Who says what’s valuable?

So, what's it worth to ya?

You? Or your customer? Or their customer? Or some high-priced-out-of-town-consultant who will work as long as there is budget?

As we write software, especially using agile approaches, we often speak about the notion of value.

Most commonly we refer to value according to the perspective of the business owner, customer, stakeholder, etc.

I am writing about value today because of questions that arose from my earlier post on producing software, in which I summarized an objective of agile to produce quality software, fast.

(I was waiting for Vince to let me know he had posted his thinking, but figured we would be safe to cross the streams after all. Sorry, Vince.)

Quality and Value

A fundamental question is “What makes quality software, quality software?” Is it just freedom from defects? How about conformance to specifications (you gave me what I asked for but not what I wanted)? Where does “value” fit into a notion of “quality“?

Now, Vince can guess where I am heading, but there is not room in a single blog post to write about all of this… so I get a two-fer or a three-fer (or “more-fer”?) on a single set of distinctions!

Anyway, let’s start by saying that value is not something you can carry in your pocket, but an assessment – an interpretation. The assessment might have merits backed up by fundamentals, it could be supported by generally and widely accepted principles, or it could just be an opinion.

In that way, value is not objective, fixed or permanent… but what people value nevertheless can stir them into a frenzy.

Works of Art

Writing software, especially custom software, can be compared to being commissioned to produce a work of art – what we produce may be one-of-a-kind, especially when someone is paying through the nose for it.

If you haven't got a penny, then a hay-drachma will do

In those cases, it only makes sense that the commissioner (the “customer”) has the final say in what is valuable, and that assessment will be the framework within which the software is considered “quality”.

Now, I often work with my teams as we write proposals to think of “the offer we are willing to make“… which might not be the same offer the customer is looking for. Imagine Michelangelo being commissioned to whitewash a picket fence.

We need the courage (the ethic) in those cases to decline making offers that we don’t value.

In doing so, we avoid cheapening our help and we preserve the economics of custom software… after all, it is not always the appropriate course for a customer. When it is, we can be valuable.

What do you think about your customers’ notion of value being an assessment? Do you think they believe it is real, fixed and obvious? Have you considered NOT making offers that you don’t want to make? Why might you be hesitant to do so?

About ken
Creative insights, passion and technical adrenaline - strategist, agile coach and marketer, providing a good life for wife of 20 years & 2 awesome teenagers!

6 Responses to Who says what’s valuable?

  1. Pingback: What were we thinking? « kenfaw.com

  2. Rick Ross says:

    I wonder if part of the reason that I (and I speculate that other technologists do as well) focus more on the offer the customer wants us to make is due to the excitement of solving new challenges. I love to solve relevant problems that produce situations that customers desire, and the harder the challenge the more satisfying (pride?) it is when a workable solution is produced. So when a technology challenge is offered, I start thinking about solutions rather than stepping back and asking, what does the customer really want.

    • ken says:

      Rick, thanks for your comment. I hope you don’t mind if I split this into two conversations…

      First, I accept. I get jazzed to solve a problem, and I hate thinking there is one I can’t solve (though I typically need a lot of help to do it). Remember, anyone who thinks something can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it? I struggle with that, though I know some things are just not possible.

      Right on. I get it.

    • ken says:

      I also noticed you mention stepping back and asking “what does the customer really want”… one thing I am also asking is whether it is something YOU want to do in the first place. If you transact for value, then what you transact WITH should also be valuable. Your customer thinks so or they would not ask for it… but do YOU think so?

      I am not asking whether you have a high self-esteem and value your own work. It is more about looking across your career and asking whether what you are doing will contribute positively to it, to your family or to your accomplishments. If producing that success for your customer simultaneously produces a great accomplishment for YOU… not just the rush or the thrill of solving the problem if that is not your ultimate goal… then that would be the greatest value you can produce, because everybody wins and is better off in the end.

  3. banky says:


    I’m crafting a blog post that is a product of thinking that, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist yet. I am iterating the thinking with a friend of ours but it certainly isn’t ready for prime-time yet.

    You got the impression that I was ready to post my thinking and I’m not. I apologize. I am open to fulfilling a request of yours while you are waiting. I pledge to remember that my declarations are there to produce an assessment of trust and identity and not an assessment of empty rhetoric.

    Thank you for linking to me. I am really enjoying, and respecting, your perspectives.

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