Categories
Product Design & Development

Go For The Win

The mantra “fail fast, fail often” is a rallying cry for technologists pushing organizations to become more Agile, more Lean, and to push teams to deliver faster. What is being delivered and how valuable it is long term, however, tends to get lost in the shuffle and “fail fast, fail often” can lead to a big fail when there isn’t a clear goal in mind. 

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in France and if you’ve watched any of the games, one of the statistics talked about is time of possession. During the course of a game, teams will drive forward to test an opposing defense, then pull back, sometimes all the way to the goalkeeper, and try again. However, as soon as the defense has adjusted and passing lanes are open the offensive side is on the attack again working towards the desired outcome: Score a goal.

Fail fast, learn often may not lead to a win in the world of digital transformation. You don't win if you aren't focused on taking shots at the goal. The first step is defining the desired outcome.
Fail fast, fail often may not lead to a win in the world of digital transformation. You don’t win if you aren’t focused on taking shots at the goal. The first step is defining the desired outcome.

In April 2018 Sunnie Giles, a Forbes.com Contributor, posted an article: How To Fail Faster – And Why You Should. She states, “In today’s complex business environment, where things are changing constantly, speed of execution is a lot more important than perfect execution.” She points to a concept of iterations creating positive autocatalytic feedback loops which eventually leads to radical innovation. This is a pretty common view from many leadership teams on how they want to push their organizations forward.

Radical Innovation

The words “radical innovation” stuck out when I read the article. I have had the privilege to work with a number of organizations throughout my career. In some cases, the leadership inside the organization coveted innovation and spent a significant amount of time and money building up innovation teams. The opportunity to drive the business into adjacent markets, new markets entirely, or to refine their existing market offerings to expand the organizations hold on a market. More often than not, the “radical innovation” introduced by leadership was either cut off from the rest of the organization or was actively under attack by more established parts of the organization and in the end, not effective in achieving the original business objectives.

Teams get locked into playing possession and lose focus on moving down the field and scoring a goal.

7/2/2019 World's Cup Score: England Vs. USA
This image illustrates losing focus. In last week’s game, England had more possession, more passes, and better passing accuracy but because they didn’t attack, they lost the game.

Why? Executives jockeying for power, friction between “the way we’ve always done it” vs. “the new way we want to do it now,” shrinking budgets, changes in priority to shore up existing market share. A large number of different factors all branching from a common thread: a lack of focus on the desired outcome. Teams get locked into playing possession and lose focus on moving down the field and scoring a goal.

Four Steps to Fail Fast AND Achieve the Desired Outcome

How do you prevent getting locked into playing possession? At Trility, we break the process down into four distinct stages: 

  1. Discover
  2. Definition
  3. Implementation
  4. Evolution

Each stage in the process has a clearly defined outcome to help ensure stakeholders can see the value along the way. Often companies are eager to jump straight to the Implementation stage and the “fail fast, fail often” mindset can achieve the discover and define stages – thus the desired outcome along the journey. However, unless you know where the goal is your team is just playing possession.

Categories
Product Design & Development

Don’t Forget the “V” in MVP

Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, is a common term used by business leaders and product owners to help drive quick, iterative, product development to get products released to market faster. The goal is to release just those core features necessary to put the product in front of customers to learn about customer needs and validate assumptions prior to larger investments in a new product. Release quickly, release often, and adjust the product based on feedback from customers.

Product teams today do a great job of focusing on the M, Minimal. Constantly asking the team and business stakeholders when new feature requests are made, “Is this a requirement for MVP?”, helps prioritize development efforts and keep the team focused on making a timely and relevant release. Business stakeholders on a regular basis can see the features being developed during frequent demos and can provide direct feedback which goes back through the same intake process grounded by the same question focused on releasing the MVP. When the cycle is managed by a proactive Product Owner, it can be an extremely efficient way to get ideas from a napkin at lunch to a product in front of customers.

Where Product teams struggle is with making sure the V, Viable, is taken into consideration as a team. Security, operational readiness, reproducibility, and scalability are all important parts of any product which helps validate the viability of a product. Unfortunately in the race to production, these items fall by the wayside and show up on the backlog. When the team does release the product and receive customer feedback, they’re often stuck in a challenging position of either picking up the items in the backlog tagged as After MVP or continuing to refine the product to keep customers engaged. As it should, the focus remains on the customer and meeting the business objectives for the product. The weight of the backlog eventually causes cracks in the team, cracks in the product, and a new round of questions for business stakeholders to consider regarding whether to refactor, rewrite, or sometimes, a new MVP to fix the problems from the previous MVP.

Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment, Security by Design, Test Driven Development, Performance Testing, Infrastructure as Code – these are all terms many development teams are familiar with and actively promote inside organizations today. However, many of these items are the first things added to the backlog during MVP development when teams are racing against the clock. We need to do a better job as Engineers communicating to business stakeholders that each of these items are individually, and collectively, an important part of making a product viable.

We can still meet the needs of a minimal product by constraining the conversation in each case to the product being developed. The product may not have a need to support a thousand requests a second for the MVP, but we should ensure performance testing frameworks are in place and exercise the product on a regular basis so issues can be discovered early and often during the development process. The product may only require a small amount of simple infrastructure to be deployed to support the MVP, but the infrastructure should be built and deployed in code alongside the rest of the product so as needs change the foundation is already in place to support rapid growth. The product may not have a requirement to support a security standard for the MVP, but the application should be built following a set of standard security practices and validated regularly with automated testing to support a growing customer base. 

