A virtuous circle of feedback and improvement is at the heart of every agile digital transformation, but it often takes a shift in mindset to get the most from the process.
We sat down with MMT's Product Delivery Team Manager, Kelly Gallagher, to explore why a resilient mindset is key to successful agile development and how failure should be embraced as an opportunity to do better.
Kelly is a huge advocate for women in tech and the power of agile to de-risk failure and deliver viable products to market faster. To help others to understand how they can benefit from this, she’ll be running a workshop called The Agile Boardgame at the upcoming Women of Silicon Roundabout Conference on the 23rd of November.
Ahead of the event, we sat down with Kelly to talk product versus project management, agile adoption, and the benefits of failing fast.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR WORKSHOP AT WOMEN OF SILICON ROUNDABOUT?
Resilience is a really important element of agile development and working in tech in general. Our workshop will introduce agile to an unfamiliar audience and emphasise the value of resilience using a boardgame designed by one of our founders, James Cannings. The game demonstrates how to adapt to new challenges and shifting goalposts. We want to engage people who are nervous about moving away from the waterfall approach to development and show them the advantages of shifting their focus from project to product delivery.
AND WHAT ARE THESE ADVANTAGES OF PRODUCT FOCUSED DELIVERY?
With a project mindset, you spend lots of time in the ideation and discovery stages, planning out exactly when and where all the web engineering components of a project are going to happen. It can take months during which time you often lose sight of the actual value that you’re looking to deliver. By shifting that mindset to product thinking, it helps you continuously identify, understand and prioritise the outcomes you want to achieve and rapidly build solutions.
WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE IN PRACTICE?
An agile process will start with the smallest solution to a challenge that we can take to market and get customers using as quickly as possible. We then start receiving feedback and iterating the solution. What we're trying to do is make something that is usable from the very first point of delivery, so that we're not throwing things away every time we build something. It’s a fail fast, learn fast methodology.
A project that takes a waterfall approach may spend two years in development before delivering a product that no longer meets the customer’s needs.
A great example of this is the analogy that Spotify agile coach Henrik Kniberg makes between a car and a skateboard. If you're a manufacturer and a client comes to you and says they want you to build them a car, take a step back and ask why they need a car. If the purpose is to get to work more quickly then you have a starting point.
While a car might take 12–18 months, in just two weeks you can build them a skateboard that will also get them to work more quickly in the meantime. You’ve built something quickly that the client can start using.
Based on that you can get their feedback. In the next sprint you can add a handle and then you’ve got a scooter. We’re iterating. We’re building on the solution and there’s no waste.
IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HESITATIONS TO AGILE PRODUCT FOCUSED DELIVERY? AND HOW WOULD YOU APPROACH THIS MORE SCEPTICAL AUDIENCE?
It’s understandable that people want certainty and are nervous when we say we don’t know exactly what we’re going to deliver, especially when they’re putting a big investment on the line. But we see it as a learning opportunity for us and them – we work to really understand their concerns and goals, before alleviating their fears.
When we’re working with a company with a large existing customer base, they want to know their service isn’t going to suffer during the process. For example, one of our clients needed to maintain a continuous service during its digital transformation strategy, so we couldn’t keep taking the website down to update it with new iterations.
Our answer was to release new features and services in a safe, but not live, environment. We could release software every two weeks and test it with the client and customers to make sure we were on the right track. Once a solution is up and running, we then implement continuous integration and continuous deployment to make sure there is no down-time.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE THE KEY FACTORS OF SUCCESSFUL AGILE TRANSFORMATIONS?
Understanding what a business wants to achieve is essential. It sounds simple, but it’s a question that isn’t always asked. The assumption is a business wants to make more money and win more customers.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, all clients are not the same and all deliveries are built slightly differently. Your goal might be to improve your social impact or enhance what you’re doing for a specific community, if we don’t find that out at the start we’ll build you the wrong product.
Then we come back to resilience. MMT’s principles of building accessible, composable and sustainable technology have resilience at their core. We're working in areas that are relatively new and not everything we try is going to land every single time.
What I love about our approach is that we are honest and transparent about how this works with clients. We try, we learn and we improve in a way that, ultimately, achieves the best possible solution.
In my experience it is the most effective way to develop the right product and take it to market quickly. As management consultant Peter Drucker puts it: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
To find out how to develop this mindset and embrace the potential of agile, book your ticket to Kelly’s Women of Silicon Roundabout workshop here: women-in-technology.com
And to discuss how we can support your organisation to realise the potential of agile development, book a discovery call.