ALU

product development

Risk-Aware Product Development (a.k.a. Scrum)

"There’s No Predictability/Commitment in Agile/Scrum"

Over the years I’ve heard my share of these kinds of statements from various levels of executives:

"When my guys run a product development release I really want to know what I will get at the end so I can make business plans accordingly."

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Creating Product Backlogs

In our series around product management, the first blog about creating product backlogs addresses our persona discussion, where we established the handful of people we wish to impact along product development with their associated goals for use of the product. Now, we can take those people and goals and visualize the experience we wish for them to have. There are many ways to do this, but more times than not, we fall back to story mapping, which is another great practice from our friends in the UX community.

Visualizing the Product Story

In the image below, you see that we have started by selecting a persona and a goal for our product development. From there, we ask, "What are the high-level activities that person will need to complete to accomplish the goal?" Once we have sketched out the activities from left to right, we can then ask for each activity, "What are the steps the user will have perform in order to complete that activity?"

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Easing the Adoption of A Customer-Centric Product Development Process with Data

In search of a sort of customer-centric product development Nirvana (and the organizational tenants that allow it to flourish) known as high-tech anthropology, executives are willing to pay upwards of $20,000 to spend time with the founders of Menlo Innovations, according to an article in Forbes. The Michigan-based software design consultancy has achieved Apple-like mystique with its unique philosophy that guides both how it works and the work it completes for its clients.

In fact, according to the Forbes coverage, a full 10 percent of Menlo Innovations’ $5 to $6 million in anticipated revenue for 2018 will come from the fees it charges for tours and consulting.

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Why Disruption Still Matters and 5 Ways to Deal With It (Part I)

Disruption. This word has fallen from the headlines because it’s "so 2017." But not all industries have been disrupted yet. And those that have will likely be disrupted again. Are you ready to respond? Can you keep up with a more nimble company that comes in to steal your market share?

Last week, I watched a talk by a woman who predicts where certain technologies will go and invests accordingly. According to her, analysts are too focused on today. She predicts that blockchain, 3D printing, and eventually robotics, will combine within the next few years to completely disrupt the supply chains of most companies. To me, this means that companies that thought they were relatively immune to overnight disruption could soon be ripe for it.

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The Meta-Retrospective: How To Get Customers and Stakeholders Onboard

A meta-retrospective is an excellent exercise to foster collaboration within the extended team, create a shared understanding of the big picture, and immediately create valuable action-items. It comprises of the team members of one or several product teams — or representative from those — and stakeholders. Participants from the stakeholder side are people from the business as well as customers. 

Meta-retrospectives are useful both as a regular event, say once a quarter, or after achieving a particular milestone, for example, a specific release of the product. Read more on how to organize such a meta-retrospective.

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How Can a Knowledge-Sharing Tool Help a Product Development Team?

Every company has its own organizational structure that dictates which team handles this or that. There are teams assigned to managerial tasks, others that are assigned to promotional tasks and more. One of the most interesting groups to be in would be the product development team as they are challenged with a lot of tasks in everyday work. It can be a bit hard to keep up with everything that is happening, especially updates here and there within the group. The good thing is that there is a knowledge-sharing tool that can help out. Here are some ways that it can help out a product development team.

Better Decision-making

One of the major benefits that a knowledge-sharing tool can bring is in making better decisions within the team. While your client is waiting on the other line, you can plan strategies with your team, analyze the basic trends, handle your internal issues, and even look and share information you have found. Thus, you will be able to have a better hand at decision-making, being able to share whatever you may have seen or read as you were trying to search for a solution.

Work Remotely

With a knowledge-sharing tool, employees can now just download the application into their phones and have access even when they are not inside the company. Even when they are away on a business trip, attending some conference or other events, they would be able to see the updates in real-time. Remote workers no longer need to wait so much, but instead be updated instantly. It also offers the choice to use videos in learning or training members so that they would understand the tasks at hand.

