Design to level up
What do you do when your business has been around for nearly 20 years and you have this nagging feeling that "you're not quite there yet"? You level up (again).
Iwan Cuijpers - januari 2020
In truly agile organizations, product development teams should be empowered to decide what changes they make to a product.
Producers of digital products are constantly looking for new ways of improving products to deliver the customer centricity needed in volatile business environments. To keep their products relevant and valuable they need to upgrade their product development teams. Help them shift from traditional business processes, elaborate research projects and internal discussions to agile ways of working.
In our experience producers can achieve this agile upgrade by empowering development teams to make choices based on value over features.
Most digital products could benefit immensely from improvements. The list of possible improvements written down by "the business" tends to be long. Some are crucial for a product to function properly, but most of them tend to read like items on a wish list.
Unfortunately, most wish list items are often poorly researched. And there's no certainty that they will work. We don't know. We can only assume that they will. Assumptions are there to be validated, but in practice, there's no appetite for validating most of them. In our experience, validation is often seen as a threat to budget or progress.
When your product development team works from a value driven development mindset and has the insights to make the correct calls, their improvements will be much more likely to add value. To you (the producer of the product), to the users of your product, to buyers, or other stakeholders.
And where assumptions play out over a longer time period, improvements from your product development team will deliver value much sooner. The team is able to focus and measure much more keenly than if problem and solution are not clear cut yet.
Image 1: Why talk to customers? https://www.talkingtohumans.com/cartoons
There are three things that need to happen to upgrade your development team. They need to know everything there is to know about your product's performance. They need to be very familiar with the users of your product. And the team members need to have the right mindset.
Your team can only determine problems with your product's performance if they know the product and its performance inside out. Collecting data should be top of mind. Not just about technical performance, but also about the task performance for users. Getting feedback from users is paramount. Indirectly, through your client service department or, even better, directly from review sources (websites like Getapp or Capterra, app stores like Apple's or Google's, etc).
Your team can only make the right calls on improvements if they know what makes the product valuable to its users. How do users actually use the product? What role does the product play in their process? What requirements do they have to perform their tasks adequately with the product?
Collecting this information and keeping it up to date is only the first step. Your team must constantly keep that information in mind to make the right decisions in every part of the development process.
Many developers once started out in their profession because they wanted to create great products. But in big companies especially there’s often a culture of ceding authority about how a product should function to someone else. Product managers, marketeers, product owners, user experience designers, or even the CEO.
A value-driven approach will not work without the authority, the mandate, for developers to make their own decisions. In fact, every team member should have an active role in value creation. After all, every team member has their own body of knowledge that could help add value to the product.
Of course, not all developers will be able to adapt this mindset. We’ve seen some developers leave value-driven teams because they prefer the product owner or a UX designer to make the choices for them. It may even take some time for teams to make the transition. But when they’ve made it, they are usually much more involved in the entire process and product. With a huge boost to their performance and the results that go with it.
One crucial step in the right direction is a capable product owner with the mandate to make decisions for the business. They should not be squeamish about discussing value with business partners like product management or marketing even though corporate politics may demand some flexibility. They should be ready to have some tough discussions.
Another crucial step is to use the tools for determining value to all stakeholders. Only then is the team capable of improving value. After all, you only know how to get where you're going if you know where you are.
In truly agile organizations, product development teams should be empowered to decide what changes they make to a product. When your development teams are keenly aware what makes your digital products valuable to you, your buyers and your users, will you have to tell them what to develop? Or will you trust them to make the right choices, delivering measurable value with every added or adjusted feature?