Viable – the ability to work successfully and securely.

Product teams need to ensure when MVP is defined, the product’s ability to work successfully after release is front and center during the development process. Minimal helps you get to the first release; Viable ensures you make it to the second.

Categories
Product Design & Development

Compressing Time-to-Value Requires Understanding What’s Valuable

The definition of value is subjective. Measuring expenditures is objective. If you ask someone in your company or team to define value, what do you think they will say? Will they discuss financials? Will they discuss projects, software releases or widgets created? Do you or your team define value to a customer by counting things?

As a quick exercise, define the value of your pants; not in terms of money, but in terms of value to you. Simply put, can you measure the value of your pants? Simpler yet, define the word itself – value. Like choosing wine, art, and music, defining value is subjective to whoever is shopping.

In business, we use cost accounting to count things. Ironically, cost accounting does not define value for a customer, nor does it delight a customer. It simply counts things.

When we use cost accounting to measure, we’re being fiscally responsible. However, the focus on the cost of things leads companies, teams, and individuals to perceive that cost of acquisition, cost of ownership and return on investment math defines value. While the company that sold you pants can measure their investment throughout the entire supply chain down to the point of sale, that math doesn’t define how you value pants, their brand or company. Were you able to measure the value of your pants? What would make you purchase a second pair of those pants?

Taking software projects and breaking them down into people, time, and cost helps us count things. In order to deliver product and service solutions to customers, we count things. Does that seem weird? Does it seem weird we can count all of the things in a project, feel good about ourselves, and still have no idea what the customer actually values?

Does knowing the cost of all the things in a software delivery chain mean we know when we’ve provided value to the customer? Unfortunately, it does not. It only suggests we know how to count.

If we can objectively count money, but we cannot easily measure a customer’s perceived value of things, as business and technology leaders and team members, how do we increase the probability of making first-time and recurring sales? Most of us are in business to make a living. Making a living requires money, which requires sales. If we don’t know what a customer values, how do we make sales?

“What!?” you say to me. “I’m not a sales, advertising or marketing person. That’s their job to do that rubbish. I just deliver stuff.” I’m not a marketing, advertising or sales expert either. However for those who are, as a technology leader I can help them do their jobs better by providing shorter time to revenue windows which helps them discover shorter time to value windows for both the company and the customer.

In other words, marketing, advertising, and salespeople need options every moment of every day to adapt to varying customer scenarios, gain market-share, crush competitors and make money to pay our salaries and business expenses. And they need them now, not when the business and/or technical teams can get to it.

What is the time between having an idea and delivering the idea in order to delight a customer and generate revenue?

In your company, is the flow of a product solution from beginning to end smooth like fresh ice on a hockey rink and as fast as a hockey puck? Or is it more comparable to the starts and stops of a muddy, variably pothole laden road? Figuring out time-to-revenue and time-to-value factors depends on understanding how product solutions flow through your company.

If you build software solutions and/or run software operations for a living, what do you think about the following questions?

  • Why are there so many steps to get from idea on a napkin to implementation?
  • Why are there so many tools in the delivery chain?
  • Why does it take so long to find out if we broke something that worked yesterday?
  • Why can’t we know whether the product meets company standards all of the time?
  • Why do we test so late in the process potentially delaying our project?
  • Why can’t we know if we’re compliant with industry regulations every time we build software, every day of every week instead of during third-party audits performed quarterly and annually in arrears?
  • Why can’t we deliver small portions of the larger solution that can be marketed, advertised and sold along the way instead of waiting for everything to be finished before we can even begin advertising, selling and making money?
  • Why can’t we find a way to deliver at the highest quality and highest velocities at the same time? Why are they treated as mutually exclusive?
  • Is information security and performance really something I have to kick down the road until later?
  • Why does it seem like our projects are black boxes of magic until the very end?

Consider this: Sales people are expected to provide verifiable value that is daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually measured in qualified leads, follow-ups, sales and revenue with non-negotiable baseline margins, but people who build software products take as long as they take and spend as much as they spend?

If you're responsible for delivering solutions that enable customer delight resulting from sales, marketing and advertising successes, the distance between having an idea and realizing the ability to make money with said idea is called – time to revenue. 

The distance between having a product and knowing what product the customer actually wants to buy is called – time to value.

Question: Organizationally and operationally, what do you need to change in order to realize shorter and more frequent time-to-value discoveries?

If you’d like help figuring out how to compress the time it takes to get from an idea to making money while also including security, performance, quality and reliability from the beginning (instead of later), we’d like to help. Or if you’d like help determining how to more quickly and frequently discover, rediscover and provide recurring value for your customers, the teams at Trility Consulting know how to help you get from where you are to where you’d like to go.

We evaluate your business goals and current state of operations. Then we work with you to implement solutions which help you get there. We use 100% software-defined, continuous delivery behaviors including continuous test-driven development, continuous inspection, continuous compliance, continuous vulnerability assessments, continuous penetration testing, software-defined infrastructure, serverless architectures, secure enterprise-class cloud ecosystems and more. This is simply what we do and how we live even for our own projects – and we’ve been doing it for quite awhile.

We’ll help you discover what time to value looks like in your team and operation. And your customers will thank you for it.