Faster Delivery Time

A KSP allows you to share and organize knowledge across your organization. When you share knowledge within the group, you can come up with a solution in a faster manner. This means that you get to develop and run a test for your products without having to take up too much time. After all, a client would always appreciate those who are able to submit on time or before the deadline. Since you are reducing the time you spend communicating with other workers for information since everything is already in your application, you get to secure a contract and have happy and satisfied customers.

Increases Interactions

Most teams do not have that much interaction as getting closer to each other is not that easy of a task. However, with a knowledge-sharing platform for your product development team, you can comment, like, and even tag other people on the posts that you will see your team group just like in other social media platforms. Working with your team members helps a lot as it improves your work since everyone gets to say their comments, ideas, and voice their opinions.

Encourage Collaborations

Collaborations within a team only happen when the people within the group are willing to participate and when they have built enough trust in each other. A knowledge-sharing platform brings team members closer to each other which makes it easier for them to work together in the process and do things such as collaborations.

Final Thoughts

The benefits of a knowledge-sharing tool to a product development team bring empowerment to each member so that they will be able to say what they are feeling, voice out the things that are within them, share their ideas, and allowing every member to interact with each other so they can get to know each other better. In the long run, the results are quite amazing and the improvements in the team are easily seen.

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Ideation Techniques for Product Managers

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London

I love this quote. It embodies everything I believe in about the creative ideation process in product management. The pro-activeness of discovery, the structured process that leads to inspiration and the constant hard work that sets the ground for “wow” moments.

As anyone who has ever been involved in the birth of a product knows, you can’t just wait around for apples to fall on your head. If we’re honest with ourselves, even those moments of enlightenment in the shower arrive at the end of a long contemplation or a fruitful stream of consciousness. We are constantly thinking about our innovations. Sometimes we are struck by serendipity but more often, we have to carve those good ideas out of a rock.   

Ideation vs. Brainstorming

There are a number of creative ideation techniques out there, all of them focusing on stimulating the “creativity glands” enough to bring out new and original ideas. While some ideation tools are more systematic than others, a surprising number of people still confuse ideation with brainstorming. Let’s start by clearing up this subject.  

Brainstorming is an event rather than a process. Participants gather to be physically in the same space, and shoot out ideas. As such, the range of ideas is very wide and ideas are hardly ever explored in-depth. The starting point is necessarily a general one, and the goal is to ignite as much free-flying creativity as possible, shooting far and wide. It is, as implied, a storm of ideas.

oldschool_brainstorming

 

Ideation is a structured process that can be done alone or in a group, over a period of time (rather than in one sitting). It is more focused than brainstorming, often guided by a known need or a pre-set requirement. Visual aids are important for the structured process, as they help to create a storymap or a mindmap which then enables in-depth development of the idea. In other words, seeing it through and crafting an actual form from the idea.   

Structured Creativity Yields Better Results

While both ideation methods have a place in the world of product development, we have discovered over time that a structured ideation process helps us achieve better results, and I’ll explain why. This is the template text that will be pasted at your cursor location.

We don’t create ideas from scratch

In a healthy Agile product development process, next-step ideas don’t pop out of thin air – we compile them patiently after collecting user feedback, talking to users and analyzing usage patterns. Our starting point is usually much more advanced than what brainstorming allows. Creativity is required in implementation – UX, design, R&D.

Louder is not better

As a group activity, brainstorming comes with all the problems (and advantages) that arise from group dynamics. Like imprinting, for example. Under group conditions, we tend to sub-consciously adopt the first idea and stamp it as “the right idea.” It doesn’t matter if it really is the best idea of the crop – the fact that it was the first one convinces us on some instinctive level that it is the leading one. Since most managers and brainstorming teams are not aware of this pitfall, it becomes impossible to avoid it.

Processing takes time

Structured ideation can be spread over several days or even weeks. While this easy-goingness lacks the compressed and pressure conditions of brainstorming that squeeze out those rad ideas – it gives everything time to sink in. Processing ideas allows us to consider them from multiple angles, find the flaws (and maybe solve them), expand the really good ideas and maybe even enjoy one of those “Eureka!” shower moments. As ideation methods go, the ones that allow time for processing tend to embed the criticism into the process, producing a more reliable result.   

