Tag Archives: innovation

TheListeningResourceSusanEliot

Have a Clear Research Goal

Collecting the right data and analysing it effectively requires a clear research goal – understanding the reason why you carry out the work, and what you want to achieve. At the early stages of creating a product, your goal is likely to validate a critical assumption. This could be the product’s value proposition, the main revenue source, or an aspect of the user interaction design. Lean Startup captures the research goal as a hypothesis, and Scrum as a sprint goal.

Without a research goal you are in danger of collecting the wrong data, drawing the wrong conclusions, and moving your product in the wrong direction. In a sense, you are just trashing around hoping that the data will magically tell you what to do.


Separate Data Analysis from Data Collection

Once you have gathered the relevant data – for instance, by observing users, demoing a prototype, or tracking user behaviour using an analytics tool – step back, and carefully reflect on it before you make any decisions.

If you come from a Scrum background, then separating analysis from data collection may be new to you. In Scrum, data is traditionally collected and analysed in the sprint review meeting without always clearly separating the two activities. This carries the danger of rushing or skipping the analysis work, and making suboptimal or wrong decisions.

I hence recommend that you first collect the relevant data and then analyse it. Use the new insights to change the appropriate artefacts, for instance, your Vision BoardProduct Canvas, or product backlog, select a new research goal, and start the next cycle.


Keep an Open Mind

Keeping open mind may sound trivial, but clinging to an idea – not the lack of a fancy analysis technique or tool – is the biggest barrier to drawing the right conclusions in my experience. I know what I am talking about: When working on a new product, I feel strongly about my own ideas, and I sometimes have a hard time changing my mind. But being too attached to an idea, or being too eager to succeed carries the danger of rejecting any data that challenges it, which may well result in a poor product.

Before you carry out any analysis, take a deep breath and relax. Whenever you get tense or worked up about the data, tell yourself that it is not you, who is being challenged, but ideas, assumptions, and concepts. And ideas, assumptions, and concepts don’t have any pride; they don’t want to be right or wrong. They are just thoughts.


Mitigate Cognitive Biases

My fourth tip is to be aware of the cognitive biases we all have. A cognitive bias is a fault in our thinking causing us to draw the wrong conclusions. Confirmation biases, for instance, is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions, and self-serving bias is the tendency to claim more responsibility for our successes than our failures.

Maybe the worst thing you can do when employing a framework such as Lean Startup or Scrum is to run iteration after iteration only to look for data that confirms your ideas – and to reject the rest. This is likely to result in late failure, which is just as painful as in a traditional, sequential approach.

A great way to mitigate cognitive biases is to analyse the data collaboratively. This tends to balance out individual preferences, believes, and preconceptions. Consider therefore involving the development team in the data analysis, particularly when you validate critical assumptions.


Clean the Data

Don’t forget to clean the data. Remove data whose quality is too poor to interpret it correctly, and discard irrelevant data. This should be easy enough – unless it’s an idea from an important customer or a powerful stakeholder. But saying yes to every idea is not going to result in a great product but in a cluttered piece of software with a poor user experience. As Steve Jobs once said:

Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying no to all but the most crucial features.

Stay true to your vision, and leverage your primary persona to determine the right features.


Pivot or Persevere

When analysing the data, ask yourself if it invalidates your strategy, for instance, the customer segment chosen, the product’s value proposition, the anticipated user experience, or the revenue source. If it does, pivot and change your strategy. This typically requires big amendments of your planning artefacts including the Vision Board and the Product Canvas. If your strategy is valid, persevere and refine the appropriate documents.

Pivoting is never easy, as it require us to accept failure, and to let go of assumptions and ideas we may have grown fond of. But it is often a necessary step towards developing a great product. If you find failure scary, then don’t take it personal, and don’t identify yourself with your ideas: It is not you who has failed, but an idea or an assumption has turned out to be wrong. That happens even to the likes of like of Einstein who famously said:

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

But if you keep pivoting repeatedly, stop and reflect. Check if you are really moving towards a successful product, or if you are chasing an ever-changing dream.


