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Agile's Impact on Product Development

Dec 10 2009

 Agile and it's various implementations, including Scrum, while most often discussed in software development circles,  can correctly be classified as Product Development methodologies. Most of the time the product being developed has software as a major component, but they are products developed to solve a problem or make a job easier or more efficient.  When we think about products in this broader context we can often identify some impacts on product management rooted in the Agile practices and thought process. We need to understand these impacts to be prepared to mitigate them and propel the organization to the next level.

The first and most obvious is the impact of faster release cycles. There are many things that Agile teams do to achieve faster release cycles, but the primary driving reasons are faster return on investment and quicker feedback.   In my experience the product management team are often not prepared for the high level of interaction that the Agile team will demand. Even if they had prepared well in traditional terms, the depth of detail that will be required by the Agile team will outpace the product management team and make it harder for them to prepare the vision and business capability plan for the next release. When the development team delivers early with fewer problems and the product managers are not ready to reload the team poor decisions on what to do next often result. Then scrambling to fill the gap the desired feedback can be passed over leading to more bad decisions. The cycle is almost unstoppable without a significant change in product management and market research practices.

The next common goal of an Agile team is continuous shippablity.   An organization delivering more reasonable  scope, quality higher and a robust base of automated tests, sooner or later someone will ask why we can't just ship it to meet a new market, for a special customer or to beat the competition.   This is like having a 225 m.p.h. car and trying to get it up to speed wearing a blindfold. You might get lucky, but more often you will be off the road very quickly. A few years ago when working at a software company, sales asked us to adapt our product to a different market. The engagement was a total disaster. We did not take time to understand what this new market wanted. Our brains were tuned to our normal market and could not understand the context and the paradigms in place in the new market.
 
In both of these scenarios what is missing is more information about the customer and how they use the product. Traditional market research can deliver the answers, but it takes a lot of time and generally a lot of money.    Some products can support the cost of the market research, but many medium to small organizations cannot afford formal market research. Trying to go to market without having the knowledge of how customer will use the product can sink even the best product.
 
What is required are techniques to get the market research to make good product planning decisions in pace with the development team. The Agile planning cycles of iteration, release, vision, roadmap and portfolio need to match up with processes that answer the questions about near-term product improvements, product evolution and other markets.
 
If we could lower the cost of market research and product planning while still delivering valuable and accurate results, we would have a better shot at delivering the best value to our customers as fast as possible. This is the true promise of Agile.
 
Recently I had the opportunity to attend Luke Hohmann's Innovation Games® Consultant Master Class in San Ramon, California at the Chevron campus. The class was held in Chevron's Innovation Space and attended by 20 or so of the smartest Agilests on the planet.   This class was aimed at helping this group of world-class consultants understand how Innovation Games® can be used to deliver cost-effective market research for the Agile team.
 
Luke is a great facilitator and this two days was packed with great concepts and practices. He and his company is on a mission to restore the concept of serious games to business. The idea of serious games was all but destroyed by computer games and online gaming.   Serious games are still fun but have a purpose.
 
Luke told us that "Innovation Games® are serious games that power innovation by enabling you to better understand your customers".
 
With the knowledge and skills gained from this class we will immediately start offering a new course "Innovation Games® for Agile Teams". This course will contain some lecture but will be predominantly discussion and hands-on exercises to help you understand how Innovation Games® can be used by Agile organizations to help provide the right vision and feature set to the development team and in turn your customers.
 
Agile teams who employ Innovation Games® find some of the dull and repetitive practices of Agile comes alive in a fun and engaging way. Scenarios might include:
·         Using Product Box to identify customer requirements.
·         Using Speed Boat to improve retrospectives.
·         Using Buy A Future to prioritize the product backlog.
·         Planning a project using Remember the Future.
·         Clarify the release plan with Prune the Product Tree.
·         Understanding how your product is used through Me and My Shadow and Start Your Day.
 
Each student will receive a copy of Luke's book Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.
 
 Course Outline
·         Overview of Innovation Games®
·         Customer Collaboration
·         Continuous Planning
·         Portfolio Prioritization
·         Product Backlog Prioritization
·         Strategic Planning
·         Release Planning
·         Agile Retrospectives
Audience
All members of an Agile team are invited to join us with a focus on product planning and management.
Format
Standard - 1 day.
Extended - 2 day with more game played by participants.
Schedule
The course is available for on-site delivery and will be offered as a public course.
For more details see http://effectiveagiledev.com/ or call 530-SCRUM-42.

 Effective Agile Development LLC

DUNS - 831517730

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