Agile: Empathy not velocity

It’s easy to deliver a lot of crap, quickly using Agile

The first principle of the Agile Manifesto states: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

But despite this focus on delivering software to customers, it’s sometimes easy for development teams to lose sight of the end goal of Agile, according to Jeff Patton.

Patton, an Agile coach, addressed the YOW! developer conference in Sydney last week, telling attendees that Agile meant it was easy to deliver software quickly, but a focus on pure development velocity can lead to wasting time, money and energy.

Patton said that the team at US-based car site, which the Agile coach has worked with in the past, discovered that “the faster you deliver crap, the more crap you get”.

“Delivering more software was only delivering them more software,” Patton said.

“It’s not getting them better results; it’s not getting them more money. It’s not getting them more loyal customers. It’s just getting them more stuff they have to maintain.”

Agile teams need to be focussed on validated learning: Researching how they can meet their customers' needs. Patton said that that approaches such as design thinking, which begins with empathising with the customer, can be of help.

“Empathy means more than just research,” Patton said. "Out of research you get data. But empathy means the people building the software need to really understand or walk in the shoes of the people who use that software.”

“Now what Edmunds started to realise,” Patton told the conference, “is they’d been building a lot of stuff but … they started to realise there was no correlation between how much they built and what they get.

“They saw simple ideas that made huge impact, basically generating lots of revenue, and big ideas that just didn’t do much.”

As a result, the development team has focussed on putting in place a customer focus that includes face-to-face meetings with individual end to build an empathy that can inform development work.

“One of the weird things that has caused Agile some strife is this idea that we focus on building working software,” Patton said. “Working software by itself isn’t enough,” he added.

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