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Customer-Centric Development: It's Now Or Never For IT Shops

IT leaders must focus on what customers want from mobile apps, or CMOs will just give up on internal IT.

Good developers want to engage with and understand customer needs, but often formal processes and a lack of autonomy prevent them from doing so. It's no coincidence that most digital agencies and mobile specialists I've spoken with use a modified Agile software development process to build systems for their clients.

Agile techniques let them get quick feedback and make rapid course corrections. They do make some modifications to standard Agile techniques like Scrum, such as including a longer initial phase where information architects and user-experience designers work with business sponsors to develop profiles and perform research about the customers they will create solutions for.

The corollary to developer autonomy is responsibility. At a minimum, IT leaders should start thinking about assigning product owners to be the voice of the customer. Product owners are a key role in the Scrum technique, and they work well in customer-centric development.

The ultimate measure of this approach is customer-centric measures. I recently asked a developer friend at NetFlix how his team was measured. His response "How many hours a customer watches video a month." That creates customer focus! Another example is Ultimate Software -- its developers are regularly measured on the ratio of defects found by customers to defects found be development. The result is higher quality products.

As an IT leader, it's time to start investing in applications that work across laptops, phones and tablets. If not, you’ll come up lacking compared to a new generation of consumer services turned corporate players, such as Twitter, Dropbox and Evernote, that work across all those channels. Are you ready to make the changes and adjustment to your development culture and processes to give your customers (and employees) the same experience?

Jeffrey Hammond is a principal analyst at Forrester Research. He will be moderating a keynote panel on enterprise mobility at Forrester’s IT Forum, May 25-27, in Las Vegas.

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