Using The Voice Of the Customer As Input For A Retrospective

Previously, I have worked with a team whose overall effectiveness has been called in to question by people who the team interfaced with. Upon further investigation it became clear that the perception those people had of the team was largely based on anecdote and yet, as the lead of the team said, perception is reality.

The lead and I sat to discuss this and agreed to substantiate some of the comments being made and the process that we would follow to derive actions that we could then take towards discernible improvements. I think that what we ended with is an interesting way of looking at gaining input in to a team’s retrospective and contrary to the way I have seen it done previously, namely that the team sourced opinion from outside of the team rather than internally, and so wanted to share it.

We started by identifying the customers of the team and given that this was the first instance of running this process, we also chose to keep the group size small, identifying just the key individuals with an agreement that in subsequent iterations, we would extend the group.

We designed a small survey comprising 4 questions that we would ask of the individuals:

  1. What is your perception of the team’s performance?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the performance of the team?
  3. Given the rating that you have just given the team, how could we make ourselves a 10?
  4. Can you suggest any ways in which we could measure the effect of the improvements that you suggest?

Questions 1 and 2 in the above were actually of little significance in respect of helping the team to improve, their purpose focused more on providing some context to the presentation that would be made back to the team after the interviews had been conducted.

Question 3 gave the person being interviewed an opportunity to make specific recommendations for how the team could improve and so in our opinion, was the most important. Less important then was question 4 though it did serve to make the people being interviewed question the feedback that they had in response to question 3 and to offer the team with some sense of measures that they could use that would be meaningful to their customers.

With this data, the team lead conducted a Retrospective. It started with a presentation of the information that had been collected. The team was told from the outset that this was data that had been collected and that while they may disagree with some of the comments made, it was the perception of others and that therefore they needed to accept it as it was.

The remainder of the Retrospective was split in to three sections, an idea generation session titled “What Changes Can We Make That Will Result In Improvement?”, followed by an associated filtering session which looked at the ideas generated and asked the question “How Will We Know That The Change Is An Improvement?”. The purpose of this filtering session was to filter out those ideas that could not be measured one way or another. The team estimated the value an item would have in respect of impacting their performance using a relative scale and followed that by estimating the effort involved in bringing about the change. Both of these estimates were done using a relative points scale. Finally, the value estimate was then divided by the effort estimate to give an indication of the Return on Investment and the item with the highest return was selected for action by the team.

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9 thoughts on “Using The Voice Of the Customer As Input For A Retrospective

  1. Michael Arnoldus says:

    Nice idea – and I can see the need to take the external perception seriously. I would however also be slightly afraid of focusing too much on external perceptions as this would remove the teams ability to focus on their own perception and what they need to learn and improve.
    I’d be interested in your perception on the balance between internal and external focus.

  2. danrough says:

    Hey Michael, it’s good to hear from you.

    You’re right, there is a danger in focussing solely on the perception of how the team is performing held by those outside the team; you could very well end up continually reacting to outside input which may just be manifestations of root causes that are all too apparent to members within the team itself.

    I think this retrospective would be good to be done on perhaps a quarterly basis.

    Having thought about the subject a little more since writing this post, there are a couple of points that I perhaps should have made in explanation:

    1. This is about developing the relationship between customer and team, agile approaches tend to rely upon a strong relationship between customer and team and most early stage adoptions tend in my experience to focus on the team’s capability and requirements for change and not that of the customer. The first principle in the Agile Manifesto states that:

    “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

    It is easy to measure the value of software given access to the relevant information but in my experience, there is more to satisfying the customer than just that and the idea for this retrospective attempts to address that by at least asking the question about how the team could improve in the eyes of their respective customer.

    2. In my past, most of the teams I have come across have been of the assumption that it is their job to write software. A discussion with their sponsor or customers often yields some interesting ancillary expectations. I’d like to think that by using this retrospective, these aspects may be surfaced and better yet, that a way of measuring against them could be defined. I would imagine that this would have the benefit growing the team’s capability to deliver holistically very much more quickly.


  3. Michael Arnoldus says:

    Hi Dan,

    Nice to hear form you as well. I must say I miss some of our debates about how to save the world – or at least part of it 🙂

    Thank you for the 2 extra points which makes perfect sense. So much in fact that I might chose to copy your great suggestion.



  4. danrough says:

    Good news Michael, I’d be interested to know how you get on. Dan.

  5. Sune Gynthersen says:

    Hi Dan,

    Interesting story – I’m quite tempted to try it out 🙂 I guess every team should attempt to stay in contacts with it’s partners and actively seek the feedback required to do a better job.


    • danrough says:

      Hey Sune,

      Indeed, I guess the thing to understand is the cadence at which you do this. I think, as Michael suggests, that if they were done too frequently it would perhaps endanger the team’s own ability to look inwards and improve.


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