Learn more

While there is more to data analysis then I can cover in this brief blog post, I hope that the tips above help you analyse your data and create a great product.

To learn more attend my Agile Product Planning training course. Please contact me for delivering the training course onsite, and in form of interactive virtual training sessions.

MMPandMVPfeaturedImage

The Minimum Viable Product

The minimum viable product (MVP), as defined by Eric Ries, is a learning vehicle. It allows you to test an idea by exposing an early version of your product to the target users and customers, to collect the relevant data, and to learn form it. For instance, to test the viability of using ads as the major revenue source, you could release an early product increment with fake ads, and measure if and how often people click on them.

As lack of knowledge, uncertainty, and risk are closely related, you can also view the MVP as a risk reduction tool. In the example above, the MVP addresses the risk of developing a product that is not economically viable.

Since the MVP is about learning, it’s no surprise that it plays a key part in Lean Startup’s build-measure-learn cycle, as the following picture shows:

BuildMeasureLearn

The MVP is called minimum, as you should spend as little time and effort to create it. But this does not means that it has to be quick and dirty. How long it takes to create an MVP and how feature-rich it should be, depends on your product and market. But try to keep the feature set as small as possible to accelerate learning, and to avoid wasting time and money – your idea may turn out to be wrong!

While the MVP should facilitate validated learning, I find it perfectly OK to work with MVPs such as paper prototypes that do not generate quantitative data, as long as they help to test the idea and to acquire the relevant knowledge.

The Minimal Marketable Product

The minimal marketable product (MMP) is a different type of product. It is based on the idea that less is more. The MMP describes the product with the smallest possible feature set that addresses the user needs, creates the desired user experience, and can hence be marketed and sold successfully. The MMP is a tool to reduce time-to-market: It can be launched more quickly than a fat, feature-rich one.

Creating a product with just the right amount of features sounds like common sense. Why would we create more features than necessary? Sadly, I have seen many projects develop over-engineered products with lots of shiny features that provided little value to the users, but cluttered the product and increased the maintenance cost. And it’s not just the others: I am constantly tempted to add just another cool feature to a product, or to write a few extra lines in a blog post. Using the concept of an MMP helps me focus on what really matters, and remove unnecessary features (and lines).

A great example of an MMP is Apple’s original iPhone launched in 2007. I know that the first iPhone was a complex product, and that many people worked incredibly hard on it. But I find it amazing how many features the phone did not provide compared to its competitors: no copy-and-paste, no Outlook integration, and no voice recognition, to name just a few. Nevertheless the phone was still a staggering success. How come?

The key to creating a successful MMP is to “develop the product for the few, not the many,” as Steve Blank puts it, and to focus on those features that make a real difference to the users. To discover the right features, the MVP is a fantastic tool.

Combining the MVP and the MMP

To combine the two concepts, develop one or more MVPs to test your ideas and to acquire the relevant knowledge. Then use your new insights to create and launch the MMP – a product with just the right features and a great user experience, as the following picture shows:

CombiningMVPandMMP

Note that a minimal marketable product differs from a viable one: It is complete enough to be ready for general release, as indicated by the gift wrapping in the picture above. What’s more, launch preparation activities have to take place for an MMP, for instance, creating advertising campaigns, or gaining certification. Some of your MVPs are likely to be throwaway prototypes that only serve to acquire the necessary knowledge; others are reusable product increments that morph into a marketable product.

More Information

You can learn more about applying the two concepts by attending my Agile Product Planning training course. You can also find a more detailed discussion of the minimal marketable product in my book “Agile Product Management with Scrum“.

InnovationVsMaintenance

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:

InnovationAndMaintenance

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

Separate Teams

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.

Separate Processes

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.

Joint Ownership

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.

Summary

The following table summarises my recommendations for managing new feature development and maintenance work:

InnovationAndMaintenanceSummary

You can learn more about succeeding with innovation and maintenance work by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course.

NPDProcessLeanStartupScrum

Discovering Lean Startup was inspiring for me: I felt I had found an approach that could complement Scrum nicely. Since then I have been combining the two approaches in my own new product development work as well as helping my clients to do so. This post shares my experiences and insights. It maps out a high-level process for creating new products within existing businesses focussing on product management practices and tools.

From Vision to Launch

Lean Startup encourages us to first investigate if there is a need worthwhile serving before we worry about the details of the new product. The former is called “Problem Validation”, the latter “Solution Validation”. While traditional approaches also suggest carrying out market research and analysis before we engage in product planning and definition, lean approaches increase the speed at which we operate. This allows us to fail and learn faster, to adapt our product strategy and tactics quickly, and to hopefully launch the right product with the right features sooner.

The following diagram illustrates the process I apply to create new products:

Problem Validation

The new product development process depicted above starts with a vision. It then uses a series of cycles or iterations to transform the vision into a product ready for launch. The focus of the early iterations is to understand what problem the product solves, who the customers and users are, and how the product benefits the company creating it.

I find it important that the product owner leads this effort and carries out the necessary work together with a cross-functional team. While the team composition depends on the product, having a marketer, sales representative, service representative, a UX designer, and a developer on board is usually helpful. Product owner and team capture their assumptions about the market by using a tool like the Vision Board, Business Model Canvas, or Lean Canvas.

Employing techniques such as direct observation, problem interviews, and competitor analysis helps them validate their assumptions and update the board or canvas, as the following pictures illustrates:

Additionally, the developers may create spikes (throwaway prototypes) to explore the feasibility of the product. Target users and customers participate in the process, for instance, by acting as interview partners.

Solution Validation

Once product owner and team have shown that there is a problem that’s worthwhile addressing, the focus changes to validating the solution and developing the actual product: The team needs to learn what the desired user experience is, what functionality the product should provide, and how it should be built.

The new focus requires adapting the team composition: The product owner, the UX designer and the developer stay, but the marketer, sales and service representatives leave the team. They continue to participate in the development effort as stakeholders. New developers, testers, and other roles required to create a great product join the team.

Product owner and team capture their assumptions about the product including the user interaction, the user interface design, the functionality, and the nonfunctional aspects using a tool like the Product Canvas and techniques such as scenarios, user stories, and design sketches. The assumptions are tested by collecting and analysing feedback on prototypes, mock-ups, and product increments/MVPs. Useful techniques to gather the feedback include product demos, users tests, and releases (to selected users).

As you may have noticed, the picture above suggests that “Stakeholders incl. users” participate in the process, and provide feedback or data on work results. While using target users and customers to validate ideas is generally helpful, it is not always appropriate. Imagine addressing a key technical risk in your first solution validation iteration: It probably makes little sense to invite users to the review meeting to understand if the approach chosen is viable. Similarly, if a disruptive product is developed it can be hard to find target users that are not too attached to their current solution.

Scaling and Launch Preparation

Once the Product Canvas and the architecture have started to stabilise, you can start adding more people to the project. I find it useful to break-up the original team so that at least one or two members are part of each new team, as this helps the new members get up to speed. I also suggest you grow your new product development project in a step-wise fashion: Scale from one to two teams, then from two to four, and so forth. This allows you to understand the impact on the people and the process including product ownership .

Be aware of the danger of premature scaling: Adding too quickly too many people. This tends to lead to a bloated, over-engineered product in my experience, and it prevents you form being able to experiment effectively. Therefore delay scaling until you have resolved the main risks – until you can focus on completing features and adding new ones.

Finally, as you make progress with your solution validation work, don’t forget to prepare the product launch. Having a marketer present at the sprint review meetings should help, but you may find that a dedicated marketing may be required to prepare and execute the launch well.

