C-Minus – How far are you from your customers?

When was the last time you had a conversation with a customer either on the phone, or in the flesh? As a programmer, if you view your test team as your customer, you’ve got it wrong. I’m talking about customers that buy what you build–those fine folks who ultimately pay your salary.

As an employee, are you concerned with how far you are from the CEO in the hierarchy? Do you count levels to measure your relative importance in the corporate food chain? Try this instead. Count the degrees of separation between you and your customer.

  • C-minus zero means you have direct contact with customers (real end-users of your product or service).
  • C-minus one means you are one step removed from direct customer contact, and so on.

It may not be feasible, nor desirable to have frequent direct customer contact for everyone when you have projects that are huge, with hundreds of engineers spread around the world. Customers would balk as well. However, there is nothing more valuable or powerful than getting direct feedback from customers, especially for the builders of the product.

If you have many degrees of separation between yourself and your customer, find ways to reduce this even if it is infrequent. Bring your customers in for a “Demo Day” and have them meet the engineers. You can do this on a schedule cadence that makes sense in your context. The frequency will vary depending on:

  • The project’s importance
  • The number of people involved in development
  • Geographic dispersion of teams relative to the customer
  • The depth of innovation in your project

What’s your C-minus? How can you reduce it?


One thought on “C-Minus – How far are you from your customers?

  1. When I was in product development I would rhetorically ask myself “does anyone even use this stuff?” (referring to the NMS application we were developing). As a developer, I had absolute zero customer interaction. Even though it was a small company and a small team, my “C minus 1 or 2” might as well have been “C minus 100” because very little of anyone’s customer interaction was shared with the development team. Now, as a consultant, I’m almost always at “C minus zero” and I really enjoy that.


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