We’re in a remarkable era: the age of the customer, where availability of information and ease of communication have shifted much of the power from the manufacturer and seller over to the customer. As a result – markets are being disrupted, the Fortune 1000 is transforming. Over 700 of the Fortune 1000 are new within the last 10 years. That’s 70% turnover.
This shake up speaks to the shifting competitive landscape, to the innovators, the disrupters that are focusing on the customer. This is happening across verticals, geographies and business models. The question is: what are you going to do about it? How will you first understand – then meet the needs of your newly powerful and vocal customers?
If we want to stay relevant, stay innovative, stay profitable, we are going to need to change the way we work. We need to find ways to be faster, manage complexity so we can innovate and better understand our customers. The good news is that there are things you can focus on and start doing right now.
Define the Why
In addition to defining all the features and functions, take time to understand, define and share the why within your organization. Share why you prioritized this project and put the other one on hold. Why your customers need this feature, what problem does it solve for them? Most importantly define the business outcomes that you are hoping to achieve.
Your team members want to understand why and feel closer connected to the outcomes and bigger picture. When they understand, they get excited, they will give more discretionary effort, everyone does when they’re committed to a cause, we’re less likely to give up.
When you define the why, it makes you faster. You give your team context to make better decisions with less churn. There is always going to be missing information and questions, but if the product team understands the why and the outcomes we’re shooting for, they will make much better decisions when they fill in the gaps.
Focus on Core Business Value
For every initiative, find and hold true to the core business value. What do I mean by core business value? At Jama we refer to this as the steel thread. This means the absolute, essential set of deliverables that is necessary to fully realize the idea and no more.
This may sound like MVP because that’s associated with the first iteration of a product. But the problem is that MVP is often associated with just the features so we use the term Steel Thread or CBV because it holds us accountable to something broader: the outcome and impact of the release. We want something more meaningful for our customer than “Was it functional?” We want to provide a better business outcome.
We fully embrace agile and iterative process, but it’s about entering into development with a strong viewpoint of what success looks like based on customer interviews, value testing, design reviews. We build with a very strong view of what outcomes the product should deliver.
Product development is all about negotiations and trade offs. You start with this beautiful idea of what you want to build, but the reality of what ultimately comes out at the end will require decisions and compromise. If you and your team have a clear understanding of the steel thread you can cut through discussions, trust that team members will make the right decisions and navigate through the technical complexities to obtain the business outcomes.
When you are ready to start building, look around and see what you can reuse rather than reinvent. This is something we see frequently: teams within large companies recreating the wheel over and over and starting projects from scratch. If you can figure out ways to start sharing and reusing information not only are you faster – but it helps deal with product complexity.
Different versions of a Product often share 80-95% of the same IP. Companies we see leading the pack are finding ways to reuse their IP at many levels. Code reuse happened first, but now we see customers reusing design artifacts, specifications, test cases, content for data sheets and process information.
For example, we have a customer that launches satellites. They found that 70% of the planning doesn’t change from launch to launch. They now reuse all the launch manifest information, update with any new information they learn and improve every time. This frees them up to focus their energy on the features and services that differentiate them, the 30% that’s customized for each launch. The same goes for a semiconductor customer. They decreased their cycle time by creating a library of specifications that are reused to create new products, which provide them efficiency gains at each level.
Review Early and Often
This seems like a small one, but we’ve seen it often as the fastest path to dramatic improvements in quality and speed. I’m talking about reviewing early and often with a broad set of stakeholders. It’s important to move away from mind-numbing daylong meetings going over requirements line by line. At this point it’s too late to incorporate feedback and you are just looking for approval – switching that to lightweight, iterative reviews early and often to engage your team and stakeholders.
Draw people in early on, then transition to value testing, then design reviews, then more formal requirements reviews. The key is keeping these iterative and small.
My last suggestion is to rethink change. Change was a completely different beast 25 years ago. Back then we built products the same way we built buildings, following a traditional methodology. New ideas, information and change requests came in the form of memos and faxes. We read about the market and competitors in monthly magazines and the newspaper. Information was slow and infrequent.
Today, there is no change, just a constant, never-ending flow of new information into your product team. The question is how can you and your team take advantage of this flow? How can you keep it from being disruptive?
First, you need modern tools. To take advantage of this constant flow, you need to adopt tools that are inherently social, so your team can share and discuss new information in the context of their work and in real time. The user experience matters, tools need to be designed for mobile for anytime anywhere access.
Then you need to empower team members to make decisions. Take time to define clear decision-making responsibilities, but push decision making as far and wide as possible. Find ways to be faster than waiting for a bi-weekly status meeting or change control board.
To make sure good decisions are being made, link people to the work. Good decisions need context or situational awareness, an understanding of impact and a way to get input from others.
If you use traceability on your projects, rethink how you can use that information. It’s much more than just making sure you have a test case for every requirement. It’s a guide that tells you who is connected to who at any point in the project. It tells you who is impacted, and those that need to be brought together to make a key decision. It also connects you to the why. It’s a map that shows you who the people are that best understand or defined the core business value.
By providing context, strong relationships, and understanding the why, your teams will be able react to the new information more effectively for better outcomes.
I recently hosted a webinar presenting findings from our Forrester Consulting report, The State of Modern Product Delivery. View the webinar recording, download the full report and view the infographic at www.jamasoftware.com/mpd.
Jama Software is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Our software is used by companies around the world to manage scope, quality and reuse for product and software development. We enable teams to collaborate in context and make faster decisions for better outcomes. We’re passionate about helping you improve product delivery and we’d love to share how our solution can improve your outcomes. Learn more about the Jama Product Delivery Solution.