Customer Sensor Networks

Agile software development has 2 major positive attributes: the short release cycle and the possibility to integrate release-feedback rapidly in the product backlog. In this blog Customer Sensor Networks (CSN) are explained as a mechanism to integrate the Agile software development life cycle with customer feedback effectively.

CSN enables insight in what functionally is needed or wanted. To understand customer needs can be a challenge. In many cases customers do not have any idea what is possible in terms of functionality.

What is possible is in the heads of the developers, architects., analysts or product managers. But what is technically possible is not always wanted or needed by the customers.

The short feedback loop with a short time to market, enables product management to ‘test’ how features are accepted by (parts of) the customer-base. Implementing CSN lets the organization understand effort- and cost-effectively what functionality customers are willing to pay for. It is a good idea to involve the marketing strategy in the development life cycle.

Which customers to select is based on their expertise or area of interest. A variety of customer-types increases the variety of feedback. Innovators will appreciate other aspects then customers in the early or late majority groups. Which profiles you select, will be based on the business and business objectives.

Customer Sensor Network

Figure 1: Customer Sensor Network implementation.

The CSN explained here is based on Sense Maker® software of Cognitive Edge.

The CSN uses an online collector website which pre-processed the information for the product owner and the DevOps teams. Pre-processing is done by the CSN and based on the information provided by the customers.

The Feedback analysis consists of functional evaluation and an emotional aspect. The functional aspects cover things like how features are used or what is missing. The emotional aspect lets product owner en DevOps team members understand what (missing) functionality does with customers. The emotional evaluation is important to understand and support marketing aspects of the product.

Techniques like private beta’s or feature flags enable teams to manipulate releases to different test- or customer groups.

Figure 1 also shows typical takt times in a CSN system. Takt time and wait time lets the DevOps team and product owner optimize flow and adjust overall throughput time with the expectations of the different test groups. This example shows a sprint of 3 weeks. The test period is set for 1 week. Then the feedback is evaluated 2 weeks after the DevOps team finished work. Depending on the expectations of the customer test groups, the waiting time for the customer groups to learn what the effect of their testing has been, might be too long.

Using customers in the development life cycle presents some challenges to the organization. Aspects to take into consideration are incentives and how they (in)formally integrate in the communication plans. Incentives may differ per customer type. For example, for innovator’s their name can be listed on the product website as contributors, or they are invited on some regular basis to the development site to discuss with the DevOps teams and product owners. The early and late majority groups can be given a free license of the product.

CSN provides an effective organizational and team learning mechanism. New idea’s can be tested rapidly and (cost-)effectively. CSN triggers a business approach to Agile development. Developers, maintenance people, product management and marketing all learn as a team what it is that makes their customers happy or dissatisfied.

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2 Responses to “Customer Sensor Networks”

  1. Wijbrand Says:

    The pro it is a way to connect two worlds, the con it is just an other filter on true customer experience.

    • arnokorpershoek Says:

      Wijbrand,

      Thank you for your feedback. Although to some extend correct, your statement on “just another filter” does not do justice to the value added to CSN by the underlying tool SenseMaker and methodology SenseMaking. I’ll address this in more detail in a later blog.

      CSN in itself is indeed not mind blowing. The concepts behind it are: Complex Adaptive Systems and Lean Startup.

      My claim is that by understanding complex adaptive systems and by applying this understanding in their daily work, organizations become more resilient.
      Software delivery is complex: customers do not know what is possible, Architects and developers do not know what end-user problems are, what end users want and for which functionality they are willing to pay for and IT management manages towards local optimization opposed to a total improvement effort.

      If we accept that software delivery is complex we use safe-to-fail (not fail-safe) probes . By means of small (in cost, effort and lead time) experiments or probes or projects, the organization can implement several possible feature and let the customers ‘taste’ the new possible emerging future. Safe-to-fail means that it is planned, allowed and input for learning that some probes fail. Some functionality is not appreciated. The CSN ensures that this feedback is incorporated in the development life cycle. It provides mechanism to process large amount of user feedback.

      In essence this is what Lean Startup is all about. By using CSN/SenseMaker® Lean Startup becomes really effective. But as said, more in a next blog.

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