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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Customer delight with agile in an ecosystem(platform)

In leading(front-runner) companies using Agile, an obsession emerges to highlight ‘Customer delight’. Due to globalization, deregulation and new technology, the power in the market has decisively shifted to the customer who is now at the centre of the business universe. All actors like the company itself, customers and suppliers make part of an ecosystem or learning platform. The team is in the lead with regard to operational agility interacting with customers. The product owner deals with the customer stories and is supported by the agile learning advisor in all his/her relationships to achieve an open interaction with customers without thresholds. The scope of the agile learning advisor goes beyond the team process and organization development. He/she is sensitive for every opportunity to improve the interaction between actors in the ecosystem.

In my previous blogpost I wrote about the agile work environment as an example of an agile learning ecosystem. An agile work environment based on values and culture, where trust and autonomy of employees and teams are of paramount importance. In my second blogpost I wrote about the three leadership roles in teams. In the third blog I wrote about the so-called tribe leadership team (TL-team). In my last blogs I discussed leadership development and the role of HR in the transformation process and in an agile learning ecosystem.

Customer delight 
In Denning's research at leading companies using agile, such as Spotify, Microsoft, Barclays Bank, SRI, etc., an obsession emerges to highlight 'customer delight'. These companies have an obsession to add continuous value for customers and users as well as a recognition of the current need to generate directly, without friction value at large, anywhere, at any time for any product or service. And this goes beyond the clichés about customer orientation. The primacy of customer focus in Agile is more than an increased attention to the customer: it is a fundamental shift towards the purpose of the organization. Placing the primacy of the customer on a pedestal is the most obvious and also the most difficult aspect of the entrepreneurial organization. In a sense, the primacy of the customer is obvious, as Peter Drucker said in 1954: "There is only one valid purpose for a business, creating a customer." Without customers, a company cannot exist. Nevertheless, customer primacy is difficult to understand for managers who have learned to quote sentences as "the customer is number one" while driven by their internal systems, goals and processes, such as cycles of products that are released after several years and extensive slow moving controls. It is not that these companies intentionally ignore their customers; They do what they can for the customer, but only within the limits and limitations of their own internal systems and processes. In these companies, "the customer is number one" is often just a slogan. What we see in the most prominent Agile implementations is that "customer orientation" means something very different. In these companies there is recognition that, due to globalization, deregulation and new technology, the power in the market is decisively shifted from the Seller to the Buyer. The customer has become the boss. The customer is at the centre of the business universe, Denning calls it a Copernican revolution in management, similar to the Copernican revolution in astronomy. In these organizations, the relationship between the organizations and its customers comes into another perspective; they are actors in an ecosystem.

From organization to ecosystems 
Peter Wennink CEO ASML mentioned recently in the television programme Buitenhof: as an organization you are part of an ecosystem. The concept ecosystem is increasingly evolving in the description of work systems. It is inspired by natural ecosystems, which define an ecosystem as follows:
The whole of all organisms with their communities, populations and their interactions within a certain geographical or otherwise demarcated unit. 
As we look forward to a digital future, the definition of digital ecosystems may be helpful:
A distributed, adaptive, open socio-technical system with self-organization, scalability and sustainability inspired by natural ecosystems (Wikipedia). 
In an ecosystem, all elements of the ecosystem should be able to act well, it is sustainable and it is crucial that something has to be won by all elements involved; like customers, suppliers and the environment.
The journey to the North Pole by senior executives (Schiphol, Gasunie, NS and ING) to see and experience the state of the ice on the North Pole is an inspiring example. 
Another feature is diversity, as many parties are involved in an ecosystem. Diversity also gives rise to resilience to the ecosystem and each actor has room for manoeuvrability. Working in an ecosystem is about connections, cooperation, dependencies and relationships, also with actors outside the organization walls. You can no longer isolate the organization from the environment, for example, the customer is an integral part of the system. Previously sales or customer service had contact with the customer and, increasingly, teams have regular contact with the customer. Teams provide relationships with all kinds of parties and the whole makes it excel. You can no longer speak of a linear relationship with the customer.
In agile, the customer is deeply involved; the product owner mainly deals with the customer stories and prioritizes the customer stories into the backlog. At the end of each sprint, the review meeting with the customer (or with a representation of customers) takes place. During this meeting the minimum viable product is demonstrated and customer or user feedback is recorded. Team members are extremely alert to statements made by customers who may throw another light on the issue and add stories for the backlog. This is also the opportunity for all team members to experience the customer experience real-live.

