(Parts of this posting were adapted from an email written by my business partner, Dale Kiefling)
We recently had the disconcerting experience of having a client cancel our engagement because they’d felt that we weren’t being agile enough. In hindsight there were a number of reasons why this might have happened but I think the most important one was simply that we did not provide a clear overview of the engagement. This meant that the client was confused about the value of what we were doing. I myself am confused about how the situation arose. I thought we had been very clear but obviously that was not the case.
In our practice we typically combine a discovery phase and a prototyping analysis and design phase. What some people in the agile world might call iteration zero. For our client this discovery seemed open ended and they didn’t have a clear understanding of how it fit into the project as a whole. This was a communication failure on our part. The process of discovery can indeed feel open-ended as it is the very nature of discovery to explore the domain of the business opportunity in an open way. The purpose of this “openness” is to find the appropriate scope, workflow, practical boundaries, and hidden benefits in an exploratory and visual manner.
The primary advantage of doing this work at a high level early on in the process is that it is much easier and cost-effective to identify boundaries and priorities on a whiteboard rather than during the construction phase or even during prototyping. We should have done a better job explaining this prior to our first discovering meeting which might have helped our client better understand our process and purpose. We also never really established a timeline beyond having one or more discovery meetings which may have added to their confusion.
Let’s chalk this up to another lesson on the importance of managing client expectations.