Software customer: Let's go for a test drive!

Regularly demonstrate working software to customers; it builds engagement and increases trust.

Nothing beats a good test drive before buying a new car; it’s difficult to get excited about the leather seats or the smooth gear change by reading the manual. Likewise software needs a tactile experience by the customer who is paying for it; no amount of documentation can substitute for this. Also it cannot only be at the end of the delivery cycle – customers need to experience prototypes along the way. [1st of 5 paragraphs]

You might be in an off-shore development centre, working with one or developing software for customers that are literally in the next room. However you are involved in software development make sure there are regular opportunities for a show and tell so that the customer can see exactly what they are getting as it is being built. Also make sure the development team are actually presenting the demo or at least in the room as well so they have a chance to hear and (bravely) accept real time feedback. [2/5]

The Agile Manifesto states that more value should be placed on working software than comprehensive documentation. Whether you are running your project using Agile, Waterfall or anything else, demonstrate a commitment to this principle by regularly bringing the customers and the build team together to interact with the working software. The Oracle Unified Methodology includes a regular Conference Room Pilot when users are shown a demo of the system. [3/5]

In the same way as the deliverable review lifts the standard of design across the project, so too the product review lifts the standard of customer engagement. It doesn’t necessarily improve the product itself – this also requires rigorous testing, pair programming and other build-specific quality processes. Well informed, engaged customers who regularly review the actual software they are paying for will become a key driver of overall project success, and they often become your biggest champions. [4/5]

If you have bought a car without a test drive then you have incredible faith in the make of car as well as the salesman. If you have achieved this with customers on your IT implementation then congratulations you are in a very small % of projects that probably also have a string of successes and an outstanding track record. If, like most projects you are battling scope, quality and timelines then do one thing right and get your customers on your side with regular product reviews – it might be the most useful trip round the block you ever make. [5/5]

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