To unleash the power of agile business practices, focus on your customers

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What does today’s business world have in common with hit movies like The Fast and the Furious and Rush Hour? The need for speed. If companies don’t adapt quickly to keep pace with rapid digitalization, they risk falling behind. Or worse. But be advised: speed alone is not enough. To prosper, businesses must work faster, yes, but also smarter and more collaboratively. And that requires them to embrace agile business practices.

agile business practices

Pandemic underscores the value of agile business practices

Far from a new concept in business, agile was introduced years ago by the software industry, where frequent iterations ensured value creation throughout product lifecycles. The practice places a high value on collaboration and the ability to respond to ongoing change in an organized manner. Now hardware producers and service providers are embracing the agile approach, especially in industries facing harsh competition due to digital disruption.

If adoption of agile business practices was accelerating before 2019, the pandemic shifted it into overdrive. According to the State of Agile 2021 report, “organizations across all industries and of all sizes felt tremendous pressure to make their business models fit the physical constraints of the pandemic.”

Of course, they did; for many, it was a case of change or die. So practically overnight, we saw a proliferation of remote workforces, telemedicine appointments, online purchasing, and curbside retail pick-ups. Thanks to their agility, many businesses were able to adapt, remain in business, and even thrive. Moreover, many pandemic-driven changes were a welcome evolution. Virtual business meetings are here to stay, don’t you think?

More mindset than process

But agile is not simply about practices and processes. It’s a mindset that empowers employees to rethink how they are doing things at every step based on what their customers want.

Traditionally, product development is undertaken via a chain process. Marketing and sales teams gather customer specifications that filter down the supply chain to research and development and end with final product development.

This way of working leaves two major gaps:

  1. Customer needs and challenges are not top-of-mind throughout the process chain. Teams are focused on specifications instead of asking what is important to customers, what will add value, and what solutions will delight.
  2. Customer feedback is usually left to the very end, leaving no space for iterations and updates during development. By onboarding customers at the start, we can involve them in the process and leverage their feedback to develop value-add solutions along the way. When teams are clued into customer feedback regularly, they are empowered to experiment fast, fail fast, learn fast, and adapt fast.

Set up a Customer Advisory Board

Establishing a Customer Advisory Board as part of the product development process is a proven way to keep teams focused on customers and their needs. It ensures customers are equally invested in the work at hand. And instead of relegating the focus on customers to a marketing silo, all team members are invited to exercise curiosity about the process versus simply validating that they are meeting specifications.

Helpful questions include:

  • What are we trying to do?
  • Who is affected by our decisions?
  • Who are our influencers?
  • What are our biggest risks?
  • How will we know our solution is working?

By engaging with customers throughout the production process, we are able to vet our solutions and avoid surprises come launch time.

The development and launch of our FlexSet low-voltage switchboard is an excellent demonstration of the value of a Customer Advisory Board. Input from the board informed every step of the customer journey mapping process, including the project’s digital backbone, physical builds, and go-to-market execution. And Schneider Electric employees from all business areas took part in advisory board meetings, where we learned from differing viewpoints and experiences. Result? Our final project outputs incorporated more than 1,000 customer-feedback touchpoints.

Test, test, and test again

The software industry taught us that innovation is rarely the result of a linear process; it usually involves multiple iterations and adjustments along the way. By building a culture of experimentation, organizations can move away from viewing failure as a negative and instead leverage learnings to determine the approach to bring the greatest value to the customer.

Companies need to be strategic about testing, focusing on what truly matters to their customers. Testing and demos should not be left for the latter stages of development when changes are more complex and costly. And to get the most viable customer feedback, companies need to ask the right questions and direct those questions to the right people. That means a participant group representing the targeted personas and mirrors the current industry or potential available customer base.

At Schneider Electric, we recently used customer feedback loops to fine-tune an air circuit breaker offer. Through two iterations, 60 customers worldwide provided input on our minimum viable product (MVP) and human-machine interface (HMI). The breaker’s ease of use and keyboard ergonomics received high marks, while its small LED and suboptimal access to settings sent us back to the drawing board. We are now in our third iteration of the product, improving the breaker’s HMI and remote-control features with the help of our customers’ insights.

TeSys Giga contactors are another example of agility in action, field-tested in nine countries and at several global events. The solution was fine-tuned based on customer inputs, paving the way for almost 900,000 Euro orders shortly after its roll-out ceremony.

Keep customers at the heart of the solution

The agile methodology continues to gain momentum across industries. By adopting an agility mindset, companies can nurture collaboration across silos and keep customers at the heart of their solutions.

To learn more about Schneider Electric, including energy management solutions advanced by agile business practices, visit Schneider Electric’s website.

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