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Why Agile? The Top 3 Key Questions to Ask Your Customer

Agile coaching can help companies make valuable changes in their business practices, sometimes even reaching into peoples personal lives in a positive manner too.  However I’ve come to realise that preaching the Agile principles and consulting, are not easy bedfellows.

Many of us in the Agile space have struggled when faced with the realisation that Agile may not benefit a team or customer at all, indeed in some it can even cause detriment (particularly so when faced with a lack of sponsorship, value or direction). Many consultants will carry on regardless, trying to force their particular brand of Agile onto organisations who just plain aren’t ready for change. Worse still are the Agile consultancies who preach Best Practice and continue reaping fees, all the time knowing they are adding no real value.

It may be difficult in these times to turn down regular well paid consulting work, particularly when Agile is seen as the next big thing – eager faces and enthusiasm can be very alluring, as can a regular paycheck.  However all successful coaches pick their teams just as much as their team picks them, and to this end here are my top three questions to consider asking your next customer.

1. What led you to discover Agile? How was it introduced to the company? 

Find out how much your customer knows about Agile, possibly any specific practices or methods they’re aware of.  This will help you understand how to proceed and provide a valuable insight into opinions.  For example if Agile originated from the development teams you may want to suggest a chat with them to see how you feel they could benefit from your services.  If the customer in the hiring role is the instigator you should ask them what got them interested in Agile and why they were thinking of change in the first place.

2. Do you have any particular improvements or challenges you think Agile can help you with?

This can help you judge character and motive, as well as real style of management. Do they focus their answers around Agile principles or specific Agile methods?  Often the organisations who focus on principles are more open to change and have less well defined measures of success, while method specific companies are often looking simply for commercial gains and under-consider the psychology of success.  Of course this question should also help to tease out any specific concerns your customer thinks Agile could help with?  Be wary of customers who cannot articulate what they want to achieve with Agile, even experience consultants need something to aim for in order to provide the right service.

3. Have you tried any Agile practices yet and if so which ones and why?

How proactive is the organisation when trying something new?  Do they realise there is a cost involved..time, effort and resulting $$$.  Try some of your retrospective questions on any previous experience to gauge what went well, what didn’t and when action became inaction.  Is Agile still living within the company or was it completely scrapped? Perhaps it was the consulting style and not the practices, or indeed you may just discover that your potential client has difficulty with commitment to change?

Three easy and clear questions that should provide you with a wealth of information before you start on a journey that may be simply turn out to be a detour.  Happy travels!