Creating new features and maintaining existing ones are different types of work: The former requires dealing with uncertainty, acquiring new knowledge, and carrying out experiments. Making small, incremental changes entails few unknowns, and the work should be done with minimum effort and no failures or mistakes. I therefore prefer to apply different approaches for the two types of work, as the following picture illustrates:
The picture above shows two workflows: In the upper workflow, a feature team turns new features into a new product version using a cyclic process. In the lower workflow, a maintenance team fixes bugs and carries out small enhancements using a linear process.
The bugs above are taken from: http://yprl.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/uploads/blogs/mill-park-news/ladybugs.jpg
To deal with innovation and maintenance work for the same product, I have a preference to work with a feature and a maintenance team, as this creates focus and it reduces task switching. It allows the tem members working on new features to carry out focussed experiments, and it makes it easier for those doing the maintenance work to fix the bugs quickly. If you work with one small team, then consider forming two sub teams – particularly once the maintenance effort consumes more than 25% of the team’s capacity.
A danger of employing separate teams is the creation of a two-class society with the cool feature developer doing rad innovation work, and the poor old maintenance guys slaving away at mind-numbingly boring bug fixes. To mitigate this risk, the feature and maintenance team members should rotate regularly. This also encourages knowledge sharing and collective ownership.
How often and how many people rotate is best determined on a case-by-case basis. For instance, two to three people could swap places at the end of each week or at the end of each fortnight, depending on which solution best balances team cohesiveness and knowledge sharing.
Innovation and new feature development requires the ability to develop and test assumptions, to gather and analyse data, and to leverage the new insights. In other words, the feature team requires an iterative process such as Lean Startup or Scrum. (Please see my post “New Product Development with Lean Startup and Scrum” for a discussion how the two approaches can be combined to create new products and features.)
Making small enhancements and bug fixes, however, does usually not require a cyclic, feedback-driven process, as there is little uncertainty present. Instead, the changes should be implemented and deployed in a fast and efficient manner. A linear, Kanban-based process is ideal for this job in my experience.
As a consequence, you may want to use a Product Canvas to capture the new features, and a product backlog to describe and manage the maintenance work. Similarly, the two teams should use separate boards: one for the new feature development, and one for the maintenance work.
While using separate teams and processes for feature development and maintenance work can well be beneficial, separating product ownership is something you should avoid. I have intentionally positioned the product owner between the two workflows in the picture above, as the individual should own the existing product and the new product version. As the product owner, you should hence balance the two concerns and decide how much effort is spent on new feature development vs. maintenance in a given timeframe.
As the product owner, carrying out new feature development and maintenance work in parallel may be your only choice. But maybe you are able to focus on maintenance work for a certain period and do what I sometimes call a “Snow Leopard”: a maintenance release dressed up as a new product version. Use a product roadmap to manage the two types of work across product versions, and to document how much effort you intend to spend on maintenance.
If dealing with new feature development and maintenance is too much work for one person, then consider employing a product owner team with a chief product owner, or break up your product into vertically aligned parts with a product owner looking after one of the newly formed sub-products. Whichever solution works best for you, ensure that there is joint ownership so that both concerns are managed well.
The following table summarises my recommendations for managing new feature development and maintenance work:
You can learn more about succeeding with innovation and maintenance with the following: