Category: Interactive Services


Category: Interactive Services
West Corporation

Posted on May 29, 2013 by West Corporation 


It’s Time to Transform Your Customer Service Experience

It’s a busy, busy world out there, and your customers are very busy people. What are you doing to transform your customer service experience?

Consumers want to reach out to companies in a variety of ways: over the phone, through a mobile application, via texting, through social media and over the Web. And they want the experience to be quick and easy.

The younger demographic is driving the demand for a wider variety of communication channels. I remember as a teenager being on the phone all the time. As I watch the two teenagers in my house, they never use the phone. They are constantly on a variety of applications on their mobile devices. These applications allow them to see their friends using video or pictures. As this demographic continues to age, they will come to expect more and more to be able to get their customer service needs taken care of on their mobile devices.

As an organization, the first thing you need to do to transform your customer experience is to create a plan. Think about the short term, the next one to three years, and longer term, like five years and beyond.

Next, some things to consider as you devise your plan: How are your customers reaching you now? How many are calling on a mobile device? What is the age or demographic of your customers? What channels seem to be a good fit for your customer base? Outline how and when you will add these communication channels in your plan.

As you consider adding channels, another thing you need to take into account is the need for a platform that enables transaction knowledge to be shared among different channels. As busy as your customers are, the last thing they want to do is to give you their full information every time they interact with one of your channels. For example, if you send a customer an SMS text message that states they have a payment due, when your customer calls in to your IVR in response to the text, your IVR should be personalized welcoming them by name and “smart” enough to ask if they are calling to make a payment.

Another portion of your transformation plan should look at calls that are still being handled by agents. As comfortable as today’s consumers are with automation, ask yourself whether there are further opportunities for automation with inbound customer service calls. Perhaps there are some frequently asked questions that can be automated. Or, can you add more information to the identification/authentication process to allow for more accurate transfers? These types of transformation steps are ones that you can accomplish this year in your plan.

It’s time to get busy and transform your customer service experience. Start now and get working on your plan.

West Corporation

Posted on May 27, 2013 by West Corporation 


Clearing the Fog Surrounding ‘the Cloud’

How many times have you heard, “Everything is moving to the cloud”? Data. Infrastructure. Applications. Services. Communication channels. It’s all going to the cloud.

Yet, when we talk with many clients around the country, the real “cloud” is actually the mental fog caused by their desire to connect multiple customer contact channels. Forget, for now, the cloud that hosts applications and enables software-as-a-service (SaaS) types of solutions. I’m talking about the cloud fogging up the lens to see a better customer experience through multichannel integration.

Time and time again, consumers initiate an interaction in one channel and ultimately complete that interaction after using a second, third or even fourth channel. These consumers seamlessly move from self-service to full service and back to self-service, yet their personal data, contextual information and historical interactions are never taken into account. The enterprise views each time they have contact with a consumer as an independent transaction.

But the consumer views the enterprise as a single, holistic company that should not only “see” what they did in one communication channel, but also connect all of that time, effort, data and context to the next channel, and the next channel and so on. And the fog rolls in.

Enterprises that are cross-channel context aware — those that figure out the most effective way to connect customer communication channels, to access existing consumer data across various silos residing within the enterprise systems and databases, to present optimized channel interactions — and those that deliver communications in consumer-preferred channels will have a decided advantage in the eyes of ever-fickle consumers who seek a seamless experience regardless of device, location, time, place or channel.

Never have Johnny Nash’s words been more relevant in business:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-shiny day.

West Corporation

Posted on May 21, 2013 by West Corporation 


How to Win a Really Cool Customer Service Award

At West, we are always looking for ways to enhance our customer contact solutions. Recently, we were honored by Frost & Sullivan for our best practices around customer value enhancement. I wanted to take a moment to toot our own horn a bit in this blog.

The Frost & Sullivan 2013 Customer Value Enhancement Award is a prestigious recognition of our accomplishments in outsourced customer contact solutions. This award is presented each year to the provider in North America that has demonstrated excellence in implementing strategies that proactively create value for its customers, with a focus on improving the return on the investment customers make in its services or products.

The award recognizes our focus on enhancing the value that our customers receive, beyond simply good customer service, leading to improved customer retention. At West, we pride ourselves in our ability to bring a comprehensive mix of services across key customer contact areas for our clients — voice self-service, speech solutions, automated notifications, conferencing and collaboration, agent-assisted voice support, and advanced hosted contact center technology.

This award is recognition of our ability to deliver on our promise of customer contact transformation and to help our clients through their customer communication journey. At West Interactive, we are especially proud to be part of this prestigious award. Click here to learn more about the award.

So, how did we win a really cool customer service award? By focusing on the following:

  1. Developing and delivering comprehensive and innovative solutions that transform the customer experience.
  2. Offering the ability for our clients to expand customer communication channels to offer new and integrated channels of choice to their customers.
  3. Capitalizing on customer mobility.
  4. Delivering an industry-leading, high-capacity, reliable and secure hosted customer care platform.

It’s as simple as that. Thank you to the employees of West Interactive and all of West for the innovation, leadership, and hard work that went into achieving this award. OK, now I am done tooting our horn!

West Corporation

Posted on May 20, 2013 by West Corporation 


Does Knowing What You Are Called Matter?

Is it a product? Is it a technology? Is it a service?

None of the above. All of the above.

It doesn’t matter how you categorize it as long as, (pausing for emphasis) it solves problems and people are willing to pay for it.

OK, I’ll start off on the foot you didn’t expect just because I like to mix it up a little. Money. I am willing to pay for all sorts of things. Even things I don’t need. Crazy, right? I’m willing to pay for some of my problems to be solved by someone else. Other problems I’m willing to live with. Companies, made up of people all with their individual money value systems, do exactly the same thing.

So how do you hone in on the problems that someone will pay you to solve? Better yet, how do you hone in on the problems that many people will pay you to solve?

Measure the market appetite. How long has the problem existed, and is it pervasive?

It’s a process, but be quick. Needs will change. Change can be evolutionary over time or radical and revolutionary, Big Bang style. You can guarantee that change happens, so do your market analysis frequently and routinely. Why? So you can adapt and modernize your approach. Got that part? Great.

Next, how do you go about market analysis? Talk to people. Have a genuine conversation. Be curious and sincere. Ask them, “What keeps you up at night?” If you open up to them, then they open up to you. Information is not power. Solving problems with information is power.

Who do you talk to? Talk to everyone. Talk to the people who hold the purse strings. Talk to the people who make the decisions. Talk to the people who influence the people who hold the purse strings and make the decisions.

Not to point out the obvious, but do not forget talk to the people living with problems. Rarely are they the same people in an organization.

Finally, talk to your competition. Not everything must be adversarial, and sometimes understanding a market left behind by a competitor means that they were not really able to solve those problems, at the right price. So, talk to the peripheral, left behind, no-one-pays-attention-to markets.

Once you identify the root cause of the problem keeping most of the people up at night, you have yourself a winner. What’s next? You guessed it: Make a decision and act on it. Do not languish. Do not ponder. Do not second-, triple- and quadruple-guess the facts in front of you.

Oh, you are saying, I missed something? I jumped ahead to act before I knew if it was a problem that people were willing to pay for? You’re catching on, I see. In fact, I didn’t miss that step. Remember when I suggested asking about the problems that keep them up at night? Well, that is a strong qualifier. Who really can go on, night after night, with no sleep? You can avoid the little problems that people commonly live with as long as all the other things that keep them up at night are resolved.

Take 2, ACTION! Yes, action. No one really wants to take the time to get honest about the most important problems just to be ignored with a “good luck” slap on the back. Get busy and make it happen. Make good on your promises, and if you cycle through this process enough times, your promises will grow your shareholder’s wealth.

