The essence of Agile is customer centricity - with customers at the heart of the experience. As we consider Agile practices, it is important to highlight three aspects that support this:
1. Prioritisation of work
2. Responding to change
3. Delivering value - early, often and incrementally
Firstly, the ability to prioritise work based on customers’ needs is key. A product backlog is a list of all features. It is prioritised based on value with highest value items at the top. Product development teams pick work from the top of the list and add it to their release and sprint backlogs, and work through it, thus working on the most valuable item at any moment in time.
Secondly, the ability to respond quickly to customers’ needs is ingrained in Agile practices. This is achieved as teams work in short cycles or sprints. Sprint duration is typically 1-4 weeks.
Thirdly, in Agile, the primary measure of progress is a working product or service. This is represented by a potentially shippable product increment. This allows customers to derive value from the product early and often. This is also an opportunity to provide valuable feedback to product development teams.
I would argue that we can summarise the Agile Manifesto - that we Agilists hold so dear, as simply customer centricity or placing customers at the heart of the experience. Let’s evaluate each statement from the Agile Manifesto in turn.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
This is associated with creating independent, cross-functional, empowered and high performing teams. This creates a positive work environment, which is great for everyone involved of course. At the same time, I would assert that one of the main reasons we focus on creating such a positive working environment is that it enables us to better serve the needs of our customers. Therefore, it aligns with customer centricity. Tick!
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customers value a working solution that addresses their needs above anything else. This again aligns with customer centricity. Tick!
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
This aligns directly with customer centricity so no further explanation required. Tick!
Responding to change over following a plan
Again, from customers’ perspective, it’s important that their emergent needs are served rather than following a pre-agreed potentially out-of-date plan. Here we see customer centricity in action again. Tick!
In summary, the essence of Agile can be summarised as simply as customer centricity. Agile puts customers at the heart of the experience through prioritising their needs, working in short feedback cycles in response to those needs, and delivering value early, often and incrementally.