Summary

The following table summarises my recommendations for transforming an idea into a shippable product:

The process described in this post is based on work by Steve Blank, Ash Maurya, Eric Ries, and Ken Schwaber. The eagle-eyed process historians amongst you may have noticed that the idea of progressive scaling has its roots in the (Rational) Unified Process. Experimental, iterative product development has been around for quite some time of course, I believe at least since the late 19th century when Thomas Edison established the Menlo Park laboratory.

You can learn more about combining lean and agile techniques to create new products by attending my Agile Product Management training course. Please contact me for onsite workshops.

If you have any feedback, comments, or questions, then I’d love to hear from you!

Learning Vs Execution

Learning what a product should look like and do, and building solid, shippable software are different concerns. Separating the two aspects and distinguishing between learning and execution helps you manage the stakeholder expectations, select the right research and validation techniques, and choose the right sprint goals.

Learning vs. Execution

When we start developing a new product or new features, there are usually more unkowns than knowns, more things we don’t know than we know: We may not be clear on the user interaction, the user interface design, the product’s functionality, or the architecture and technology required to build the product. Our greatest challenge is therefore to deal with the uncertainty present, and the associated risks.

As a consequence, the early sprints should focus on creating the relevant knowledge, and addressing the key risks. Selecting a testable idea (hypothesis), and running an experiment are great ways to achieve the necessary learning. As testing ideas results not only in success but also in failure, you should expect to fail in the early sprints. Your Product Canvas or backlog, and your architecture are likely to see bigger changes driven by the newly gained insights.

As you acquire more knowledge, your focus should gradually shift from resolving uncertainty towards execution: building a product that is ready for general release. Rather than primarily testing ideas, you should now start completing features and incrementally adding new ones. Failure can still happen at this stage, but it is usually a sign that something has gone fundamentally wrong. Similarly, your Product Canvas or backlog should have started to stabilise and exhibit less volatility. The change of focus may also impact your Definition of Done: Throwaway prototypes used to test ideas quickly don’t have to have the same quality as software that will be shipped. You can now start ramping up the project, add new teams, and consider employing distributed teams.

The following picture visualises the relationship between learning and execution for the development of a new product or a new product version:

To understand how much learning and experimentation is required, consider the amount of innovation present and the technologies used: A brand-new product usually requires more experimentation than a product update; and a web app developed with standard technologies is faster and easier to create than an embedded system or a mainframe application (assuming that some market research or problem validation has already taken place).

Benefits

Understanding the relationship between learning and execution has three main benefits:

First, it allows you to set and manage stakeholder expectations. It helpful for the stakeholders to understand that the early product increments are likely to be throwaway prototypes, and that failure is to be expected in the first few sprints.

Second, it helps you choose the right sprint goals, and focus the work of the development team: Your early sprints should acquire the relevant knowledge by carrying out experiments. You later sprints should build features and get the software ready for general release.

Third, it makes it easier to select the right research and validation techniques. You may want to work with user tests and product demos in your early sprints, and with releasing software to selected users in the later ones.

Summary

Innovation – creating a new product or new features – involves uncertainty and risk. To build the right product with the right features quickly, you should make a concentrated effort in your first few sprints to quickly address the key risks and acquire the relevant knowledge. Then shift your focus to completing features and adding new ones by creating software that can be released.

You can find out more about learning and execution in Scrum by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course.

Having used the Product Canvas in my client-facing work and on my own projects, and after starting to teach Product Canvas tutorials, I have put together the slide deck below to help you create your own canvas.

The slides explain what the Product Canvas is, and how it can be used effectively. The deck shows how to create an initial canvas using personas, epics, scenarios storyboards, design sketches, constraint stories, and ready stories. It covers how the canvas is updated to incorporate the insights gained from analysing user feedback, and it discusses different tool options.


Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback on the slides. I’d love to hear how you the product canvas works for you! Please contact me or add a comment below.