West Corporation

Posted on May 15, 2013 by West Corporation 


My, How You’ve Grown!

I’ve been a parent now for nine years. My boys are both the joy and struggle of my life. The excitement that accompanies the birth of one’s children is comparable to nothing else. That life-changing experience fills a new parent with so many emotions: pride, self-doubt, hope, fear, joy, terror.

It’s funny how a new parent’s aspirations for their kids differ from their children’s aspirations as they get older. “My kids won’t eat sugar, watch too much TV or stay up late. They will like homework, become voracious readers and sleep when they’re supposed to. I’ll see to that!” Consider a family with three kids, 15, 10 and 5. The parents, obviously, have more life experience and do their best to impart that wisdom on their kids.

The 15-year-old has just enough life experience of his own to take what his parents teach him, question them, disregard them, and ultimately decide to come up with his own way. He is far from an expert but thinks he has a better solution and wants to prove he knows every bit as much as his parents, if not more.

The 10-year-old is beginning to think for himself, but still trusts his parents’ judgment. He will seek his parents’ advice to validate his own thoughts and ideas before moving forward.

To the 5-year-old, their parents can do no wrong and she tries her best to please. She knows Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are all watching, and she wants to receive her reward: presents, cash and chocolate.

A dialogue designer is often thrust into the role of a parent when developing a concept or detailed interactive voice response (IVR) design for a client. A newer client might feel giddy, knowing he’s going to have a real IVR for Christmas! A more seasoned client has learned some things, dealt with some hurdles but still relies on the dialogue designer because she’s seen how they can do amazing things to improve caller experience. And a savvier client may have his own ideas of how he wants a design to work, and he may push back on consultation because he’s sure he knows his business better than anyone else, and that will surely translate into a better IVR design.

A new dialogue designer may have the same thoughts of unrealistic success as a parent does when their child is first born. “I’ll just explain best practices, and right away they’ll understand and think my design is wonderful.” After some interaction with a few clients, the designer gains wisdom and communication experience with a more realistic grasp of the design process; however, the designer still has not seen the full scope of work possible for an IVR design. An experienced designer has seen multiple design scenarios by industry and IVR type, has seen differing client knowledge levels, and knows how important his or her interaction with the client is to the final outcome.

Some people have innate skills as parents, and those same types of skills can translate to an effective dialogue designer. Taking time to understand a client’s individual needs and then cater to those needs within the guidelines of experience is the best way to raise responsible, grown-up IVR designs.

West Corporation

Posted on May 13, 2013 by West Corporation 


Knowing Sales Channel Nuances Pays Off

“Ten percent of our total sales — it’s that high?”

That was the comment bellowing from an SVP of marketing at one of the largest retail clothing store establishments in the United States.

“Ten percent. Well, that’s incredible. That number is much higher than I would have thought.”

To understand what provoked those remarks you have to go back six weeks in time. As the senior executive overseeing West’s Center of Analytical Excellence, my department, gets brought into all kinds of client meetings. We are the analytical ninjas of the West world — silent, stealthy, almostas potent as the Furious Five from Kung Fu Panda.

In this particular instance, we had a meeting with the client’s chief marketing officer to discuss the importance of understanding their customer base and their behaviors. We also promoted the idea that communication channels (IVR, phone, email, chat, etc.) are self-selected and that people tend to gravitate toward using one channel more than another. To prove our point, we offered to analyze their customer transaction history over a two-year period and once we were finished, we would meet to discuss our findings.

The analysis wasn’t arduous, sophisticated or sexy in any way. In fact, it was really just fundamental frequency reporting. What made this different is that we wanted to really examine channels used, in this case for purchases, by some demographic variables.