Exploring Product Ideation on Your Own

A great advantage of structured ideation is that it allows a lot of space and freedom to explore ideas on your own terms, with your favorite tools and approach. Of course, we do need to keep it structured, so here are some techniques I use to get the most out of my creativity:

BicHok – Backside In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. This concentration method is widely known and discussed, especially among writers. The idea is that when you are physically in position to ideate, your mind gets in position as well and soon the ideas start to flow. This usually works, but I also find that being in movement (driving, walking, surfing) is also a strong catalyst for idea-creation. The downside – it is harder to document my thinking process with my hands on the wheel or my eyes filled with salt water.

Methodical research – Specifically, methodical research of industry trends. Inspiration is everywhere, especially in the newest innovations in your field. It is not only an important aspect of competitive analysis, but also helps to stay in touch of feature requests by users.  

Visual structure – The famous Post-It technique helps give your thoughts a shape and a path. It channels thinking into context, rather the amorphous chaos that sometimes accompanies “out of the box” think-events.

For Craft, we were able to model the digital Post-It to simulate the old-school print experience, so that it really feels like you’re standing in front of a blackboard (but with all the comforts of digital ideation tools). We also connected the discovery tab to the definition and roadmap section, making it possible to push the good ideas to the next stage of product creation quite seamlessly, as the process ought to be.   

User Story Map at Craft.io

Getting the Most Out of Group-Thinking

Group ideation can seem similar to brainstorming, but will produce different results, especially given an extended product ideation process.

The other success factor in ideation workshop techniques is framing. As product manager, you have a say in who gets to participate in the ideation process. Leverage this prerogative to build a strong, effective think-team. You can handpick the more constructive, creative thinkers from your teams and work to create a group dynamic that encourages discussion and amplifies originality.

Another aspect of framing the ideation process is providing clear borders of thought. When you define the perimeters of the thought process, you get much more accurate results. Moreover, limitations on subjects and themes often inspire the most creative ideas – finding a way around limitation is the greatest creativity exercise.

How do you decide which ideas should be further explored and which should be shelved? That is a huge subject that deserves a blog post of its own. It involves research, feedback, A/B testing and prioritization.

Summary

Structured ideation may sound less sexy than brainstorming, but offers a wide variety of idea generation techniques and a flexible, constructive method of channeling creativity. The structured ideation process is a living thing, that can change and adjust itself to restrictions, bringing together the team to really invoke the collective creative force that moves your product. Try Craft to make sure that it works!

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Use Ideation To Build Your Product Roadmap

The product roadmap can be a winding and twisting path with branches that lead to dead ends. The best roadmaps are adaptive and can change when the voice of the customer (driver of your business) lets you know what they want. One of the hardest jobs is understanding what your product does best, what your customers desire and expect out of your product, and what to do next in terms of evolution if there are gaps. The best way to understand what your customers want is to ask them, but not all customers are vocal or can accurately articulate what they want to see next. This is where AnswerHub’s ideation tool can step in and help your community work together to let you know what they want.

AnswerHub Ideas

AnswerHub has three types of content you can currently post. Questions, Articles, and Ideas. Questions are great for cataloging and sorting the knowledge of your organization, Articles are perfect for sharing industry or company news, and Ideas are the perfect way to understand the wants and needs of your community for the future.

Ideas, like Questions and Articles, allow users to comment and vote, giving them the voice to pitch and edit new features they want to be added to the product. A great example can be seen from our internal use of AnswerHub. We grant all customers access to our Customer Success site built on AnswerHub where they can suggest new features. We then sort by most upvoted, taking the pulse of the community to understand their desires and sort them into prioritized lists of what our product roadmap will look like.