Platforms 
New or successful organizations are increasingly operating as a platform, as a learning ecosystem with scalable learning(Hagel). A platform is a value-creating interaction between producers and customers and it provides an open participatory structure. Customers are part of their platform as participating users. An ecosystem is characterized by the digitization of products, services and business processes and the process of reforming the world market. The resources and connections between partners are incorporated smoothly into the activities and the platform. A fundamental feature of platforms is the presence of the network, making the platform ever more valuable with more and more users. Companies operating as a platform target their organization for change, think of Uber, AirBNB, Spotify, Haier, Amazon, LinkedIn, Google, Apple, etc. For more conceptual information about platforms, read the articles of Evans and Gawer (MIT)(2016) or read the book of Cor Molenaar: The power of platform strategy. The Chinese company Haier uses the platform concept and defines a network organization as an ecosystem without boundaries with a management without managers. Self-organization and entrepreneurship are a prerequisite for the platform economy. At Haier there are no hierarchies and managers; the platform owner and that is often the CEO, is for example a servant responsible for feeding (watering) the ecosystem (see also McCrystal). Special to Haier is that an autonomous team, a cell, can assume and dismiss people, and that the income of team members depends on the income generated by the team. Is that, perhaps, a bridge too far?

Value stream 
In an agile customer delight approach the goal is to deliver more and faster value for customers and then (scrum) teams do not just work as development teams.

Alexey Krivitsky argues that scrum should exceed the product development levels and should focus more on the value flow from idea generation, product development, maintenance to post-release activities. It is not for nothing that in many ING teams, people of Customer Service are part of the team. Teams improve the organization and the entire (eco) system.
Policy developers in municipalities do not only develop policy papers; they are also involved in the deployment of policies; planning and deployment are closely linked. 

Product owners and Agile learning (A&L) advisors 
In a platform or ecosystem the role of the A&L advisor changes, as the team is in contact with the network of customers and their suppliers. The A & L advisor guides the review meeting with the team and the customer at the end of each sprint and eases the conversation about (minimum viable) products made between the team, the product owner and the customer.

The agile learning advisor coaches the team and especially the product owner to ensure trust and to promote equality and cooperation. He/she supports the product owner in all his/her relationships and helps the product owner to be mindful of the customer and to achieve an open interaction without thresholds.

The A&L advisor is not only focused on product development, as illustrated below by Krivitsky.

Krivitsky shows that in 'new' teams A & L advisors will focus on the team and the product owner. More experienced teams know the rules of the agile game and then the agile learning advisor will focus more on organizational development. At the municipality of Ede we talk about organizational coaches, to clearly indicate the scope of the A & L advisor.
In an ecosystem, the role of the A & L advisor could be to help the organization and actors in the ecosystem, understand how to generate value and how they could continuously improve the interactions, thereby accelerating the delivery of products. In addition to the relationship between the team and the network of customers, the A & L advisor supports the ecosystem. This also means that the IT architecture supports the ecosystem. Cloud technology also makes it easier and more achievable. And as you operate in a network of teams, it looks like this (see also my previous blog):

You could imagine that the product owner(s) takes care of the customer's demands and questions in the ecosystem and the A & L advisor ensures that the ecosystem cooperation is operating smoothly. And then the A & L advisor is not an orchestrator as in an ecosystem there is no orchestrator at all. Alertness and connectivity are the core competences of the A & L advisor and he/she takes every opportunity to improve interaction between 2 actors. The A & L advisor is on the balcony (see Heifetz) and occasionally descends to the arena to influence interaction between actors.

Hackathons or open-space meetings will be organized and guided by the A & L advisor with clients and with management. This is important for the network and it allows team members to come into contact with the actors in the ecosystem after that meeting, with or without support from the A & L advisor. Guiding such meetings goes beyond facilitating or the process guiding role; it's a strategic acting so that certain actors will talk to each other at the right moment, experiencing discomfort, trust and connection. However for collective intelligence building or meaning structures more is necessary (see the blogs to come).

In my next blog, I will review the strategic side of Agile: strategic agility. In addition to the well-known operational agility scrum approach, additional activities are asked, which enables A & L advisors and product owners to operate in the context of value creation and customer interaction and a valuable value proposition will be developed.

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