluate backlog items by their business and consumer value (i.e. viability and desirability). They can then be looked at from a feasibility perspective, as per the regular agile approach.

But isn't agile already user-centric?

Many organisations that start working in an agile manner believe that it will automatically make them more customer-centric. For example, user stories should help frame problems from a user’s perspective and end-to-end ownership should drive a holistic view on people’s work. 

However, people are more than merely users—they also have a variety of needs as a customer, as a consumer and as a human being. These needs usually do not find their way into user stories. Additionally, user stories are often written from an assumption based perspective by the product owner, resulting in solutions that do not serve an actual user need. [see example below]

Likewise, end-to-end ownership is often organised according to IT architecture, resulting in each team creating their own perspective on the customer. This naturally leads to a patchwork-like customer experience.

So yes, agile creates a very fertile ground for organisations to become customer-centric, but an integrated customer experience perspective will provide the catalyst necessary to bring out its best qualities.

Example of a poor user story: “In shipping email from buying journey, mention each possibility.” An item like this in a backlog is difficult to understand for those who haven’t written it. Also, it doesn’t provide any context about the user need that underlies it.

Example of a strong user story: “When ordering new shoes, I want to know what my shipping options are, so that I can choose the best option for me”.  This format provides all stakeholders with context of the user need supporting this backlog item.

A gem can’t be polished without friction

As great as the mix of agile and customer experience can be, it combines two perspectives that don’t always go hand in hand. The intention of agile is to move fast. Using a customer experience viewpoint encourages slowing down from time to time. These elements and more need to be carefully balanced in a change process. When done well, this combination will drive long term value for both businesses and consumers, setting them apart from their competitors.

Taking a page from the book of our agile colleagues, we believe in continuous improvement. So if you have any questions, remarks or suggestions after reading this, we would be glad to hear them.

[1] Davenport T.H. and Westerman, G. (2018), Harvard Business Review: ‘Why So Many DIgital Transformations Fail’
[2] Jaqcuemont, D., Maor D. and Reich, A. (2015). KcKinsey Insights: ‘How to beat the transformation odds’
[3] Buchanan, R.. (2015) Worlds in the Making: Design, Management, and the Reform of Organizational Culture. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation. 1, 5-21
[6] Rabobank is not a Livework client.