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PHOTO: Tachina Lee

What is the primary goal of the software development team at your company? Until fairly recently, the answer to that question was simple: to develop functional software. 

For the first several decades of the Information Age, creating functional software was the only target development teams had to hit. Unfortunately, things are no longer quite so simple. 

For better or worse (and for consumers, it’s definitely for the better), the development of functional software is now only a bare-bones, minimum baseline requirement. To avoid being steamrolled by competitors, your software needs to deliver more than just mere functionality — it must keep customers engaged. 

If your software doesn’t do that, it’s quite likely that your competitors have developed software that does. And you can be certain that your customers will find, and flock to, that superior user experience.

Related Article: How Customer Expectations Are Driving Product Thinking in Some Surprising Places

A Scramble for Agility

What else has changed in the world of software development? The need for speed.

Development teams are under more pressure than ever before to get products to market faster. That pressure has given rise to the widespread use of agile development methodologies.

For many organizations, the result has been a clash between the two most compelling demands upon software development teams: delivering quality and releasing software at a rapid cadence.

An agile mindset is required to achieve the necessary speed, but building a customer-obsessed culture starts with ensuring superior quality of all user experiences — and ensuring a quality experience means testing the software. Testing is certainly a component of agile, but spending too much time on testing can conflict with the agile philosophy.

Related Article: How to Build a Sustainable Agile Culture

Speeding to a Better UX

The key to building an agile, customer-obsessed culture is the ability to test quickly and efficiently, bringing great user experiences to market in a rapid fashion.

It could be argued that in the early days of agile, development teams were often forced to choose between the speed of development and the quality of the finished product. But the advent of on-demand and real-world testing has eliminated the need to choose speed over quality, or vice versa. It also gives brands insight into how their actual customers experience software, how they choose the devices they use, and what will make them continue to use a product — and recommend it to other people. That’s because on-demand resources are able to quickly scale up to any testing needs — eliminating any concerns over testing speed.

There are three important steps companies can take to leverage the benefits of agile while retaining the ability to deliver consistently outstanding user experiences: Focus first on improvements for the user, make incremental, user-driven changes, and walk a mile in the customer’s shoes. Let’s take a look at each of those.

1. Focus first on improvements for the user

Whether initiating a new development project or considering enhancements to an existing experience, companies often focus on internal benefits such as lower labor costs and faster system response times. They often neglect to consider how users of the product will be impacted, either directly or indirectly. Going into each project asking “How does this benefit the customer?” will lead to higher engagement and loyalty from customers and will provide the aforementioned internal benefits in the long run.

2. Make incremental, user-driven changes

Agile involves an incremental development methodology that allows for iteration and frequent testing. Whether it’s through focus groups, beta testing, or user feedback surveys, brands need to incorporate the customer’s opinion into each step of the agile development process. If they do that, they can rapidly react to negative or positive commentary on new features or experiences. They can even adjust production environments by providing the option to give feedback as part of the software.

3. Walk a mile in the customer’s shoes

While the agile methodology centers on the internal development process, it can still benefit from a customer focus. To become truly customer-obsessed, organizations should look to their customers to guide their development and the customer journeys they design. After all, customers may experience digital properties in a way that’s entirely different from what development teams intended. The ability to quickly and accurately see what a customer sees at every stage of the customer journey is invaluable.

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Live in an ‘And’ World

A development team forced to choose between speed and quality is in a tough spot. But it is no longer an “either/or” decision. We now live in an “and” world where brands can get both the speed of agile and the UX quality it takes to be truly customer-obsessed.

By focusing on delivering value to customers regardless of where their experiences take place, development teams will see the many benefits to both their internal and external audiences.