Is Agile Product Development Right for Your Team?

Find out how Agile has evolved since its first inception, and make sure your team uses it right.

OK, everybody knows Agile is one of the best product methodologies out there.

Right?

Well, for those who are unsure about what Agile Product Development means, this post will refresh their memory first. Indeed, it has been a while since Agile was first popularized by a manifesto from product developers.

The true question is: is Agile product development right for your team? Well, the answer is, it depends. Like any other product tool, this issue needs careful consideration.

Let’s start with the history.

The Origins of Agile Product Development

Product Development is a vital part of business. So is research, marketing or sales; but, without a product, there is really no outcome of the whole process. Here, we have covered the differences between Project and Product Management. Ever since businesses attempted to develop structured operations, there have been experts who have tried to limit the costs (in terms of time and money) implied in product generation.

Software products are no different. While computing originally emerged in corporate behemoths like IBM, the Silicon Valley successes of the mid-1990s had more to do with small teams. Soon, the world started paying attention to what they were doing. Yes, people like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs were intelligent designers; but what was it that differentiated their working approach from other methodologies?

Famously, in 2001, around twenty tech personalities published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The overall values, while seemingly bland and unimportant, say a lot. This is probably the first time you will see these values explained with examples; it is much easier to understand them in practice!

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. If you know your history, you must understand what this means. Traditionally, the physical products industry placed a lot of important on the machinery and inputs (labor and resources) that allowed production to achieve full speed. Surprisingly, it took a long time to understand that, behind great productivity, there was great organization. And behind this organization, there were people!

More than anything, the way companies are structured determines their ability to innovate. This is why Google moved onto Alphabet, for example. What these Agile backers are saying is: pay attention to your team and how it communicates. Is there transparency? Are they teaching each other new skills?

Working software over comprehensive documentation. This one was also affected by the old culture of physical products. Obviously, you cannot release a car without wheels to see how it runs. You cannot test many isolated features of objects like fridges, chairs or TVs without compromising their ability to actually satisfy the buyer.

However, in the digital realm, a product does not need to be 100% finished in order to be released successfully. It simply needs to “work”: however you define that, is up to your product team. Thus, you can leave aside endless guidelines and manuals and prioritize development and launch. In fact, customers can be your best asset.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: this is what the signatories meant above. You have to include customers as a vital component in your value chain. Their feedback is your best guide to further growth; they are not simply clients to sign an agreement with. There are plenty of research methods which help user perspectives to be integrated in a product vision.

For instance, the Jobs To Be Done methodology emphasizes the tasks clients are actually seeking to fulfill by using your product. Rather than thinking through the idea you have of your own product (which is full of assumptions); you unpack user activities and seek to move towards adjacent value generating ideas. Your users are your best partners!

Responding to change over following a plan. This is vital. While roadmaps are fundamental in Product Management, they are never designed to work like a military strategy. Agile works in the same way, its deployment is meant to be nimble.

One special trait shared by the first backers of Agile methodologies was their disregard for old ways of doing things. Irreverence (without disrespect) is fundamental in tech: if you spend your time imitating the leaders, there is no way you can become a leader. Which means that you have to make sure that your operations are ready to change; teams are adaptable; and you know when to drop features that are only complicating delivery.

Enumerating these values might read like a waste of time; precisely because it has become an industry standard! However, co one can understand what they work for in tech if they ignore previous attempts at improving task planning and execution.

Following this vision, the signatories understood that there were twelve principles orienting “software development”; although, really, they can be applied in full to overall product development. Why do you not try to test your colleagues to see if they guess them? Here is a simple summary:

  1. Satisfying customers is the highest priority.
  2. Change is welcome at every stage of development.
  3. Shorter timescales are preferable.
  4. Commercial and development teams must collaborate.
  5. Individuals with appropriate resources must lead projects.
  6. Direct conversations are the best communication.
  7. Output is the best way to measure success.
  8. Efforts should be applied sensibly through the roadmap.
  9. Design and technical excellence must feed each other constantly.
  10. Simple is best: avoid wasting time.
  11. Autonomous teams are to be given priority.
  12. Meetings are important to align internal stakeholders.

Recognize any points?

Of course! Many of these principles are the backbone of Product Management. This discipline, the leading job in Silicon Valley, feeds off this revolution in software development that took place around two decades ago.

But let’s focus on what Agile means today.

Agile in 2019: The Method Today

Agile today has evolved sensibly. Most of all, it has adapted to the ever-increasing speed of tech product development, to embrace the novelty of applications like mobile or cloud computing.

