Creating a culture of collaboration and feedback to achieve working software solutions

Creating a culture of collaboration and feedback to achieve working software solutions

In today’s world of technology, businesses need to understand customers and their role in delivering service and value to them. Tech start-ups get this, with delivery teams focused on giving customers what they need and faster than ever before.

But how well are organizations identifying their customers and how close to them are they?

Joanne MoleskyIn terms of proximity, organizations with a “command and control” hierarchy, IT is usually remote from customers, making assumptions about the way they work, whereas collaborative IT seeks opportunities to get closer to customers to verify assumptions, such as a developer sitting with call centre agents and listening to calls.

Once you’re close enough, the next step is to understand what functionality and value mean to the customer.

Understanding functionality and value

In short, functionality can be viewed as the output of IT services, while value is a measure of how well the output helps the organization achieve its goals, among them increased revenues, efficiencies, increase employee satisfaction, etc.

For example, a company needing a customer relationship management (CRM) system will do an analysis on vendors and costs and an estimated ROI determined by unverified assumptions and information provided by the vendors. However, what’s the true return on investment? This requires us to measure the expected value versus the cost of implementing and maintaining the system, the hardware and support. At worst, I have seen an organization spend $4bn to implement a CRM system that nobody could or wanted to use before spending another $1bn to turn it into something that sort-of-almost worked for the internal customers.

So, before spending big bucks you need to verify the assumptions about what customers want and will do with something new. Delivering functionality that your customers don’t use is not valuable work.

Changing culture to collaborate and obtain feedback with the customer in mind

What vital steps should you take to create the culture which will serve the customer better?

  1. Get board and executive-level confirmation of the vision, goals, values and strategy of the organization. This needs to be clearly stated and communicated internally. Executives need to walk the talk to ensure people believe it.
  2. Establish governance based on guiding principles rather than rules. Drive decisions down to the front line so you give people more ownership and responsibility for how they deliver services.
  3. Form cross-functional teams focused on services or products to improve collaboration and understanding. This helps to reduce waste and increase value in the end-to-end flow of service to customers.
  4. Include key stakeholders from other parts of the business in the cross-functional teams. For example, putting marketing people together with developers and testers to collaborate in one room. When questions arise they can be dealt with immediately, rather than delayed and rehashed via email.

How best practice principles support cultural change and customer focus

If chaos reigns in an organization, best practice frameworks such as ITIL are good for bringing things under control and providing visibility of who’s doing what and what’s going on. However, a common mistake is putting ITIL processes in place and then thinking you are done.

Organizations are forever changing, so IT and ITSM need to loosen up to learn and respond to that change; it’s not enough to just tick boxes on a change management process. The priority is having the ability to deliver value to customers and today’s customer has an expectation of greater delivery speed.

This is why continuous improvement is critical; allowing us to adapt to rapidly changing internal or external factors by developing methodologies, processes and teams that are flexible. For example, without a mechanism to explore and test changes to IT architecture standards, we can’t take advantage of new technologies that our competitors use and we stop delivering value.

Has it worked?

To assess the success of your culture change and emphasis on customer requirements, you need to revisit the vision, goals and targets for your organization and teams – are they aligned?

Equally, were you able to find something that delivered better value to the organization, such as faster time to delivery, better financial returns or increased employee satisfaction? If, on the journey, you discover other things that are better and deliver more value, that’s also valid.

You might defer to a traditional project success measurement of being in scope, on time and within budget. But you must also ask the $64,000 question – are people using everything you gave them?

In a collaborative culture that seeks and listens to feedback from customers, your focus shifts to building the right thing for them, rather than building the wrong thing the right way.

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