Blueberries and the Feedback Loop

If you are Agile without scrum, having a useful feedback loop can be a challenge. Creating solutions, for customers is sticky business. Why else would there be entire swaths of IT built around relationship “management?”

A recent shopping trip to a Sendik’s food market, the gap in the feedback loop was obvious. In the produce section, where you’ll usually find me, there was a sale on Wish Farm blueberries. Ah, that spectacular time of the year in Wisconsin when we get blueberries on the cheap. I put a few pints into my cart. At this point, the possibilities were endless: paleo blueberry muffins, blueberry crisp…


I noticed some of the pints were not full. Now, hold on a minute. Even at $2.00 a pint, a pint is still a pint. Not ¾ of a pint. Most every pint was short on berries. This was definitely a short changing epidemic.

The tag line for Sendik’s markets is “your trusted, local grocer,” so I wanted them to know about the blueberry heist. There was a produce worker busy stocking grapes nearby. Now was my chance. I shared with him the problem, and how I’ve seen it before with the blackberries. As I described the problem to the produce worker, another customer eyed the blueberries.

The produce worker was gracious, and even a little curious, but acted rather uninterested. He did not walk over to the blueberries to see the problem himself. He didn’t seem to have the time for me; was he deep in another process? He did offer to help, “I have another cart of blueberries here, from another company.”

Yes, please.  And then I had three full pints of beautiful Naturipe blueberries. My immediate needs were met, but the bigger problem wasn’t solved. What about all the other ¾ pints there?

Not to be left out, the other blueberry customer was curious. I walked over to her, and shared my observations. She agreed, and then speaking at the produce worker, who was still firmly planted in his world of grapes, “The blackberries are the worst offenders!”

Now this worker has solid evidence from two customers, yet he doesn’t really want to take time with us. We got pleasant assurances that he will forward our complaints to management. Good, but not great.

When you are Agile in a nonscrum world, taking time to work through customer feedback may be the single, greatest challenge. How to give it your Agile best? There is no exact recipe for this, but there are basic Lean-Agile concepts to keep in mind. I offer to begin with three reflection questions:

Are you spending enough time with your customers? You, not a department, not a relationship manager, you. When did you last have quality time with your customers? How much is enough quality time? What gets in the way?

Are you listening when you take time with them? Or are you passing them off with something temporary, to send them on their way? Why do you push them away? Or, are you thinking about how you’ll defend their request instead of being present and taking it all in?

What is your turnaround on changing, based on what you heard? This is really hard to do in a nonscrum environment, but not impossible. What waste holds you back from doing it? What are you going to do about it…today?

Your customer doesn’t want ¾ of your attention on their problem; they want you all in.

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