Predictable completion: the foundation of successful customer relationships

Learning, teaching, coaching, and exercising the discipline of business agility can be a struggle. For Agile to take hold in any organization, we must find a pattern that enables “predictable completion” of selected work: Predictability is the foundation of creating team and organizational accountability, and it is the basis of enabling analytical-based conversations regarding when work will be completed, thus building mutual trust.

In a recent series of coaching discussions, I dove deep into the accuracy of project information shared between a supplier organization and its customers. This organization, like many, does not have an excellent track record of delivering projects on the original timeline. The primary reason is simple – overcommitment. 

Don’t “hope you know” how long project completion will take

Interestingly, this is a typical behavior pattern for many organizations. However, in this specific case, I probed into the current state of customer trust. My question to the team was simple, “what is your level of confidence in the answers you give regarding project and milestone completion?” The response went round and round a bit.

First, they answered, “we hope it’s correct.” Pressing further, I asked to give that hope a percentage, and they replied, “it’s probably about 50% accurate.” I pushed a little bit more, just a little nudge, and the next and final answer was, “well, probably around 20% confidence.”

Let’s think about that for a minute. Without being overly critical, the team answering does want the answer to be 100% accurate. The reality is they know it is a flawed answer.

The black and white of it is that the answer is knowingly false, a misrepresentation of the truth – in fact, basically a lie. Now before everyone jumps on me here, let’s put ourselves in the buyer’s shoes. After experiencing months and years of these hope-based answers, they likely don’t trust any answer at all. They probably have zero confidence in what they heard; in fact, they hear it as a lie.

This is no way to build a long-standing business relationship. Think of any other relationship in your life in which you never believed what a person told you, nothing was trustworthy. How long did that relationship last? Have you basically dismissed that person from your life?

Let’s apply that same potential for dismissal into our customer relationships – are they potentially thinking of dismissing you and your company due to the same lack of trust? If this is the case, what can we do to rebuild a foundation of transparency and trust?

Four steps to achieving predictable completion

In Scrum: The art of what not to do, we discussed how to keep a focus on committed work. Building on that idea, you should consider the following four steps to attain predictable completion – and build stronger relationships with your customers:

  1. Understand the current flow of work in the sprint and use the completion analytics to baseline future planning – don’t overcommit the sprint.
  2. Create and adhere to Work in Progress (WIP) limits, with each team member having only 1-2 items in progress at any time.
  3. Have team members hold each other fully accountable to the sprint goal and commitment.
  4. Ensure the team uses the sprint retrospective to identify improvement methods and implement them.

By using these four simple steps, teams will evolve to higher degrees of predictable accuracy. In turn, this predictability will build on itself and create a transparent pattern of completed work that’s sharable with all customers and likely to result in improved trust!

If you want to enable higher trust between your customers and yourself, then focus on improving your completion predictability!