Product Roadmap AnswerHub

Recently we completely revamped our editor because it was a highly requested and active idea (active in the sense that there were a lot of comments and voting). From their comments, we understood that retained formatting was a major feature that our clients wanted when copy/pasting code snippets. Through the use of voting and comments, our product team could have a two-way conversation with customers, letting them know that we were working on it, and then make those changes.

Many of the companies we speak with are looking for knowledge repositories, but it’s important to understand that developers are really striving for a place to not only get answers to their questions but share their knowledge and be heard by their employers and colleagues. This can do more than create an engaged developer community; it can help you tell your developers that they’re valued members of your company, leading to increased employee happiness and a clear product roadmap that your users helped build.

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Here’s Why Even Successful Companies Find It Hard To Innovate In New Markets

In 1892, George Eastman formed the Eastman Kodak Company to “make the camera as convenient as a pencil.” It was an idea whose time had come and by the early 20th century, Kodak emerged as one of America’s largest companies and Eastman one of its most successful entrepreneurs.

It wasn’t just that one idea that made the company so successful; it managed to stay on the bleeding edge for over a century, pioneering impressive new advancements in photographic paper, development and image processing. In 1975, it invented the digital camera, which would lead to its downfall as a major corporation.

The problem wasn’t that Kodak didn’t understand the potential, but that it became stuck in its operating model. It was so huge and so profitable, that almost any other opportunity seemed small by comparison. While Kodak is an extreme case, many others fail in new markets for similar reasons, they fail to bridge the gap between innovation and operations.

Seeing Innovation In Three Horizons

Innovation is never one thing or one event. In fact, it usually takes about 30 years to go from an initial discovery to a significant market impact (almost exactly 30 years in the case of digital photography). So we need to look at innovation in multiple dimensions in order to understand it properly.

One of the useful frameworks I described in my book, Mapping Innovation is the Three Horizons Model, which groups opportunities based on how they relate to current markets and capabilities. The first horizon is focused on your enterprise’s current activities, while the second and third horizons focus on adjacencies and completely new activities.

The three horizons require vastly different perspectives. The first horizon is much like traditional strategy and rewards sound analysis and execution. The second horizon is more uncertain and requires some iteration to work out kinks. The third horizon is largely dependent on exploration and the willingness to charge boldly into the unknown.

The trap that many firms fall into is mistaking excellence in one horizon for excellence in another. Kodak, for example, excelled in the first horizon but failed to iterate and explore new markets as digital photography reshaped the marketplace.

Getting Trapped Inside Your P&L

Kodak had a uniquely profitable business. Because of the decades it spent innovating image processing, it thoroughly dominated the market for developing photos, which was highly lucrative. Every day, millions of people would come to one of their retail locations to get their prints, creating a constant revenue stream.

The digital photography business paled by comparison. It’s not that Kodak ignored the technology—its EasyShare line of cameras, printers, and software were top sellers—nevertheless, the new revenues did little to replace the processing business, which was far more profitable.

Every successful business eventually faces the same dilemma. Second and third horizon opportunities are rarely as profitable in the beginning as first horizon innovations. So it’s easy to get trapped in your P&L, choosing to focus on markets and capabilities you can quantify, rather than investing in more uncertain opportunities.

That’s how good companies get stuck, by focusing solely on first horizon opportunities, you end up getting better and better at things that people care about less and less. That’s what happened to Kodak. They remained dominant in the market for developing photos, but that market was disappearing. It was a burning platform.

Identifying the “Hair On Fire” Use Case

Another problem that established businesses have pursuing second and third horizon opportunities is that traditional business logic gets flipped on its head. When you are launching a conventional, first horizon product, you look for the largest possible addressable market in order to get the best possible return on your investment.

Yet in the second and third horizon, where things are more uncertain, that can spell disaster, because you lack understanding of what your customer’s needs are. What might seem perfectly reasonable when you are reviewing a market analysis in the boardroom often fails utterly once it hits the reality of a real market with real stakeholders.

