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  • Katie Cladis

The Def Method Formula for a Great Client Partnership

Co-authors

Katie Cladis, Senior Product Manager

Alexa Maniaci, Product Manager



One of the most common questions we get from clients and prospective clients is, "How can I do my part to make this a successful partnership?"


We love this question, and over several years' worth of projects and partnerships, we've gained a good perspective on the answer for Def Method (and likely other agile software consultancies as well). Though this is one of those areas where we are constantly learning and striving to do better, we think we have a pretty good starting point based on our experiences and have summarized some thoughts below.


While there is no one easy answer, in general our most successful clients are eager to learn, participate thoughtfully, and hold our team as well as themselves accountable. These client traits create a collaborative environment from kickoff to development. This collaborative environment is formulated by:

  • Supporting user research

  • Prioritizing user problems to solve (not features to build)

  • Being a change agent

Let's dig into each of these a bit more.


Supporting user research

User research is instrumental in ensuring that what we build addresses real user problems, and solves them effectively. We will work with you to determine the best user research approach, and work together through exploratory interviews, validation interviews and usability testing. User research requires an investment in time and leaning into the vulnerability that comes with opening yourself up to a new direction around a feature set of design. Your willingness to learn about your user will allow you to champion them, and allow us to build a better product together.


Your willingness to learn about your user will allow you to champion them, and allow us to build a better product together.

This process, while an investment, will pay off in dividends by helping you to avoid building something that doesn’t resonate with users. Ultimately, the ideal client will support user research during discovery, as well as throughout the project. They remain curious about the users and open-minded about what we might learn from them. They support us in finding and scheduling users for research, and are willing to make product decisions based on these learnings.


Prioritizing user problems to solve (not features to build)

We consider a variety of factors when determining the prioritization framework for a product, but no matter the framework, this starts with prioritizing user problems. We leverage your newly completed user research to frame and prioritize the user problems that are most painful for users. Prioritization can take many forms, but in general we are looking at how that opportunity aligns with your strategic business objectives, the number of users impacted if we solve the problem, and the overall intensity of the problem. We then ideate and assess solutions that are best positioned to solve those problems, using lightweight experiments and prototyping as needed. And ongoing, we account for technical complexity of the solution space that could impact decisions.


Once you buy into the most important user problems worth solving, the conversation shifts from what people subjectively think is important to build, to a more meaningful conversation around how we can move quickly to create value against those problems. Given this process, we can deliver value to the business and its users, while minimizing conversations about features and solutions that are not aligned with our most important user problems.


Once you buy into the most important user problems worth solving, the conversation shifts from what people subjectively think is important to build, to a more meaningful conversation around how we can move quickly to create value against those problems.

Our best clients trust and learn with us through this process.


Being an agent for change

The foundation of any good agile project is flexibility, and the foundation of any effective team is the capacity to adapt. In order to assess what's working and what's not working, following each sprint we hold a team retrospective.


The foundation of any good agile project is flexibility, and the foundation of any effective team is the capacity to adapt.

The retrospective activity allows the entire team, including you and any other stakeholders, a chance to provide feedback by evaluating the last sprint: what went well and what could be improved? This exercise necessitates trust and transparency along with flexibility, again, to institute changes during the upcoming sprint in order to improve our development efforts and collaboration.


I was once working on assessing third party technologies to integrate into a client's existing product. I leveraged the client's engineering team to help assess various features. I was so proud of myself for delegating (something I'm not always great at), and including others in the process. But during our first retrospective as a team, I got feedback that the engineers felt like they were assessing these features in a vacuum. They wanted to know why they were assessing them? What were the problems each feature was intended to solve? What was the larger context? From this learning, going forward I kept the engineering team more closely aligned to the larger objectives, to ensure that their research and work was most impactful.


When we all operate with flexibility throughout the engagement, accepting to experiment and iterate, we can work better together and build better solutions for users.


Conclusion

Now, let’s bring together our formula for a great partnership together! First, we determine the problems solved by your potential product through user research. Next, we prioritize user problems and only consider solutions linked to those problems. Finally, we improve our shared agile process by maintaining flexibility. Ultimately, this formula creates the opportunity for better products a better partnerships.


We have a certain level of confidence in our practices, however, we are life-long learners and adapt our practices to best fit your needs! We look forward to what we can learn on this topic from our partners in the future.


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