There are certain corrections to be made to the manifesto’s original intentions:

  • Recognizing the complexities of an online world: Privacy scandals have plagued the tech world in recent years.¬† If there is something embodied by the original manifesto; is its lack of precautionary principles for users. In order to attract and retain customers, you need to ensure that you are safeguarding user integrity. This includes their personal data, but also their whole experience while using your platform. Agile practitioners today make sure to include these concerns in their Product Development.
  • Understanding the dynamics of value creation: After the dotcom bubble burst in the early 2000s, many investors reconsidered their position in tech. They understood that¬†not everything¬†Internet-related was going to bring them value instantly. Today, Product Managers who work with Agile are very observant about what really makes bucks in any process. Tech professionals are expected to know at least the basics about their industries and the way a firm generates profits or fails miserably.
  • Evidence-led Testing:¬†While original Agile proponents were very concerned with liberating themselves from the shackles of heavy documentation; the truth is they might have gone overboard in terms of launching and testing. Yes, you can definitely used “unfinished” products as launchpads for something greater. However, this must still be a solid method; not something based on the creator’s guts. Thankfully, the latest advancements in big data collection and analytics have allowed product teams to become increasingly sophisticated. Today, most Agile teams pay attention to very specific OKR.
  • Putting Users in the center: If keeping users happy was important even before the arrival of Web 2.0; imagine today! Social media platforms and a few companies’ control over product advertisement and distribution make user attitudes more vital than ever. Your relationship with your customers is not just important when launching; even before and especially after, you must have a dedicated space of your brain to solving user problems before they emerge.

As a whole, Agile has become one of the most used standards in the industry. Waterfall is probably its closest competitor; but it does not come close in terms of innovation. However, it is a dangerous weapon which, in the wrong hands, can severely break things. Let’s see how it can be deployed effectively to improve your team.

Agile Product Development for your Team

Let’s focus on deploying Agile Product Development within your team. There are several aspects of importance; not least, explaining what it all means in terms of work requirements!

First of all, you should encourage your teams to get together and define the shortest timeframes they can conceive for deliverables. Many designers think of terms of sprints; there are other units of time which are suitable. The important thing is that this is manageable period that can easily be broken up into steps.

Secondly, pick your poison. There are dozens of frameworks that can orient Agile (ASD, AUP, DSDM, XP, Scrum, etc.). They all fall, unfortunately, outside of the scope of this article. But there is plenty of information online: some of our Product Management events have covered them in detail.

Next, set up your communication channels. Keep in mind this does not exclusively mean launching the infrastructure: even the way you sit your teams or the schedules you pick for them affect interpersonal contacts. Old and modern Agile emphasize direct contact, one-to-one conversations between concerned internal stakeholders. So ensure that you are doing your best to guarantee that; Slack is great, but you should not abuse it!

On the topic of communication, you have to pick your meetings. Yes, you are supposed to work fast and they might seem like a waste of time; but do not underestimate the power of the dailies. Usually connected to Scrum, daily meetings for sprint or project teams involve a candid sharing of achievements and pitfalls by each team member. Make sure that you do your best to achieve honesty and transparency; otherwise, these regular exchanges of information will become useless support groups!

Now, all team members should be familiar with the concept of iteration. Every single action they take has to be justified with reference to the established roadmap. This means that value and expected outcomes must be kept in mind by all at all times (this is where the short timeframe really helps: tiny but important goals are achievable!).

These outcomes, whatever they might be, focus on quality. And quality is defined by user satisfaction: so everything your teams undertake, whenever you are at a crossroads, must respond to this vision. It is really helpful to reach out to marketing and other customer-centric teams when you need a reminder of who you are actually working for.

Some point in the middle, you must run with whatever you have. This is where your Product Manager skills are critical. You should have agreed on a date with the team; but when the time comes to follow it, it is not so easy to make the jump. At this moment, you will understand the continued emphasis that Product Management instructors placed on effective stakeholder management. You must seek the strongest alignment you can to force your team towards a conclusion.

Finally, agile is a¬†sustainable¬†methodology. This means that it is sustained in time; it is meant to feed and feedback whatever work you do. Do not let your team get used to dropping whatever they are doing after the “project” ends. Agile is a product-based methodology and, as such, it does not really have an ending.

Agile, Not For Everybody, But For the Brave

In this post, we have refreshed our memories about Agile. This methodology is synonymous with the digital world, as it began when consumers started entering this market en masse. While most of its vision and principles remain as sound as when they were first proclaimed, they need to be updated with contemporary concerns. Data protection or social media reputation are some examples.

Finally, in order to introduce Agile in your Product Development Team, you need to make sure that you fulfill certain duties. There is education involved if your colleagues have never encountered this methodology before. Pivot on your Product Management skills and make sure that everything you do is backed by data.

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