This article originally appeared on Medium
The Hertz digital experience project presents an opportunity to examine continuous improvement and innovation. For those who may have missed the story, a brief background: Hertz hired Accenture to help it create a “world-class digital experience”, most notably to “redefine the customer experience on Hertz’s digital platforms” with a redesigned website and “complementary suite of mobile applications.” Hertz paid more than $32 million, which it is suing to recover.
Continuous improvement and innovation, learning and teaching are at the heart of an innovative enterprise. While there have been several articles dissecting the lawsuit, I would like to focus on a piece that has been overlooked: how customers can contribute to the success of such projects and empower their vendors. Taking an Agile approach where customer and vendor work collaboratively together with full transparency could have helped avoid these issues. Let’s look at four specific areas where this can be applied:
- Learn to fish.
Hertz notes in its filing that it “did not have the internal expertise or resources to execute such a massive undertaking.” Many companies don’t—especially in today’s tight labor market. As consultants, our experience has taught us that the best customers are the ones who focus on this shortage and make it a priority to upskill their own teams well. At the end of the day, these teams will gain an in-depth understanding of how to extend their solution moving forward while retaining ownership of their IP.
It’s notable as the lawsuit claims that, “Accenture, not Hertz decided when the design met Hertz’s requirements.” This is often a symptom of a lack of collaboration between the customer and the consultant. Rather than wait to evaluate the design once it is done, a best practice is for the two parties to work together. This is where the customer investing in upskilling really helps make the dialogue rich.
- Small, impactful steps trump a ‘big reveal’.
The lawsuit states that Hertz was aiming for a ‘go live’ date for its new website and mobile apps which was not met. This can be a symptom of targeting a big milestone, rather than incremental improvements with shorter feedback loops. Shorter feedback loops are the best way to achieve progress. They are beneficial as they provide faster feedback cycles which allow you to identify problems (and solutions) faster, create the space for greater flexibility, and allow teams to respond to changing requirements. In our experience, shorter feedback loops increase the ability to deliver the right solution. (In fact, we’ve seen this corroborated by the principles of Little's Law.) Regardless of the tools you use, frequent reviews and retrospectives are critical to shrinking the feedback loop to the point that improvements can be identified and applied quickly to stay in line with a project’s changing needs.
- Transparency is paramount.
Transparency ensures everyone is in alignment which is why simple steps like conducting daily stand ups and weekly reviews can have a big impact on project successes. Other elements for added transparency could include weekly sprint reviews where teams collaboratively evaluate the working solution, tools like Information Radiators, a Team Working Agreement, Definition of Ready and Definition of Done which can go a long way in ensuring alignment and catching misalignments early.
- Consider agile contracts.
Last, speaking of a project’s changing needs, consider using agile contracts as a means to embed agility, transparency, and collaboration into the process from the start. Agile contracts require both the vendor and customer to jointly define the project -- including risks, costs, timeline, scope, joint responsibilities and approvals -- and encourage all the things we’ve covered thus far, transparency, frequent check-ins and short feedback loops.
Agile contracts seek to replace lengthy risk-based language with a transparent project that unearths potential risk as the work progresses and allows teams to dynamically adjust their goals to achieve a functional product. Which leads to the most important point: agile contracts give teams the visibility and flexibility to collaboratively change priorities and/or change the path to a successful project conclusion given roadblocks that may insert themselves along the way. In this way, teams are empowered to focus on the end goal and not just pre-defined contact deliverables.
Agility, transparency, and collaboration are critical legs of the stool as companies work with 3rd party vendors to successfully accomplish important work. In the spirit of learning and continuous innovation, do you have any lessons on your path to digital improvement that you can share here?