This is the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Nicole Forsgren, CEO and chief scientist at DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA). In the first post we dove into some insights from her latest report: Accelerate: State of DevOps. And in this post we follow up with a discussion of the importance of Agile and DevOps methodologies to customer experience.
1. In our last conversation, we focused on the State of DevOps report. Let’s now focus on the role of Agile and DevOps in customer experience (CX) development projects. Why is it important for companies who want to be CX innovators and leaders to take a more agile approach? Why should it be prioritized above other important initiatives?
This is such a great and important question, and I love that more companies are starting to think about how to apply these concepts to customer experience. Where we see Agile and DevOps being used to great effect is as part of an enterprise’s digital transformation, which is often the key driver of change on the front lines of customer engagement.
You may recall what I mentioned earlier about software delivery and operational (SDO) performance, and how we added availability to this year’s study. Availability is one of the most important criteria to consider for customer experience because, if the systems aren’t available, that’s the worst possible customer experience. So, with customer outcomes in mind, we can understand and predict quality and organizational outcomes better. The best companies have been thinking about customer experience and delivering value for a long time and have been finding ways to gather and implement customer feedback into their delivery cycles. This is important because we only exist because of our customer—so therefore it’s all about a focus on our outcomes, or the goal of excellent customer experience.
I recommend an excellent book on this subject, The Goal by Goldratt, where he says the goal is to make money, but really we can’t make money unless our customers are happy and returning to us!
We see a few ways of integrating customer experience and feedback into Agile and DevOps methods in ways that are impactful. One is to ensure development teams own responsibility for the problem solution themselves. After all, they are the experts! This may include conducting small experiments to determine the correct solution and meeting with the customer to learn smart ways of solving that problem. It also means having smart, customer-focused test suites. Note—I said “customer-focused” test suites. Having a customer-centric testing stance is one small way that teams can help drive solutions in this arena as well. In both of these examples, we are introducing a customer focus sooner into the pipeline, which helps with feedback and fixes because the sooner we identify problems, the better.
2. Can you highlight any special considerations when applying this development methodology to customer experience applications?
I think customer-facing applications are the most important area for companies. After all, customers are the reason we have a business in the first place! Many times, I’m asked if customer-facing applications are a sensitive area and we should proceed with caution or never engage at all. I do agree that organizations need to take a thoughtful approach to testing and experimentation on customer-facing applications, especially because customers are so important and valuable. But “sensitive” could imply that customers are too delicate to ever touch, and then you run the risk of never interacting with them.
Today, customers have high expectations for customer service and support, and depending on your industry, those expectations can be much higher than they’ve been in the past. The most challenging thing is that everyone is getting better at customer service and support, and technology is providing us with capabilities to scale and provide customized service, so expectations are rising every year. This means that organizations must continue to iterate and improve their basic customer experience services just to keep up. For example, years ago, I was fine calling my doctor’s office or my hair salon to get an appointment or ask a question. Today, I’m incredibly annoyed if I have to do that: I want the ability to book online, check status, and I want automated reminders and updates by text, with the ability to get support through multiple options, like phone, online, or chat.
3. Can you talk a little about the importance of automation and monitoring in adopting a DevOps methodology? We’d like to get at the need for tools and platforms (like Cyara) that enable the automation that are central to being Agile in this environment.
I would say that, today, this is almost just a given to operate effectively. DevOps is definitely more than tooling, but you can’t do it without strong technology solutions that provide automation, monitoring, and visualization to people throughout the value chain. This gives visibility to key stakeholders, so you can ensure you are delivering value and your feedback loops are happening.
4. What are some of the key Agile and DevOps concepts that business leaders need to understand when delivering value with technology?
The idea that optimizing for speed over cost is something that has come from the Agile and DevOps movements and is finally making its way to business leaders. This is a great idea because it’s something that we can really leverage technology for. It allows organizations to beat competitors to market, delight their customers, and keep up with compliance and regulatory changes.
5. Organizations undergo large operational transformations regularly, almost cyclically. What are some qualities of a transformation that will make this approach stick, where others have not?
I think successful transformations share a couple of key characteristics. First, commitment from the top. This commitment comes in the form of understanding the vision and reason for why the transformation is happening, as well as dedicating the resources necessary: telling teams and people to do work without giving them any time, space, or money to get the work done is a recipe for failure. Second, start small and scale. Every organization is a bit different, so identifying a project that can deliver value, removing roadblocks to identify what could be possible, and then embracing changes is key. The organization can then work on scaling those out more broadly.
6. Nicole, thank you so much for your time and sharing your valuable insights!
It was my pleasure, and I look forward to talking again! And again, for those who have not already done so, I encourage you to read the latest report, Accelerate: State of DevOps.