Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Death of the salesman (or power to the customer)

One of the main reasons why XP has been such a success for us is that the customer is so much happier when they get something they actually want. It's probably the only reason that the customers still want to work with us, despite our little idiosyncrasies. And so we have to make sure that they continue to get what they want.

Unfortunately, following the XP rules doesn't strike me as enough to ensure this is true. Following XP only guarantees that we deliver software that is in line with the stories. We also need to make sure that the stories accurately reflect what the customer wants.

We regularly get together to discuss future stories, constantly putting new stories in, taking old ones out, and tweaking the ones we have. We tend to introduce stories into the mix in two stages. First the customer (which is a team) discusses their new functionality requirements and gets the outline of the stories together, writing up some draft cards. The development team then sends a delegation to meet and discuss those stories (at length normally) and the true stories are written.

We do this in two stages so that the customers can have time to get their ideas straight in the their own minds before they approach us, whilst ensuring that every story is seen by the development team so we can work out any gaps in the knowledge embodied in those stories. In the second meeting we may put together estimates, or we may take the stories away and estimate later. The important fact is that a story isn't a story until its been through the second meeting.

On the face of it, this should ensure that the stories contain both the customer's requirements of the system and the developer's requirements of the description.

It generally does, until the salesman gets involved:

As developers we 'know' that we've been involved in system development for a lot longer than most, if not all, of our customers. This can make us feel as though we know more about system design than our customers. This may be true, but we don't know as much about this system as our customers. If we did, then we probably wouldn't be doing XP ;-)

The salesman is the developer in the story review meeting that forgets this. They 'understand' the requirements of the story as written and know of the 'best' solution. They will explain this solution loudly and then deflect any criticism fired at it with lengthy explanations or snappy comebacks. Whilst they're doing this they'll become more and more certain that their solution is the only solution to the problem. And the whole time they're doing this they'll forget that:
1 - Whilst the customer may not get it written down first time, they're more than qualified to specify what they need the system to do, that's why they're still on the team.
2 - The developers are not here to provide the solution, they're here to ensure that the problem is clearly stated.
3 - It's good to have ideas, but not all ideas are good.
4 - When the customer speaks, the developers should be listening.

It's easy to drop into this persona as a flash of brilliance pierces the fog, but it's important to remember:
When you have an amazing idea, just state it, don't sell it, and accept it's probably not as amazing as you first thought.

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