How using outcomes can drive your agile delivery of value

Is your organisation successful in delivering value through agile methods? If not you are not alone. A great many who are either new to agile or have been doing it for a while struggle to get value delivered. While there can be many reasons for this, one common reason is that there is a lack of focus on the outcomes being delivered.

I recently had the Nest Thermostat installed; a sexy piece of gadgetry that replaces both your home heating programmer and thermostat. It made me think about focusing on outcomes to deliver considerable customer benefit and make for a much better user experience.

The problem

At its basic level, my problem definition was ‘I don’t want to be cold in the mornings’. Traditionally, an organisation would be heading off down the requirements route, trying to work out how to make this happen. In part this is human nature, our brains are wired (especially engineers) to find solutions to problems. Before you know it Systems Architects or Business Analysis type roles create lengthy requirements documents based on (if we are lucky) conversations with the customer.

It’s unlikely once these documents have been written, the customer would have validated the contents. Even if they did, the way the requirements were written it was hard for a customer to say if it was right or not. If I as a customer saw a requirement saying, ‘engage the water pump at 6am’, how would I know if this added value? Might I even understand it at all?

When I think back to my original heating controls, when I first set it up, I had little or no knowledge of how long the house would take to warm up. In the absence of this, I used a simple, but likely to be flawed plan, of working backwards from when we normally woke up. So in our house, the heating used to kick in at 6 am, in the hope that at 7 am it would be warm enough.

With a focus on outcomes you turn this around and might ask the customer, what does ‘not being cold mean?’ and they respond, ‘well say 20deg Centigrade at 7am’. On the Nest Thermostat, this is exactly what you do.  Set the schedule to the outcome you want and don’t worry about how long it takes to get there as the new ways of working sort this for you.

When you create your product or service, this is just how a delivery team would work. The customer or in Scrum their representative, the Product Owner, owns the outcome, 20deg at 7 am, and the delivery team would own the solution of making that happen. While the client might have a passing interest in how the solution looks (no lump wood fires in the middle of the kitchen floor), it’s important not to be prescriptive with the solution as this can hinder the creativity the delivery team need to find a great solution.

Help the customer find the outcome

So while I’ve said you need to focus on outcomes, not every customer is going to come along and articulate the outcome straight away. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It is your job to help them and you to get to the true outcome. Techniques like 5 Whys, or using the coaching approach of, ‘what does that get for you?’ repeatedly allow you to unpick the problem.

From doing this, you may find there are large assumptions in their thinking, so some of your next steps might be doing some validation of the riskiest ones, even before you start putting your hands on keyboards and starting to code. To help guide you through the process of experimenting, try using a tool like the Javelin Experiment Board, or Design Thinking. Both orientate you around validating the underlying problem before you try to solve it.

Don’t assume technology is needed

Solutions end up being by their very nature similar to things you’ve done before and often are tied to technology. What if initially part of your solution was done using a concierge service, where you staff a service and run it by hand while you validate what is really needed and how it might work? You may discover part of the solution is actually cheaper to run this way than investing in the technology to do the same thing. Or it allows you to focus on the highest value items first while giving coverage through the human touch.

Outcomes can lead to innovation

When you have not had an auto-suggested solution given to you, your creative skills can be used to the fullest. It’s through these moments of creativity that true innovation can occur. Asking yourself questions that start with, ‘What if….?’, helps to unlock the ideas.

Next steps

Starting today, make sure your organisation’s focus is on the outcomes of the most valuable items. Not doing so will result in products and services that do not satisfy the customer and underperform.

Be prepared to help your customer get there. See this as not a means to an end, but a way how you can truly add value to your relationship. Be ready to explore solutions and create an environment where that allows innovation to flourish.

If you would like to discuss how to become more outcome-focused, please schedule a call.