As Forrester Research’s Diego Lo Giudice points out in a co-hosted Jama webinar “Scaling Agile in Your Organization: It’s About Connecting Teams,” modern applications require modern delivery capabilities—the way we need to communicate, organize and assemble teams—to tackle the following:
- Dealing with unknown requirements
- Delivering software quickly
- Embedding market feedback fast
- Improving the customer experience with each iteration
- Testing smarter to maintain quality
The challenge: Because today’s innovative, high-quality products aren’t built in siloed environments, organizations must adopt continuous improvement techniques. Scaling Agile is hard enough, but without a continuous improvement process in place, it’s impossible to iterate accurately, build at a brisk pace and meet your pre-launch goals on time.
The story of building a new product is really a tale of two brains—business and engineering.
Often, these two groups are thought of as being in conflict rather than collaboration, because their brains are occupied with short-term versus long-term concerns.
Engineering: You recognize that successful products come from iterating, pivoting, moving and failing fast—you build, test, adjust and improve based on the situations you encounter.
Business: You focus on planning, predictability and reducing risk. Product leads want a detailed roadmap
with epics and stories plotted out to help make sure releases include every feature on the backlog.
So when you’re seeking ways to build products through better, more efficient means—whether or not “scaling Agile” is your intent—what you want to find is how to connect these two ways of thinking. Because when you connect the business brain to the engineering brain, you connect data, people, work, goals and product … everything.
Everything. It sounds impossible. But what “everything” really means to Business and Engineering brains is traceability.
Companies tend to think of traceability in different ways. It can be waterfall, regulatory, auditory, a trace matrix, or an Excel or Word document that some beleaguered person spends hours updating, hoping its critical information gets in front of the right sets of eyes at the right time.
Whatever the method, traceability is the connective tissue that links people to data, conversations, problems, progress and decisions, so that everyone involved has visibility into the product cycle’s up-to-the-minute state. This integrity connects the defined strategic and product objectives.
But as with Agile, scaling traceability is hard and easy to get wrong. The solution traceability provides isn’t in the tool itself, it’s in the process. Many companies try to tack traceability onto the existing system instead of making it an integral part of the whole product IP puzzle. When requirements, specifications, test cases, conversations, changes and decisions are separated, they’re managed separately. Separation makes it difficult to keep the data flowing between the upstream and downstream work groups.
The result: The business and engineering brains struggle in frustration to maintain the connection between what’s being built and what’s supposed to be built.
Why the struggle? Because companies have another problem to deal with: The decomposition in the conversation between Engineering and Business to establish and hold to an aligned vision.
As the work moves downstream, the question becomes, what are the themes product owners and developers will build and iterate against? You need answers fast because you’re now moving into a cyclical environment where change occurs frequently and quickly.
It’s critical that both brains allow for new information to flow downstream. Development needs to conduct MVP (Minimum Viable Product) analysis and create an environment where feature tests, trials and customer feedback inform strategy. Is it working? Where do you need to adjust? Being able to address questions and make decisions in real time helps you build the right product.
An effective and efficient product delivery solution is one that connects both brains right now, and as the product or organizational complexity grows. This process is not a formula—every company is different, and the solutions must be configurable—but it does contain the following important ingredients:
- Built on Agile best practices. The things that work well, most often, in any situation.
- Integrates with the tools and defined processes you already use. The idea is to improve your workflow, not disrupt it. Keep what you know works.
- Provides context for every choice and change. For visibility into the information that has either been derived or decomposed from what you’re working on, you need modern tools.
- Makes communication easy, timely and efficient. Email, IM, meetings and desk drive-bys are not effective for tracking and capturing conversations that affect progress in real time.
- Establishes organizational alignment and awareness. Relieve the pain points Business, Engineering and QA deal with most often.
- Keeps everyone involved in the loop, all the time. Don’t hold up your decisions. Let the actions that follow take place without delay.