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Applying Agile Management Value 3: Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

Agile management principles extend to your relationship with the customer. Agile's third core value emphasizes customer collaboration. The agile pioneers understood that collaboration, rather than confrontation, produces better, leaner, more useful products. As a result of this understanding, agile methodologies make the customer part of the project on an ongoing basis.

Historical project management approaches usually involve customers at three key points:

  • Project start: When the customer and the project manager — or another project team representative — negotiate contract details.

  • Any time scope changes during the project: When the customer and the project manager negotiate changes to the contract.

  • End of a project: When the project team delivers a completed product to the customer. If the product doesn’t meet customer expectations, the project manager and the customer negotiate additional changes to the contract.

This historical focus on negotiation discourages potentially valuable customer input and can even create an adversarial relationship between customers and project teams.

Using an agile approach in practice, you experience a partnership between the customer and development team in which discovery, questioning, learning, and adjusting during the course of the project are routine, acceptable, and systematic.

On an agile project, customer review is built into the process and the customer gets to see the product at the end of every sprint. You can create the highest-priority features first, which gives you the opportunity to ensure maximum value early on, when little of the customer’s money has been invested.

If you use a traditional development model, any changes to product requirements, priorities, timelines, and budgets can greatly disrupt the project. In contrast, agile processes handle project and product changes in beneficial ways. For example:

  • Agile projects create an opportunity for increased customer satisfaction and return on investment by handling change effectively.

  • Changes can be incorporated into subsequent iterations routinely and smoothly.

Customers like agile projects because they can accommodate changing requirements and generate higher-value products.

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