That’s what happened to Google Glass, which launched with great fanfare in 2014 as an augmented reality consumer device for hipsters that could deliver a completely hands-free computing experience through conventionally looking glasses. It fared so poorly that people started calling those who bought the product “glassholes.”

Yet today, Google Glass is gaining traction as an industrial device that can assist professionals in a work environment. From factory floors to operating rooms, the product is proving effective at improving productivity, safety and documenting procedures and an impressive ecosystem is forming to support Google Glass.

When you’re developing a product that’s truly new and different, what you want is not a large market, but a “hair on fire” use case where the customer needs the product so badly that they are willing to overlook minor glitches. So you need to build for the few, not the many. Once you establish a foothold, you can scale the business up from there.

Good Operational Practice Often Leads to Innovation Failure

To operate in a competitive market, you have to plan effectively. You need to hire the right people in the right quantity, invest in physical capital, equipment and marketing. If your estimates are off, you will either waste money on excess capacity or miss out on sales because you are unable to satisfy demand.

Yet this thinking often hinders the ability to innovate. The next big thing always starts out looking like nothing at all. So by instituting financial targets for a business that you don’t fully understand, you will almost guarantee that your second and third horizon opportunities end up getting scaled back to a first horizon idea and, despite the best intentions, you will end up trapped in your P&L.

A number of companies have created separate units, such as IBM Research, Google X, and the General Electric’s First Build innovation lab are set up specifically to pursue opportunities separately from the operational divisions. Failure rates tend to be much higher than would be tolerated in normal business practice, but the payoffs tend to more than offset them.

The truth is that every business is eventually disrupted, so it’s absolutely essential to be able to look beyond your current business and explore new horizons.

This article was originally published on the Mendix blog.

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You Need to Improve Your User Experience! Do You Copy?

Your brand is much more than your corporate identity or product name. It’s the very front line of your customer experience. Beyond that iconic logo and catchy tagline, your brand derives its power from the sum of those customer experiences: excitement, inspiration, and motivation in the moment drives more sales. While advertising and marketing seek to influence perception, User Experience is for the mother’s milk of a dynamic brand.

We all know the customer journey doesn’t end with an advertisement or a successful sales pitch: that’s just the opening of the door. The visceral reactions take root and brand affinity blooms when a customer starts to use the product and drives the car off the lot or launches the new app on her phone, for example.

That feeling a customer has in engaging with the product outweighs all of the emotional appeal used to influence the buying decision at the outset. And that, in turn, is putting a heightened awareness and focus on the User Experience.

This focus is challenging conventional wisdom for product managers who’ve traditionally limited their roadmaps to adding advanced features and better functionality as the primary competitive differentiators. Today, enlightened product managers are prioritizing the User Experience as a powerful way to differentiate, and in certain cases even define, a product.

In fact, we’ve seen the emergence of a new category of product management tools aimed at improving the emotional connection with customers. Among these include design and wireframing apps, testing and verification with usability feedback tools, session recording and heat mapping programs, event-tracking and UX (User Experience) analytics, all of which are all helping managers build a richer User Experience into their products in order to better connect with increasingly more sophisticated and digitally-savvy customers.

Words Matter

Unfortunately, most of these applications only focus on two of the three critical product management pillars of User Experience – design and navigation. User Experience design typically consumes the most time and budget, followed by navigation to ensure ease-of-use and a positive, enjoyable experience. Both are important, but the industry largely overlooks that third strategic pillar – copy: the actual words that get everyone on the same page. In fact, the narrative composition that conveys the tone and emotion necessary to truly elevate the User Experience.

This is a critical oversight, given that managing copy delivers significant advantages.

Consistency = Efficiency

Collaboration is essential to effective product management. Text is the very foundation for this collaboration. Managing copy enables consistency and accuracy in communication across the entire team, from developers, coders, and engineers to marketing collaborators and up to the executive team making decisions. Consider version control and the challenges presented by various players working off different playbooks. No one needs those wasted cycles.

