Sunday, November 27, 2016

What really is an Agile MVP?

There is often a bit of misunderstanding of what is an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in an Agile context.  MVPs are meant to provide the minimal functionality or feature set that will be useful to customers.  However, to attempt to define the minimal set up front means that you know what the customer wants from the start.  How often do you know what the customer wants at the beginning?
Instead think of an MVP as an opportunity to learn what the customer wants.  It should neither be fixed nor should you be certain of what it is.  Instead it should be considered an evolving concept from which you learn what the customer wants over time.  What mindset shifts might you have to make in order to adapt to what an MVP is in an Agile world? 
The first Agile mindset shift is that you should not define an MVP upfront in an Agile world.  Defining an MVP upfront is akin to big-up-front planning.  You can certainly hypothesize what the minimal set of features might be, but you must have a mindset and practices that have you validate your assumptions and hypothesis.  You can start with a vision or general idea of what might be minimal and valuable to the customer but the moment you attempt to succinctly define the set of features, you are not really following Agile and more egregious, you are doing a disservice to your customer.
The second Agile mindset shift is that customer feedback is key to evolving the MVP.  If you want your MVP to align closely to customer value, you must include continuous customer feedback loops when working on an MVP.  These can take the form of customer demos or hands-on sessions.  Customer feedback can start as early as when you are hypothesizing what is an MVP and must be part of evolving the MVP to gain a strong inspect and adapt mindset with the inspect coming from the customer.  Eric Reis writes that an MVP “allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”  Customer feedback is the cornerstone to validated learning. 
So who really determines what is the MVP?  If you think the answer is you, your management, or your team, then maybe its time to Reduce your certainty and Ready your mind with the Agile mindset, discovery mindset, and Feedback loops. The right answer is the customer determines what is the MVP in Agile.  The more closely you align with customers throughout the effort, the more likely you will have an MVP that is considered valuable to the customer.          
-->

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Building an Agile Culture of Learning

Does your Agile education begin and end with barely a touch of training?  A number of colleagues have told me that in their companies, Agile training ranged from 1 hour to 1 day.  Some people received 2 days of Scrum Master training. With this limited training, they were expected to implement and master the topic.  Agile isn’t simply a process or skill that can be memorized and applied. It is a culture shift. Will this suffice for a transformation to Agile?

Education is an investment in your people.  A shift in culture requires an incremental learning approach that spans time.  What works in one company doesn’t work in another. A learning culture should be an intrinsic part of your Agile transformation that includes skills, roles, process, culture and behavior education with room to experience and experiment.
An Agile transformation requires a shift toward a continuous learning culture which will give you wings to soar!  You need a combination of training, mentoring, coaching, experimenting, reflecting, and giving back. These education elements can help you become a learning enterprise.  Let's take a closer look at each:

Training is applied when an enterprise wants to build employee skills, educate employees in their role, or roll out a process. It is often event driven and a one-way transfer of knowledge. What was learned can be undone when you move back into your existing culture.

Coaching helps a team put the knowledge into action and lays the groundwork for transforming the culture. Coaching provides a two-way communication process so that questions can be asked along the way. A coach can help you course-correct and promote right behaviors for the culture you want.

Mentoring focuses on relationships and building confidence and self-awareness. The mentee invests time by proposing topics to be discussed with the mentor in the relationship. In this two-way communication, deep learning can occur.

Experimenting focuses on trying out the new skills, roles, and mindset in a real world setting.  This allows first-hand knowledge of what you’ve learned and allows for a better understanding of Agile.

Reflecting focuses on taking the time to consider what you learned whether it is a skill, process, role, or culture, and determine what you can do better and what else you need on your learning journey. 

Giving back occurs when the employee has gained enough knowledge, skills, experience, to start giving back to their community to make the learning circle complete. Helping others highlight a feeling of ownership to the transformation and the learning journey.

It takes a repertoire of educational elements to achieve an Agile culture and becoming a Learning enterprise. When you have people willing to give back is when the learning enterprise has become full circle and your enterprise can soar.

-------------------


For more Agile related Learning and Education articles, consider reading:




Monday, September 26, 2016

The Forgotten Agile Role – the Customer


Many Agile implementations tend to focus on the roles inside an organization – the Scrum Master, Product Owner, Business Owner, Agile Team, Development Team, etc.  These are certainly important roles in identifying and creating a valuable product or service.  However, what has happened to the Customer role?  I contend the Customer is the most important role in the Agile world.  Does it seem to be missing from many of the discussions?

While not always obvious, the Customer role should be front-and-center in all Agile methods and when working in an Agile context.  You must embrace them as your business partner with the goal of building strong customer relationships and gathering their valuable feedback.  Within an Agile enterprise, while customers should be invited to Sprint Reviews or demonstrations and provide feedback, they should really be asked to provide feedback all along the product development journey from identification of an idea to delivery of customer value.
Let's remind ourselves of the importance of the customer.  A customer is someone who has a choice on what to buy and where to buy it. By purchasing your product, a customer pays you with money to help your company stay in business.  For these factors, engaging the customer is of utmost importance.  Customers are external to the company and can provide the initial ideas and feedback to validate the ideas into working products.  Or if your customer is internal, are you treating them as part of your team and are you collecting their feedback regularly?

As you look across your Agile context, are customers one of your major Agile roles within your organization?  Are they front and center?  Are customers an integral part of your Agile practice?  Are you collecting their valuable feedback regularly?  If not, it may be time to do so.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Anti-Patterns impacting Customer Value


Value is in the eye of the beholder.  Smart people will say that the beholder is the customer. While in most companies there will be a similar saying to the “customer is king”, some have lost their way and have somehow forgotten the importance of customer and their feedback.  The result is organizational anti-patterns that impede successfully getting to customer value. There are a number of anti-patterns on why this occurs and below are four: 
  • Believing that you can pretend to know with certainty what the customer wants upfront.  The danger: the consequence of limiting options and being blind to customer feedback to shape product direction.  Otherwise known as the Pretend Certainty anti-pattern.
  • Focusing primarily on driving efficiencies through cost cutting and high resource utilization.  The danger: the unintended consequence of a lesser focus on the customer with little room to innovate and adapt.  Otherwise known as the No Room at the Innovation Inn anti-pattern.
  • Sub-optimizing for the comfort of having a well-established plan and set of well-defined processes.  The danger: the consequence of restricting change at the expense of adapting to customer needs.  Otherwise known as the Sub-Optimizing for Comfort anti-pattern. 
  • Engaging few to represent the whole.  The danger: the consequence of understanding customer pool, ignoring potential customers, and missing customer feedback to shape product direction. Otherwise known as the The Few and the Missing anti-pattern.

When you are a start up, you realize the importance of being customer value driven because if customers don’t buy the product, then your start-up goes under. Because of this and their small size, most start-ups will stay very close to the customer or potential customer.  When companies become larger, there is a greater chance these anti-patterns appear.  More process and more controls are often put into place and unfortunately this leads to restricting change.  A company may sub-optimize for their own processes and plans that distances them from their customers.  

The question is, do you see any of these anti-patterns within your organization that impact your ability to achieve customer value?  Avoid the poor “aim of the anti-pattern’.  Instead, engage with your customers and use their feedback to help you hit the customer value target!

For more information on the topic of Customer Value, consider reading the following articles: