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Improve the Scrum Team’s understanding of customer needs

When Scrum Teams don’t grasp customer needs, their goals may be flawed and outdated. Strategic Goals and Intermediate Goals (like Product Goals) change based on customer feedback. Often this happens because the Scrum Team over-relies on internal stakeholder information. While their opinions are important, they do not tell the whole story.

Internal stakeholders usually interact with customers in narrow contexts because of their role (e.g. sales, customer support, consulting). This limited interaction can cause them to overlook what customers really need. For example, they may hear complaints from outspoken customers about missing features, but miss feedback from satisfied customers. Or they might focus on a customer’s demand for a competitor’s feature without better understanding the customer’s goals. This limited perspective can bias their views on what customers need.

To supplement the perspectives of internal stakeholders, here are a variety of techniques Scrum Teams can try gain a broader perspective:

  • Ask “why?” Whenever someone suggests a new capability or feature, including customers, ask “why?” to grasp the underlying goal of what the customer is trying to achieve. The Scrum Team adopting this approach might find more effective ways to fulfill that customer’s need. Avoid assuming that customers know the best way to achieve their needs. While they know their experiences, they may not know the best way to move forward.  
  • Don’t rely solely on what customers say; also, watch what they do. When you ask someone how they do something, they tend to describe what they think they do, which may not always align with what they actually do. They may omit important steps or include things that they think they should do but do not actually perform. Observing how people work provides insight into their real actions, which helps you better understand their current context.  
  • Build measurement into the product. This is somewhat specific to software products, where it is possible to record what people actually do with the product rather than relying on them to remember how they used the product.  
  • Don’t ask customers what they want, ask them what they want or need to achieve. When you ask someone what they want, you are basically asking them to design a solution. What you will get back is what they think they need in the solution. If they are very insightful about the problem they might be right, but it’s not the customer’s job to design the solution; that’s the Scrum Team’s job. Getting the customer to describe what they want to achieve and how they know if they have achieved it will help you build a better solution more than eliciting a bunch of product capabilities from them.

Understanding customer needs is vital for Scrum Teams to formulate and validate goals. With these different techniques, Scrum Teams can more effectively meet customer needs as goals evolve.



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There are many reasons why Scrum Teams struggle to deliver value. To be more effective, Scrum Teams should better understand customer needs, improve their cross-functionality, be empowered to make decisions, improve their ability to focus, and increase their feedback cycles.