Customer involvement in agile development

Learn best practices to approach customer experience work

Kelly Drozd By Kelly Drozd
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It’s no secret that having the right customer insights is essential to a product’s success. The challenge for product teams lies in gathering the right insights to help create and improve a product that users love.

It’s a primary reason that agile methodologies have become so popular. By incorporating customer research and feedback early and often throughout the development lifecycle, agile teams embrace a human-centered approach to product development that allows them to improve the customer experience and deliver incremental value.  

In an Atlassian live stream, Leisa Reichelt, Head of Research and Insights at Atlassian, and Christian Stovall, Sr. Director of Research and Insights at ALSAC/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, shared insights into customer research for product development. The following are some best practices for how to approach customer experience work.

Pro-tip #1: Recruit the right research participants

It’s important to ensure teams recruit the right people to participate in research, including people who aren’t necessarily advocates of your company or products. This helps to invite multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

“Detractors or less engaged people are really, really important to talk to and research,” Reichelt said.

Pro-tip #2: Constantly ask why

If you're confused or frustrated with the results of your research, there's a chance that you're not approaching it correctly. For example, researchers often lead with a preferred method, like surveys, and use them to try and understand why people prefer one thing to another. Surveys are better suited to give you the "what" data, answering questions like "how many" or "how much." Since surveys rarely reveal why something is happening and how you can fix it, it's essential to take time to ask if your research design includes methods that will help get you to "why".

“If you can’t understand why, it makes it more difficult for you to feel confident in the decisions you make as a team,” Reichelt said.

Pro-tip #3: Incorporate customer insights into agile workflows

Agile practices include using iterative cycles that puts work in front of customers frequently and incorporates feedback to improve a product. Breaking down the research journey represents an opportunity to bring human-centered, iterative practices to product development. Product teams can create a plan with smaller milestones during each development step, allowing them to respond to changes and problems. This also allows stakeholders from outside of the research team to gain key insights into the research process in order to answer key questions, such as:

“Why did the results turn out like this?”

“How can we improve our results?”

“Were there any problems throughout the process that we can solve in the future?”

Pro-tip #4: Avoid biases

Some pitfalls to customer research include distorting research through bias, including:

  • Cognitive bias. It’s human nature to look for evidence that confirms a hypothesis or desired conclusion. Seek to verify results through multiple sources of information in order to properly validate insights.
  • Social desirability. People tend to speak in a way that makes them look good to others and avoid speaking in ways that make them look bad. This bias can obscure clues about the issues users or customers are having but may be reluctant to bring up. In these situations, Stovall suggests reframing your questions with users as a way to boost their social desirability.

“No one wants to tell the nonprofit children's research hospital that their fundraising app is garbage or that they are not able to do business with us easily,” said Stovall. Instead of asking users what they think is wrong with a design, a better question is: "If you could design this fundraising application for your mom or neighbor, how would you do it differently?".

Pro-tip #5: Use the right tools

When Stovall started his role at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, work processes were often email-based and inefficient, lacked visibility, and knowledge-sharing was limited.

“Information was siloed and fragmented, and people were passing around documents,” Stovall said. “Meetings were not strategic or about getting work done.”

They introduced Confluence and Jira Software to help solve some of these problems. Knowledge management completely changed with Confluence. The research team democratized research findings and customer insights more efficiently and built a research repository, including an inventory of research best practices. The research team uses Jira to manage work-in-progress limits, track cycle and lead times, and share progress updates in real-time with stakeholders.

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In conclusion…

Turning research into actionable customer insights that help deliver value is a competitive advantage for every company. The staffing, processes, and tools for research need to be in alignment to produce accurate insights. When done right, user research will help you understand what your users need, if you're on the right track, if they can use what you've built, and how to optimize to continue to meet customer needs.

Watch the on-demand live stream to see the entire conversation.