I have trotted out this saying so many times over the years, often to blank stares when coaching teams in Agile or customer experience management. Why is it relevant? What does it actually mean in this context? Why is it one of my favourite sayings?
At the heart of the Agile way of working is quality. Quality underpins everything we do as Agile teams. However, people often apply the idea of quality solely to the quality of the technical solution and the coding that underpins it. Once that’s the case, it’s all too easy for quality to be sacrificed on the altar of speed and cost. It’s vital to note that quality applies just as much to the opportunity or problem that you want an Agile solution to address. The author and leadership coach Nancy Kline summed it up when she wrote ‘The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first’.
The quality of our solution is paramount
So why my mantra of the title? ‘Smooth’ in this context relates to the quality of the solution you are delivering through Agile for your organisation. A focus on the quality of what you do, not just on the final output, will ultimately deliver a better outcome.
What does this mean in practice? Let me give you an example. I learnt to ride a motorbike ten years ago. I was terrified! I then decided I needed to learn to ride faster to keep up with my husband, so I signed up to do my Advanced test. The first thing the instructor said was “if you are here to go faster, you are in the wrong place. We teach you how to ride your bike more smoothly and through this, to be safer”. I changed my mind as to why I wanted to do my Advanced test and decided I like the idea of being safe, as then maybe I wouldn’t be so terrified.
It took me a long time to learn. I got smoother and I enjoyed riding my bike more each day. At the end of that year, and it was a year, I went on an amazing bike weekend to Wales with my husband. Usually when we went away, I would be left for dust and would find my husband at some point parked by the side of the road waiting for me. This time, I didn’t care, I was just enjoying what I was doing and focusing on doing it better each time. Over that year, the length of time he sat waiting for me had been reducing. As my riding got smoother, I got quicker. On that weekend, I was not only all over his back tyre, I overtook him, much to his amazement. I wasn’t trying to ride fast - I was riding within my limits and well within the limit of my bike. I was just finally smooth enough. The speed was a by-product of the smoothness. I don’t care about riding fast, I realized I never actually did, I cared about enjoying riding my bike. I cared about being smooth.
Excelling in Agile or CXM through ‘smoothness’
How is this relevant to Agile or CXM? Why do I use it as one of my mantras in both spaces? Simply, because it is the only approach I have ever seen that actually works and gets the outcomes people really seek. By stopping looking at ‘getting it done faster and cheaper’ (speed) and instead focusing on the quality of the thinking about the experience (discovery) and the quality of what we build (delivery) to address the opportunity or problem, it’s then that we build customer experiences that actually matter. We build technology with minimal technical debt, that enables continuous innovation at pace. This delivers the by-product of greater revenue (speed).
My first ever agile coach told me, “Agile delivers faster, because we deliver less – by only delivering the things that add value.” Putting the speed bit first made everyone focus on that as the sole purpose. I still see that today when I work with clients: everyone wants the output delivered faster.
Delivering quality and value faster
Speed is the by-product of using Agile, it is not the aim. The aim is to start to deliver quality and thus value more quickly.
With regards to CXM, greater revenue (speed) is the result of great customer experience (smooth). Make the aim great customer experience and let the outcome of increased revenue follow. The path isn’t easy though, so be ready for things to feel difficult and to be going slower than you might want. Just remember, if you keep going and focusing on the aim (great quality customer experience), you will ultimately get the by-product of greater revenue faster. (And yes, I did really enjoy overtaking my husband and watching him disappear into my dust, but I am still proudest of being safe and enjoying riding my bike).