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A week after the U.S. terrorist attack on 9/11/01, my wife and I flew to Russian to adopt two children. While strolling down Red Square in Moscow, our hearts were still heavy concerning all that had transpired at home.

As we came upon the U.S. Embassy, we were taken back by what we saw. There, lined ten feet deep around the entire building were thousands upon thousands of flowers, letters, and a myriad of other expressions of deep sorrow and empathy for America. Knowing that we were Americans merely by our appearance and how we walked, total strangers came up to us, one after another, with sad faces and tears in their eyes. They were speaking to us in such rapidity, presuming we could understand, but we could not. I wish I knew what they were saying. I wish I could have sat down on the steps and freely and fluently conversed with them, learned their story, and bonded through our mutual pain. By their facial expressions and body language, I could make some assumptions and conclusions, but without a translator, all I could do was put my hand on my heart, warmly clasp their hand, and convey ‘thank you’ in the best way I could.  

Interpretation and translation from a customer request into an digestible and right-sized piece of work for a team is one of the most important tasks that a product expert does. One of the foundational differentiators of developing and delivering with a lean-agile approach is continual discovery and incremental delivery of value along the way. Why? Because this ‘thing’ that we are attempting to build and deliver is complex, filled with many unknowns at first, much like a new language filled with nouns, verbs, independent and dependent clauses, conjunctions, and subordinators that need to be discovered and mastered to speak the language correctly. In business and in technology, we call these ‘requirements,’ but requirements can no longer be fully known and locked in up-front like the old days. Developers need to deliver in slices and get fast feedback so they can know whether they are on the right track, and if not, adjust to get back to center. 

We remember the ‘Telephone Game’ as kids, where a person starts off whispering a phrase in a person’s ear, and then that person turns to the next person and whispers what they heard, and so on down the line. By the time it gets to the last person, and they share the phrase, the outcome is completely different, and everybody laughs. However, in business, when the general ‘ask’ of the customer is shared with the product delegate, there is nothing funny or trivial about getting that wrong. The importance of how they go about the translation process, collaborating to understand the ‘ask,’ to break it down into more digestible pieces of work, and pass those on to the teams to develop and deliver it, will determine the level of success (or failure) of the entire process. 

Within Hummingbird Agile, we have such a role called the consumer delegate. They serve as translators to 3-4 teams, called crews. Consumer delegates work tirelessly to ensure that their understanding of the customer and their interpretation of what they want and need manifests itself in the form a value that delights the customer, stabilizes the system, and promotes technical health. An excellent translator needs to know their customer, be an attentive listener, an intuitive interpreter, understand the variables and available resources, and be a proficient and effective speaker. In addition, they must fight against the ’Telephone Game,’ preventing too many layers between customer and producer, and too many hand-offs that naturally create misunderstanding of the language. If this is you, there is a place for you in the Hummingbird Delivery Ecosystem.

Register for a workshop to hear more about the Hover Consumer Delegate role within Hummingbird Agile.

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