We found the following:

  • Their products appealed to a broad array of customers both young and old.
  • Yet, they had more 75+-year-olds making purchases than 19- to 25-year-olds.
  • In fact, 29 percent of the 75+ age cohort used the phone channel for purchases — higher than any age cohort — and this group spent more on average in this channel.
  • The 19- to 25-year-olds were much more likely to purchase via retail or factory outlet.
  • Further dissection also revealed how age cohorts change in their sales channel preferences — so, to eliminate one may actually alienate a large, loyal group.

To capitalize on the findings, the company made improvements to agent staffing by adding agents specializing in the 75+ age demographic to better serve customers. The retailer was also able achieve funding to expand its data warehousing capabilities.

In the end, our data really reinforced to them that:

  1. Knowing your customers is vital to growing and sustaining your business.
  2. You must have complete understanding of all of your sales channels and how they may reinforce each other.
  3. Conventional wisdom and business-as-usual beliefs can lead you down the wrong path and overlook potential micro-opportunities within your existing customers.
West Corporation

Posted on April 30, 2013 by West Corporation 


Sustaining BPO Mojo: Challenges With Business Process Optimization in Your Care Organization

Do you have responsibility for business process optimization (BPO) in your organization? Are you partnered closely with your internal and external technology providers and focused on the same BPO objectives? Does your enterprise have BPO mojo?

Total quality management (TQM) zealots were frustrated in the mid-1990s as the new Six Sigma process rose in popularity. In some people’s opinion it wasn’t all that new, it was just different. The return on investment (ROI) shared by the manufacturing segments that incorporated Six Sigma principles into their daily practices had enterprises, in all verticals, rushing to certify their employees as Six Sigma Black Belts and challenging them to incorporate process measurement into delivery and support organizations.

Various adaptations of these early methodologies faded and morphed through the last decade into what is now broadly categorized as “enterprise process performance improvement,” the simple concept of optimizing processes to ensure value and quality delivery of services to customers. It isn’t really new; it is just different. In addition, while enterprise leaders all fundamentally believe in business process improvement, few organizations are able to sustain the resource commitment to bring enough energy and focus into the efforts to find those big pockets of cost reduction or innovation that move the needle on company profitability. So, many enterprises have lost their BPO mojo.

To be able to identify meaningful or measureable improvement, processes need to be defined, documented and have a clear start and finish. The more simple and straight-lined the process is, the better. But many processes are messy, especially in service-oriented enterprises. Some are routine, others are on-demand. Some are contained within a single business unit while others may span across multiple organizations with varying service level objectives. Core processes generally get priority, but non-core processes rarely get the attention they need. When enterprises also have objectives to be nimble and to customize services to fit the needs of their customer’s businesses, the quality manager of the care organization can go crazy trying to keep processes “within control limits.” He/she may have a hard time finding their BPO mojo, month over month.

There are plenty of service-based organizations, consultants and software development companies that will help enterprises with business process improvement. They’ll gladly interview clients to identify their most important satisfaction factors. They’ll try to draw innovative process ideas out of employees through facilitated brainstorming sessions. They’ll look internally at existing processes and try to measure the costs of the activities to help prioritize areas for automation. Identifying and executing on business process initiatives is definitely a combination of art and a science. It’s difficult to say whose approach is better, they are just different. Sometimes you need multiple perspectives and find the common theme between sources.

As a technology and service provider in the customer care space, one of the things I hear most when talking with clients about their quality and satisfaction goals is how high (or low) their confidence is that they are getting every possible bit of value out of the technology and tools they have invested in. We must constantly show proof of the ROI of our services against the client’s objective, and sometimes subjective, measures. Since BPO helps organizations gain higher customer satisfaction, product quality, delivery speed and time to market speed, we find our best success is when our programs closely align with the BPO initiatives of our customers.

The closer we are able to collaborate with the resources who are accountable for improving processes and are empowered to align all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients, the more effective our programs are. We have also found that the more an enterprise has to respond to changing consumer, competitive, market and regulatory demands, the more we can help our clients create competitive advantage. Synchronization between process and technology is where enterprises find their BPO mojo.

