Transparency sounds good in theory, but what are the practical implications of being transparent? Think better value and repeat business, for starters…
How can you create transparency?
“We do what's called a 'daily stand-up'. Most of the people are sitting during it, I'm sure, because they're at home [as part of a remote workforce]. Anyway, the idea is it's a short meeting and you're standing, so it doesn't take too long. During that stand-up on an ongoing project the people that attend that are the product manager, all of the developers that are involved in the project [and] we also have a representative from the client in that stand-up as well,” explains Mikel Lindsaar, founder of reinteractive.
“Unlike some other organisations where they try and shield the developers from the client because they don't want the client talking to the developers for some reason – I don't know, stealing them or whatever – we make sure that the developers and the client are actually in high communication.”
In other words, consider allowing your customers to have access to people right across your business, rather than only one central point.
According to Mikel, a big part of creating transparency is to bring the customer in from the very beginning – not halfway through the project. In addition building good relations with the customer, this facilitates two-way transparency in terms of what you can deliver for them, as well as exactly what their needs are.
“Our biggest job at reinteractive when we're running a successful software project is how do we help bring the customer to understanding that the feature they want, while nice, won't earn them any more dollars in the short term?” he says.
“When a client comes to us with a new software project we won't start building it most of the time, unless it's very simple, unless we get what we call a set of clickable wire frames [basic blueprints] done. We sit down with a client. Our UX [user experience] expert sits down and they draw up the wire frames. You can click around and play with it and you can show people. I can hand it over to you and you can press the buttons and you can type in anything in the login form and it will still log you in.”
Why is transparency important?
Mikel says that creating transparency for customers is not about trying to educate them on what you do, but to understand your processes as well as their own role within a project or service, and to get them actively involved in delivering the best possible solution for their business.
“We don't want the client to try and be the expert in our domain. We want the client to be an expert in their domain,” he says.
“We can give the client some expectations on how complex [each option is], then the client can come back with: ‘Actually, that's an incredibly critical part of the application, so we need the most complex version’ or ‘Actually, that's not such a big problem in terms of the whole domain of what we're looking at. Let's go the easier version so we can focus resources on the more complex part’.
“Our job is to explain to the client what it's actually going to take to build this website, or 'web application', we call them, and breaking down those ... different stories of different complexity. Then we reorder those into the sequence that's going to get the biggest bang for the buck for the customer.”
Mikel adds: “One of the most common things that I end up telling my clients when I talk to them [is]: ‘Our primary goal is to get this thing, whatever we're building, into the hands of the end user so you as a client can start generating revenue off it, so that you can [retain] us to make it even better’. We are constantly bringing our client back to that viewpoint.”
Customers' needs can be better met by allowing them more involvement in the process, rather than spending money on something that looks good initially but may not be the best fit for their requirements.
“There's a universal truth in software development – and I'm sure it's in many other fields as well … that the available budget for any software project is always smaller than the requested features. Always. There's no way around it. People look at it and go, 'That's great but wouldn't it be great if ...', Mikel explains.
What do customers say about transparency?
“They actually really like that,” says Mikel.
“One of the most common compliments we get … is they just go: 'You're so transparent. For the first time, we can actually understand what you're doing'.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.