The Customer is Always Right?

Position Paper for XP2001 Workshop on Customer Involvement

Steven Fraser

Nortel Networks, Santa Clara, CA. USA.




As a customer, my position is that the customer is always right. This can challenge development team desires of customer availability, single-site development, schedule, team size and other resource issues.   Making the right trade-offs with flexible software development processes is an important key for survival in the post-dot-com of the early 21st century.  Saying “no” (to trade-offs) might not be an option.


Three key customer “involvement” factors were essential for the development of a web-based conference registration system in a critical two-month period:  knowledge of the domain, mutual understanding of the schedule constraints for both product delivery and design staff, and feature prioritization.


·        Domain knowledge was essential to identify solution opportunities (buy a system, modify an existing system, or build a new system) and validate operational requirements. This requires a partnership between the design team and the customer that is based on more than “I’ll know it when I see it” relationship.


·        Mutual understanding of schedule constraints quickly prioritized what was possible and what wasn’t possible – particularly in the context of a 40 hour week (actually we were contending with a 37.5 hour week or even a 24 hour week with part-time staff).


·        Feature prioritization combined with incremental releases ensured that an operational system was almost always available. This was essential given the operational requirements of 24x7 service for registration and information service support for conference registrants.


Steven Fraser is a senior manager in the Disruptive Network Technology group in Global External Research at Nortel Networks in Santa Clara, California. From 1995 to 1999 Steven was a tech transfer agent within Nortel Networks for software engineering best practices and Chair of the Nortel Design Forum. From 1991 to 1995 Steven was a software reuse evangelist within Nortel’s Computing Research Laboratory in Ottawa, Canada. In 1994 he was a Visiting Scientist at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) collaborating with the Application of Software Models project on the development of team-based domain analysis techniques. He is an avid operatunist and photographer.