Does your enterprise have BPO mojo?

West Corporation

Posted on April 26, 2013 by West Corporation 


To Insource or to Outsource? That Is the Question

 

When companies are considering whether to manage a project internally (or insource, as is often said these days) or outsource they must first ask themselves where, what, when and why.

Those of you who are frequent readers of my blogs will note that I often draw upon my personal life experiences when weighing in on key business decisions. So, when one of my customers asked me why they should outsource, I immediately reflected back to my childhood. You see, growing up in a large family, being the second oldest of six and the only girl, I learned pretty early on that most things could be created or done without going outside the home. Being raised in an environment where we did most things in-house to save money had its benefits and drawbacks.

To better understand how the only girl in a large family could appreciate the benefits of insourcing and outsourcing, let’s first define what these two terms mean. According to BusinessDictionary.com, insourcing means delegating a job to someone within a company as opposed to someone outside the company. Outsourcing means the contracting or subcontracting of noncore activities to free up cash, personnel, time and facilities for activities in which a company holds competitive advantage.

Insourcing can look like a straightforward option, especially when you need a task executed on a temporary basis or if the task requires little operational overhead. I would offer the argument, however, that insourcing can help companies build a team of skilled people who are focused on company-specific objectives and initiatives while more effectively promoting the company’s core values.

When I was 9 years old, my parents were both in college getting their master’s degrees in psychotherapy and working full-time jobs. We didn’t have the money to hire a nanny to come in and help us prepare meals, do laundry and help with other things, such as checking homework. Instead, my parents chose to “insource” these tasks to me. The benefit for me was that I learned key fundamental life skills that also promoted our household’s specific objectives and initiatives (i.e., cooking, cleaning, homework — the fundamental yet important life skills needed for all individuals) early and in turn was able to teach my five brothers the same life skills without ever having to spend a single dollar.

Now, I suppose if you had asked me back then if I realized and appreciated all these lessons, I would have unequivocally told you, “No.” At the age of 9, these tasks were of no interest to me, but now as a mother of four young children, I appreciate the in-house investment I was brought into as a child. It has allowed me to streamline my own processes and procedures in a more efficient way while passing these lessons on to my four beautiful children who will most definitely appreciate the investment (when they are older), too.

While the in-sourcing element did a great job in getting and keeping me focused on the skills and core competencies required to run an efficient, cost-effective and well-organized household, outsourcing for me is the obvious winner for many reasons. But, again, I go back to my childhood.

As I mentioned, I was raised in a larger family. One of the tasks I wished my parents would have outsourced was haircuts. You’ve all had a bad haircut at some point, right? To save money, my mom would cut our hair with tools that were not specialized for the job. On a Sunday, all six children would sit lined up and ready for our haircut with the shavers that were used on our dogs the weekend before. My brothers knew the pain it was going to inflict as the clippers pulled their hair and inevitably got clogged up. Not a good customer experience!

In my case, it was the scissors that I dreaded. They were regularly used for a plethora of other tasks such as cutting paper, plastic, shrubbery, and, oh yes, my hair! Needless to say the whole experience was not always comfortable, and, frankly, our hair was not always even (sorry, Mom!). Again, not a good customer experience!

Bottom-line: Sometimes you need to know when and how to recognize that certain tasks are better left to the experts and when a call to the local Cuts-R-Us is in order.

So, bringing it full circle, outsourcing allows businesses to cut operational costs while leveraging the expertise and best practices that outsourcing offers. In addition, outsourcing gives you access to specialized skill sets, resourcing, and processes and procedures that insourcing cannot match — helping to maximize your customer’s experience.

Finally, outsourcing allows you to focus your company (or household) core competencies and more effectively and efficiently achieve your key strategic goals and objectives. Now that outsourcing is used by businesses of all sizes, it has opened a world where we can leverage best practices, evaluate opportunities and, in the end, make it easier for our customers to do business with us, which, in turn, drives revenue.

