Getting Closer to the Customer

Jan 24, 2019 | AgileAus, Guest Blogs

Today’s post is courtesy of guest blogger Alex Stokes who is the Co-founder of ReBoot Co.
It’s that time of year when we are submitting to AgileAus and reviewing of Expressions Of Interest (EOI) has begun.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a reviewer and stream lead for AgileAus before and it’s always interesting to see how the reviewing process evolves (as we as volunteers become more experienced and as new people are co-opted into the process).

The Conference itself has also grown and developed over the years, AgileAus organisers at Slatterys are vigilant in their pursuit of input and feedback into the process, tools mature and become more remote friendly (a lot of organisation happens via Slack) and Agile itself continues to morph, expand and spread its reach into more workplaces and lives.


This year I’m chuffed to be a stream lead of Closer to the Customer. We have a crack team of reviewers on board who are ready and able to provide feedback on EOIs. EOIs are a new-ish concept, in that we are not so hung up on high amounts of polish in submissions as we have been in previous years. It was conceived of collectively as an approach to encourage new voices in the community and a diverse range of topics – as a community we are always interested to see what shakes out of a population – and it’s a marvellous antidote to our own bias about what we believe might be interesting to an audience.  

The idea of the EOI is to help us see what people are wanting and desiring in a topic before rejecting an idea as half-formed or without substantive evidence.

Hands on supportive mentoring for talks, something that was previously provided via a Shepherd or program guide – but perhaps came too late in the process, has been brought forward with the aid of the AgileAus squid tanks. Akin to a shark tank but with less millionaires and more constructive feedback, the squids can be softer, smarter and perhaps less bloodthirsty in their drive to get all topics in great shape. 


In our stream we are looking for tales of amazing ways to get Closer to the Customer. Our stream is described here. We are expecting to see topics ranging from UX to Product Development to Lean startup enter this stream, and of course Design Thinking and Human Centred Design (HCD) techniques will abound as these techniques and training courses have flooded into many of our Agile workplaces.

I personally favour a real story over a trademarked framework, and our reviewers are from a diverse background, everything from Technology leaders to Agile Coaches, to UX Product experts and even a COO of a startup!

Something that I’m passionate about that I feel the Agile community has lost over the decades is our friend from Principle 4 ‘Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project’.

I feel that we’ve forgotten one of the greatest powers of Agile Software Development was the stripping of all the nonsense ‘projecty’/‘managerish’ roles from the work and allowing the team to get really close to the business problems they were building solutions for. I’m worried that the trends of HCD, Design Thinking and ‘Product’ as a discipline are exacerbating that with the ordaining of role titles that silo us from collaborating and learning from each other about our customer problems.

I would dearly LOVE to see stories of WHOLE teams getting closer to the customers, not just Product, UX or Designers. If you have examples of this working in practice, or feel your team is really excellent as this and have never reflected on why then perhaps it’s time you submitted.


Another pet passion for me is the failure rate of new startup businesses. Last I heard was about 9 out of 10 fail. If this is the case, is our Lean startup mentality peddling an irresponsible approach to the creation of products and services that people love and need?

As more companies get on board with test and learn cycles have we really improved our strike rate and abilities to know when to stick on a good idea and know when to give up? What gives us tunnel vision? What makes us blind to our own bias? Will we get better or worse as our economies become strained and funding is challenging to come by? I’m curious about all these things and would love to see some thoughtful directions of these topics too.

As a final thought and prompter for all those passionate about Customer Centricity – a challenge. When was the last time you engaged in any meaningful way with a real customer of yours? Maybe it’s time to reach out? You never know, it may inspire you to submit to our stream, I hope it does.

You can throw your EOIs in here.

Alex Stokes

Alex Stokes

Co-founder, ReBoot Co.

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