Customer complexity

Customer complexity (and the question to simplify it)

How often do two people trying to make the same point fundamentally disagree with each other? I’d have thought not very often. But within the past 24 hours I’ve read two articles that were making the same point. And they disagreed violently with one another about a foundational principle.

One, the cover story from the most recent publication of the Harvard Business Review, said that one of the most important things to do when trying to embed agile was about the way you look at other parts of the business:

The track record is better when they behave like an agile team. That means viewing various parts of the organization as their customers—people and groups whose needs differ, are probably misunderstood, and will evolve as agile takes hold.

In other words, treat staff members as customers in order to increase buy-in and ultimate success.

So it was a surprise to read this article about embedding agile over at Forbes, which said this:

It’s common in many big bureaucracies to talk of internal customers…In Agile management, there is no such thing as an “internal customer.” …Satisfying so-called internal customers is merely feeding the bureaucratic beast. It is a pretend-version of Agile.

Oh dear.

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So, is HBR evangelising “a pretend version of Agile“?

It’s interesting to me that HBR and Forbes are actually trying to say the same thing, and language is getting in the way. The big idea is to act less transactionally and more collaboratively internally, because that provides better (external) customer outcomes, increasing loyalty.

This little difference highlights to me the importance of getting language right. Different communities have different cultures, and as we’ve just seen, even a single word can make people draw entirely opposite conclusions.

And on top of that, let’s reframe the two points in one simple question, which is this: What behaviour provides the best outcome for our external customer and for us?

This question gets to the heart of it.

It’s straightforward and can be very hard at the same time, and putting the effort in to getting the right answer to that question consistently across an organisation is surely worth it.


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