So should you insource or outsource? There’s no easy answer, but remember, although you may be the most skilled person out there armed with all of your life lessons, if you don’t properly leverage talent both inside and outside of your company you may inflict unnecessary pain on yourself or your customers, ultimately resulting in being “hair” today and gone tomorrow.

West Corporation

Posted on April 25, 2013 by West Corporation 


Can Mobile Apps Enhance Customer Care? Let Me Count the Ways

I am a good Mom, most of the time. My daughter is away at college and needed me to pick up a certified/registered letter at the post office for her. The post office needed a signature for the letter and, of course, no one was ever home when they came to deliver it between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. — duh! Since my daughter couldn’t make it back home during post office hours herself (and being the good Mom), I told her that I would go to the post office and retrieve the letter for her.

So, bright and early in the morning I stood in line at the post office. Only five people ahead of me, great. I’ll still have time to grab a coffee before work. The trouble is that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), as we all know, is revenue-challenged and is operating in the red, so there was only one representative working the line. Customers were doing simple things, but only one guy working slowed things down considerably.

So, 30 minutes later, I finally got to the front of the line. The process to get a certified/registered letter was pretty straightforward. I had to show my driver’s license, as they required that it be the same address that was on the letter. I had to physically sign my name on the signature machine. That was it!

It was then that my wheels really started to turn. This process could be simplified and automated. And, even better, it could be more convenient and maybe even make me loyal to the post office as my shipper of choice and thus spend more money there: Just think if the post office had a mobile app that, among other things, could simplify this process.

If I received a registered letter that I needed to sign for, the app could notify me. I could use my devices camera to scan my driver’s license bar code to prove I was at the same address. I could then digitally sign the “form” within the app. The post office could deliver the registered letter to my home in their next mail delivery. I am happy, and the post office could save money by not needing someone at the physical location to process this type of transaction. Nor would they have to repeatedly try to get my signature at home, when I am never going to be there during the day. Simple, straightforward and effective to me (the customer) and the USPS.

That’s how organizations should be thinking about mobile care applications. They should bring value to the customer and the company — or organizations shouldn’t waste their time. The USPS could save money and apply a mobile app to processing transactions that absolutely need a human to complete the transaction — things like passport processing. The impact to customers is a better customer experience and one that they are more in control of and which is more convenient for them.

Another example is of an experience that I just had as a customer. I am taking my girls to Florida for spring break. My husband is a huge baseball fan (Cardinals, baby!) and we will hit the beach and some spring training games. Well, the girls are 10 and 11 and growing like weeds. So, I went online to order some swimsuits and shorts for the trip. In the Midwest we don’t have a lot of beach apparel in stores this time of year. I went online to my favorite U.K.-based retail site and ordered their stuff. Clothing sizes in the United Kingdom sizes are different than U.S. sizes, and I was not thinking straight, so I ended up ordering the wrong size on a couple items. The next day, I woke up panicked thinking I needed to call and change the sizes before the order shipped. When I called the company, by the time they heard my story, searched for my order, verified 62 pieces of information (exaggeration!) the call took about 12 minutes. And then, in the end, they weren’t able to change my order anyway. So annoying!

What could have and should have happened is that when I called, their system would have the ability to recognize that I had placed an order in the last 24 hours and the agent could greet me accordingly. “Hi Jil Fisher, are you calling about your recent order?” I would have been so much happier if they at least would have acknowledged me and the business I gave the company. And it certainly would have sped up the call if they knew something about me.

If the company could spend the time and focus on making sure all of their channels are connected and aware of recent activity everyone would win. It would save the company money in agent costs with shorter calls due to more intelligence when they are presented with the call. The customers would be more loyal due to the differentiated experience they receive in all the channels that they are using

I don’t want to suggest that customer data management easy. It seems straightforward when you are the customer, but there are lots of things that need to be contemplated from a company perspective — and you don’t want to try to boil the ocean.