And, since the whole point of the User Experience is to be more customer-centric and foster stronger emotional connections, ensuring that the copy is correct for any customer-facing content is essential. It’s an ongoing process with regular updates and changes. Given today’s development cycles where products undergo continuous improvement well past initial release, the need for consistency and accuracy in text editing only increases.

Release Fast or Die

Today most product managers follow a rather clunky, inefficient method for handling text. Copy is typically created in a word processor, such as Google Docs, and then given to developers. They retype that text into the code strings. So in the era of digital transformation, we are essentially coding like it’s 1978. We should have left that method in the past with bell bottoms and the disco ball.

Not only is the process slow and laborious, but it makes text nearly impossible to manage. This is actually an even bigger issue for product development. As if updates and changes weren’t difficult enough, now the team has to go back and find where the text resides to extract it and make the changes. As a popular developer recently tweeted, “Strings are where the text goes to die.” Sadly, she was correct.

Globalization Requires Localization

In today’s global economy, growth and opportunity are found in new markets. This only exacerbates the need to manage text, as expansion can feel like a quantum leap for product managers trying to control copy for the User Experience To deliver a meaningful User Experience across all geographies requires transparent localization to make it personal within each culture and region. This goes beyond accurate translations: there must be equal focus on the brand tone and emotional impact you are trying to convey. Consider also that if you fail to make the right emotional connection, you’re actually inflicting damage to your brand.

Managing Copy – the Automated Approach

Continued research shows how emotions and the User Experience can greatly increase your sales while building deeper customer loyalty. It’s not just about connecting emotionally through advertising and marketing messages. It’s about a consistent brand tone that evokes the right emotional responses across all of your offerings at every level: from your homepage to a product manual to, believe it or not, a simple error message.

But managing copy is only getting more complex as data and code continue to grow exponentially. With dozens and sometimes even hundreds of authors through an organization creating content, copy is proliferating.  And absent proper oversight, simple changes to copy such as spelling or grammar are difficult enough to track in every instance where the text appears. More complex changes like off-brand messaging or content with an inappropriate emotional tone are even more daunting; taken all together they beg for an automated management system.

Solving this copy management issue is indeed the next crucible in product management. And as companies expand and become more software-focused in how they run all aspects of their business they need consistency across all apps running on multiple platforms (including new versions of interfaces as they are introduced) and even across various languages. But success brings real business value creation: centralized management, measurement, and optimization of all content accelerates time to market and enhances the customer experience when executed properly. This all sounds like common sense, right? Automated solutions that can help you manage text the way you manage code. Surprisingly—no, shockingly—there are few solutions on the market. Yet we are already seeing how a commitment to User Experience is defining new leaders and helping them create separation from their competition. Businesses that adopt an automated approach are gaining a huge head start over their competitors by both getting a handle on managing copy as well as by defining and delivering a better User Experience that can greatly boost the bottom line.

May Habib is co-founder and CEO of Qordoba. The Qordoba platform enables enterprises to manage text like code.

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Why Product People Should Care About Business Strategy

Business Strategy vs. Product Strategy

A business strategy describes how a company wants to achieve its overall aspiration and create value for its users, employees, and shareholders. It’s distinct from the product strategy: the business strategy states how the company will be successful, whereas the product strategy describes how a product will achieve success, as the following picture illustrates.

The business strategy provides the company with the basis for making the right investment decisions. This includes determining if a new product idea should be pursued and how much money should be spent on an existing product. At the same time, it offers you, the person in charge of the product, the necessary context to make the right strategic product decisions, for example, the market your product should serve and the business goals it should meet. It is therefore a key input for any product discovery work.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon in my experience that organisations don’t have a business strategy, or that the strategy is not communicated. Statements like we want to grow, increase our profit margin, or gain more market share are not business strategies. Achieving growth is a business imperative; increasing margins and market share are goals that might be part of a business strategy. On their own, they are not enough.

Elements of an Effective Business Strategy

What does an effective business strategy look like? I find Roger Martin’s approach for creating such a strategy helpful. It involves answering the following five questions.

