Building trust by collaborating openly (republished)

I’m currently (2008) leading a project for a large client. Although they have been a client of ours for some time now, the people involved in the project are new to us and to the agile way of working.

The client is located in another country which makes close collaboration a challenge. Secondly they don’t have much experience with software development projects, which only adds to the challenge. The project is only in the initial stages, but it is evident that the client is uncertain about what to expect from the project and how best to help the team succeed.

In an attempt to align expectations and raise the clients understanding of what is going on within the team I invited a client representative to fly in to sit with and work directly with the team for a few days. The invited person is a key stakeholder when decisions need to be made. He is not the guy with the money, but his opinion is highly valued both in relation to the current project and possible future engagements.

The client has now been working on site with the rest of the team in our offices for the past three days. At first, he wanted to sit more isolated, but I convinced him that he should sit in the same room as the rest of the team with easy access to the team and vice versa. For the duration of his stay, we have treated him as any other member of the team. We might have been a little more attentive when he was running out of coffee, but we haven’t hidden any information, haven’t prettified the burn-down or in other ways behaved differently than we normally would. The client has been to the daily stand-ups reporting on what he had done, to-do´s and impediments. He has been setting with the developers who needed input without interference or supervision from me. He has worked constructively with the stuck tasks on our Scrum board to help get the tasks moving again.

Evaluating the stay just before leaving, the client said that he enjoyed being part of the team and that he had gained a much better understanding of how complex software development is. With a smile on his face he also said, that he in the future will pick up the phone and work directly with relevant team member to resolve issues instead of writing long mails to me pushing for faster delivery. Last, but not least, he will be back in three weeks to take part in the next iteration.

I think that this story is a great example of how collaborating open and honestly can remove barriers and get both client and supplier to focus on the important stuff. We literally “opened the books” and invited the client to see it all and to participate in creating the solution. The experience for both the client and the team and the client’s new insight into the development process will be extremely valuable going forward with the project. We have now build trust and we can focus on our common goal; to create as much business value as possible within the agreed time frame and economic boundaries.

This post is part of my republished collection. It was originally published in November 2008 on AgileThoughts and I have only made minor changes before republishing it.

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