The modern engineering organization is tooled, skilled, and increasingly experienced in delivering products using Agile methodology. This hard-won transformation required fundamental shifts in the processes by which product is designed, developed, and maintained. Yet the business impact of all this change remains limited. Too often, product fails to meet customer demand or arrives at market too slowly to achieve the expected impact. Improved time-to-market and product quality must be paired with continuous improvement and fed with critical insight into the customer and their buying journey.
Leading product organizations understand that realizing the full value of their Agile capability requires continuous collaboration with marketing, sales, and support functions to fully understand the needs of their customer. These product organizations are building deep knowledge of the customer journey and pairing this with a growing focus on user experience. As customer needs shift, so does the product. And these changes move from design to deployment in weeks, rather than months or years. These leaders are known as radically Agile product organizations – capable of continuously delivering the right product to the right customer at the right time. SBI’s Agile portfolio management blueprint provides the building blocks to transform your product organization. Read on to learn more.
An Incomplete Revolution
Engineers led the first wave of the product organization revolution. Increasing user expectations and the necessity of innovation created paradigm shifts in the way product was designed, delivered, and maintained. The results were cross-capable development teams focused on creating better product, faster, via iterative development. Successful teams internalized and executed according to the Agile Manifesto:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Respond to change over following a plan
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
The flexible nature of Agile development methodologies (Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean, etc.) enabled engineering teams to mix and match to create a best-fit solution for their business. They created tribes to manage talent and councils to up-skill individuals. But in substance, these methodologies primarily address how a product is built and only briefly address why a feature is prioritized, when it should be brought to market, or for whom a product was designed. The effect was to conquer the first three parts of the Agile Manifesto without fully realizing the potential of customer collaboration. For product organizations and the business units they serve, a frustrating set of symptoms set in:
- Ultimate responsibility for product success is split between product, marketing, and sales – without a clear vector for transmitting knowledge between teams
- There is no single view of product success metrics across the business
- MVPs focus on demonstrating a new product or feature rather than testing whether there is a market for it
- Supposed benefits of Agile development are lost due to high levels of rework to fit uncertain customer demands
A second wave of revolution is required to fully realize the promise of product’s Agile development. It must fix the critical disconnect between product, marketing, and sales to enable the seamless connection between coder and customer. This more difficult phase of transformation will require behavioral change at the top levels of the organization. Heads of product will be the catalyst in fostering, piloting, and scaling this effort. The prize is the radically Agile organization – one that fully integrates changing customer demand and needs into its product lifecycle.
Building a Radically Agile Organization
Radically Agile organizations reach beyond the release date to measure and react to customer feedback via purpose-built integration points between marketing, sales, customer success, and product. Three key practices underpin this success:
- Executive sponsorship, leadership, and buy-in to Agile principles from code to customer
- Multi-layered, scalable governance structures that empower engineers, marketers, and salespeople to innovate based on customer feedback – and hold senior leadership accountable for the ultimate success of the product
- Defined integration points that connect critical pathways for customer feedback to the product backlog
Senior executive engagement is critical to opening the necessary integration points between the marketing, sales, and product organizations. The senior executive ensures smooth passing of information between these factions and empowers leaders to collaborate and act without strong central command and control structures. Smart product leaders enlist their C-level executives early to ensure that the foundations are laid for integration among key organizational functions.
Leading product organizations craft a multi-layered, scalable, Agile structure. It builds from the traditional single-team backlog to a multiple-product portfolio and provides governance and strategic guidance. The product lead drives the agenda as the portfolio owner and is accountable for its long-term sustainable success, in concert with the sales and marketing leads and the CEO.
Individual product owners are accountable for translating corporate strategic objectives into critical priorities for their product, with the support of marketing, sales, and customer success contacts. Finally, scrum or development teams respond to and prioritize the development of features that meet the needs outlined by the product roadmap.
High-Impact, Low-Overhead Integration Points Help Turn Feedback Into Action
Customer feedback is received wherever customers engage with the product, so radically Agile organizations must be nimble enough to receive and react to feedback from a wide variety of channels and organizational pathways. Constructing these pathways is not always natural for traditional organizations. Leaders find success by tailoring integration points to maximize return with minimal overhead, just as their engineering teams tailored their own Agile methodologies to suit development rhythms.
Embedded integration pulls post-launch feedback into the development process. This high-touch model is suitable for situations in which daily, collaborative interaction yields outsize marginal benefits compared to the relatively high overhead generated. Engineering teams in Financial Services and Health Care, for example, found success embedding regulatory expertise within their development teams. Gathering and adjusting to customer feedback can and should follow a similar model to reduce re-work, missed opportunities, and broken user pathways.
Radically Agile organizations embed the customer voice in their development process through three crucial channels:
- Leverage user experience experts to proactively reach trusted customers, study their usage of existing products, and pilot in-development products
- Develop customer journey champions that embed with and join planning, retrospectives and strategy sessions to aggregate and share trends discovered in marketing and sales
- Improve transparency in marketing and sales data to enable product and engineering teams to see real-time feedback on success and struggles of their product in the market
Node-based integration models create centers of excellence on key product feedback channels without additional headcount. These mid-level business unit leads, marketing leads, and sales executives collaborate with product owners to provide regular feedback on products as they are rolled-out. When development teams have questions or if development of a product is reaching a critical point, the node can easily transition to an embedded resource for short sprints. This model is helpful when developing business-unit specific products or those targeted at a specific customer journey, such as a pharmacy application or a specialist industrial goods product. Development teams can call upon specialist knowledge and will regularly receive feedback on the product post-launch.
The ad-hoc model is useful for specialized product feedback. In ad-hoc integrations, specific experts for specific areas are named and expected to respond to questions and share feedback with development teams when called upon. The objective is to minimize overhead while providing key inputs. Sales engineering may fit this model in a B2B SaaS organization, for example. Development may not need ongoing input but may benefit from directed feedback on the efficacy of a product demo.
The Radically Agile Product Organization, Realized
The second Agile revolution in the product organization will be more difficult than the first. Fully realizing the potential of the Agile Manifesto requires an organization-wide transformation of processes, governance structures, and collaborative channels. It requires integrating the sales and marketing function into the product lifecycle more closely than ever before. But those organizations who successfully complete the transformation journey will emerge with a competitive advantage like the early movers in Agile engineering: Nimbler product that creates an advantage by adapting and adjusting to the market faster than the competition.
Take the first steps to becoming a radically Agile organization with SBI’s portfolio management playbook
Use this playbook to build the blueprint for your own radically Agile organization and the case for change. SBI’s product experts are ready to help you at each step in your journey.
Ready to become a radically Agile organization? Contact me to get started.