  • Companies need to think about their overall processes and how customers transact with them in general. Think like a customer — be a customer. The mobile channel creates a great opportunity to streamline, personalize and engage customers. Just don’t create another communication silo.
  • Companies should think about how all of the channels can tie together. How they can streamline and connect channels.

It’s hard to know where to start, and that’s where a company like West can help. We can help create the vision for an overall customer experience and the road map to get there so you aren’t biting off more than you can chew. We are helping companies with this every day. And we are there every step of the way.

Learn more about this subject in Jil Fisher’s podcast, “Use a Mobile App to Improve Your Customer Care.”

West Corporation

Posted on April 24, 2013 by West Corporation 


Becoming More Agile

The software industry includes many different methods for developing and publishing code/software, including waterfall, prototyping, spiral and so on. Software development is like Baskin-Robbins ice cream — there are 31 flavors.

OK, maybe not exactly 31, but there is a wide diversity of software development methodologies. Rather than go into each one and touch on the pros and cons, I just want to briefly talk about agile development at a high level. It may be necessary to choose your software development life cycle (SDLC) flavor based on the size of the project and the complexity of the requirements. If you decide to practice some form of agile development, which is a strong possibility, then there are some things you should be aware of.

The agile software methodology is an incremental and iterative approach to developing projects and, much like software development life cycles, in general, it has a variety of diversity and practice. It focuses more individuals and interactions where those elements are more important than processes and tools. In some cases, in an agile approach, developers are required to have extensive knowledge and past experience developing systems as well as be co-located with the actual end-user as much as possible.

The customer or end-user needs to be just as knowledgeable as the development team, providing constant feedback, due to the ever-evolving requirements. Requirements in an agile approach are not initially well-defined, and for the most part, are incomplete at the outset of the project. Requirements rapidly change through end-user feedback loops and evolve over time as the project progresses.

There are many advantages to agile programming, the biggest of which is minimizing project risk due to developing an evolving product with minimal initial expectations. Constant end-user/stakeholder feedback grows the product into what is actually requested and at any point in the project, an actual functioning prototype exists.

Traditional waterfall methods do not provide that advantage; rather, the end-user’s involvement is mainly prevalent in the requirements phase and product-acceptance phase. Basically, the end-user provides a set of requirements, and the rest is up to the interpretation and understanding of the project team.

It is silly to assume or even believe that requirements are never going to change during a project. It’s the way of life for any project in any industry. If the outcome isn’t what the end-user requested, then one can end up in a costly situation. Agile methodology mitigates that risk by slicing the project life cycle into smaller more manageable milestones, with the end-user reviewing the product at the end of each milestone and providing feedback. Rework at this point is not as costly, since the product has yet to evolve. Lower-risk release cycles promote better design and communication.

Another benefit is that the end-user actually has a working product in their hands during the initial stages of the project as opposed to the traditional delivery near the end of the project. This gives not only the end-user but also the project team a sense of good progress.

One of the best practices for agile software development is to focus on the task and not the individual status. Focusing on smaller tasks, instead of the overall status of the project means more focused, smaller and more frequent releases, which ultimately equates to a feeling of accomplishment and progress. Smaller tasks are easier to track, and progress is measurable. Win-win all the way around.

In summary, the agile methodology is powerful. It offers a different style in managing and executing projects. Better communication, more sound expectations, greater flexibility and improved task-monitoring are only some of the benefits to being agile. There are plenty more SDLC methodologies out there. But, they aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, either. There are also consequences to adopting the agile methodology that fuel many great debates about which methodology is best.

As I stated earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and, often, the choice is driven by the need. Up to this point, West has been consistent in our approach and application of the waterfall methodology. But over the years, I have been involved in many projects that have progressed iteratively that have ended successfully. As we place more emphasis on better speed to market, there may be good reason to tweak our methodology. We don’t have to go all-in on agile, but we can always become more agile, in general.


Intrado

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