Light development methodologies allow programmers to build solutions more quickly and efficiently, with better responsiveness to changes in business requirements. In this series, we’re exploring the four common aspects of light methodologies:

  • Develop in short cycles.
  • Value the people.
  • Strive for simplicity.
  • Involve the customer.

Perhaps the most important of these areas is customer involvement. While the project team can control the other aspects of light processes, you can’t force the customer to be totally and actively engaged. However, this component is absolutely critical. Without customer involvement, short development cycles will bog down, and the entire methodology will cease to function.

Part 3 of 5

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Get rid of the customer bottleneck
Think about a traditional development project, even a rapid application development project. Customer involvement is absolutely necessary at many points in the project: the planning and requirements phases, system testing, and acceptance testing. You also need the customer to be involved throughout the project management process, helping to manage scope, issues, risk, and quality.

All of these customer touch points are potential opportunities for delay. Delays usually occur because the customer has their own work to do, beyond dealing with the project team. The light methodologies do away with this bottleneck, however, requiring customer representatives to be fully involved with the project and even colocated with the project team.

Initially, you may encounter customer resistance to the idea of such close collaboration. In that case, you must take time to educate them about the benefits of their presence. Without the customer’s full-time presence, the rapid iterative development process—a defining characteristic of light methodologies—can not be executed successfully. A fully involved customer provides requirements when needed, answers questions immediately, and performs testing as soon as the latest iteration is available. Theoretically, with this approach, there is no delay at all.

Quick and personal communication
Communication also improves when the customer is located with the development team. Individuals can communicate in a direct and personal manner. There’s no need to leave voicemail messages or swap e-mails; the customer is sitting right there with you. When a code iteration needs testing, the developers can look over the customer’s shoulder. When problems arise, the project manager can discuss them immediately with the customer. Communication is fast and direct, reducing the opportunity for mix-ups.

Responding to change
I mentioned earlier that having the customer located with the team allows you to deal immediately with scope change requests. Light methodologies characteristically assert that change should be accommodated whenever possible. The business does not stand still, so neither should the requirements of the application. If you are delivering working code in short iterative cycles, you should be able to handle change requests very fluidly and work them into a future iteration.

Of course, I don’t think you can get away from the budget and deadline implications that these changes will have. You still have to apply some level of scope-change approval, and your sponsor may not want you to add scope changes and go over your budget and deadline expectations. However, the manner in which you are delivering working code always gives you the flexibility to add the changes if they are approved.

With light methodologies, the entire customer experience goes from one of negotiation to one of collaboration. In the IT world, we too often think of ourselves as an IT project team, with the customer as an outside entity that we must satisfy, or even as an adversary that we must be wary of.

Light methodologies bring the project team and the customer together as one extended team. If you cannot gain that level of commitment from your customer, many of the other aspects of the light methodology will likely suffer. However, if you can make this collaborative environment work, many of light methodologies’ other benefits will come to fruition as well.

Help customers see the light

Have you helped your customers adapt to light development methodology? Drop us an e-mail or post a comment below.