5 tips to ‘invest in trust’ for Agile contracting

Ever tried convincing someone to trust you? Not an easy task if this person hasn’t dealt with you before. Usually trust is something that you will have to earn, rather than receiving it upfront. However getting people to trust you and your organisation can be incredibly important if you want to pursue real Agile development with your potential customer. But how do we do this?

1. Don’t try to predict the future

Still many commercial offers for software development about trying to accurately estimate costs and planning. It takes lots of effort and usually costs frustration from everyone involved. Yes, of course it helps to write down the products purpose and requirements in advance so that you create a common understanding of what you are looking to develop in the first place. But dear customer: all to often that description becomes a detailed description of what you (think) you want. “Do you really believe that is still want you want two months into the development?” Very often the answer is no, and thus we go into new efforts and frustration of defining, estimating and negotiating development changes for what you now (think) you want. If you try to predict the future, milestones are going to shift and product releases might have to be postponed. There are several alternatives for getting to the budget and once trust is really established creativity will lead the way.

2. Show the customer how you motivate your people

If your software development organisation is on top of it’s game things can be different. Obviously you have invested heavily in making your processes outstanding. And we all know that doesn’t mean that there are no mistakes or coding is flawless. But people are in place to still offer relentless quality. Show this to your potential customer! Bring them into the organisation and let them talk to the professionals. Teach them about your Agile development process. Show them how you educate and motivate your people. Bring them into the energy of the company and let them experience the drive that everyone has to bring out the best in themselves. Talk to your customer about how Scrum has helped you bring your teams to a high performance standard.

3. Convince them you understand how to maximizing value. Together.

Let them speak with Product Owners about how they maximize the value in product development by continuously prioritizing. Let them know how this value can be reviewed by stakeholders. They will learn and give feedback on what they actually want from the product. Teach them how that value can be released to early adopters at any time because of your focus on continuous automated testing, integration and deployment. Convince your customer how this is more effective than trying to impose deadlines on the team(s) that create strain and hinder their quality and throughput. It will be so much easier for them to trust your with their money if they actually see you make the most of it. You are going to need their full engagement to make it work Agile.

Of course this is not a hit and run approach with your (potential) customer. You will have to repeat this and involve several stakeholders and decision makers, also depending on the type of organisation you are dealing with. Your sales agents might have to overcome their earlier bad experiences with other suppliers and partners. But this will all be be worth it. If you do this well it will create a ground for true collaborative development based on mutual trust.

4. Don’t let fear drive you away from Agile contracting

Now one could debate that by the time you have had the opportunity to involve the potential customer as described, the competition will have put down a fixed price offer that was asked for in the first place. Think about it: nobody wins if they take that offer, it’s not the way to go in 2018. We are uncovering better ways of developing software! If they go with that traditional offer, let it be. They will learn about true Agile development and budgeting soon. Move on and invest in trust with those that are open to innovation and willing to listen to you and your organisation, rather than trying negotiate the cheapest offer for themselves.

How about the current customers that might have received their offers in a quite traditional way from you? It’s no different. Involve them in your transformation. Explain to them the need to change. To be ready for the future. Truly take the time to make them understand how they will benefit from your organisation’s new way of working. And invest in trust as if they were a new customer for you.

5. Working Agile is not a goal in and of itself. Always be accountable to the ‘why’.

This approach requires an in depth understanding of Agile from your sales agents. They need to fully comprehend why the development organisation is doing things the way they do, so that they can educate the customer. Step up the accountability ladder, start small and let your customer experience the benefits in practice and then gain trust in the new way of collaborating in product development.

There is another win to all of this transparency. It might expose that your software development organisation is not at the top of their game yet. Excellent! Realizing where your pitfalls are, will be the first step to improving them. Because in today’s world organisations that are not continuously learning and improving will soon be out of business anyways. That is investing in trust also.

Robby Overvliet