What is your winning aspiration?

Why does your organisation exist? What is the company’s vision? State the purpose of the organisation that provides continued guidance and helps identify the right strategic objectives. Think, for instance, of Google’s vision “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Where will you play?

Clearly describe the areas in which the company will compete to fulfill its aspiration. Who should benefit from your offerings? Do you intend, for instance, to address existing markets? Or do you aim to create new markets (also called blue oceans). Which geographies or regions do you want to address? Which product categories and channels will you require? Note that answering this question requires making tough choices-saying yes to some options, and explicitly discarding others.

How will you win?

What is your competitive advantage? For example, cost leadership (low prices), differentiation (uniquely desirable products and services), or focus (niche markets) are three options originally suggested by Michael Porter. Answering this question requires you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your business and the competition you face.

What capabilities must be in place?

What do you need to be really good at? Which new products or services do you require? Which existing products you should enhance, and which offerings you should remove? In other words, decide how you should adjust your product portfolio thereby creating the context to allow the product people to make the right strategic choices for their individual products.

Which management systems are required?

Which processes and structures are necessary to build the appropriate capabilities and reinforce your organisation’s strategic choices? This might involve creating or strengthening a product management organisation and hiring or developing product people who have the right skills to professionally manage digital products.

Note that there is no perfect business strategy—just like there is no perfect product strategy. Instead, strategy is about increasing the chances of being successful. Bear in mind that strategy is not fixed: as the market and competition change, your business and product strategies have to evolve. It is therefore important that you regularly review the business strategy, as well as the product strategy—biannual reviews for the former, and quarterly reviews for the latter, as a rule of thumb.

Ownership of Business and Product Strategy

Who’s responsible for ensuring that an effective business strategy exists? The answer is simple in my mind: executive management. The leadership team of any company must lead the effort to create, review, and adjust the business strategy.

But things are different when it comes to product strategy. Product management should be in charge of the product portfolio and make the necessary product strategy decisions within the context established by the business strategy. This requires that the product people know the business strategy, have the appropriate decision-making authority, trust, and support, as well as the right knowledge and skills, as the picture below shows.

Regrettably, the division of labour shown above is not always used. I have worked even with mid-sized companies, where the leadership team was firmly in charge of product strategy; the product people were largely left to manage the product backlogs and write user stories. While there is usually a reason for this setup—for example, the founders are still in charge and find it hard to let go, or the product people lack the right skills and experience—I find that it risks turning the leadership team into a bottleneck thereby limiting the company’s growth opportunities. It often has a negative impact on morale in product management, too, as few product people enjoy being solely a backlog manager and not being able to shape the key product decisions.

While I believe that is helpful to have the right roles and responsibilities in place, business and product success relies on an effective collaboration between executive/senior and product management. As a product person, you should contribute to the business strategy. You often hold key insights into markets, competition, and trends. You are therefore able to help answer the five strategy questions discussed earlier, and in particular determine the necessary product portfolio adjustments. Similarly, the leadership team may be able to help make the right portfolio decisions and probably wants to understand how the product portfolio executes the business strategy, which business goals the individual products support, and which KPIs will be used to measure their performance.

If you currently don’t have a business strategy available, I would encourage you to collaborate with management to create one. Without it, you risk making wrong or suboptimal product decisions instead of achieving product success.

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5 Simple Tips to Survive Your First Hackathon

There is a first time for everything. If you are attending a hackathon for the first time, it helps to be prepared. With the right preparation, you can make your hackathon experience more fun and productive. Here are some tips to help you get the most of out of your first hackathon:

1) Know What You Want to Accomplish

Victory lies in the eyes of the beholder. When it comes to hackathons, bagging the prize money is not the only win. Hackathons are a fun way to build cool products, meet new people, learn something new, and even find a good job. Define your victory for your first hackathon. Know what you want to accomplish. Are you building something for your portfolio? Do you want to learn more about an app or API? Are you trying to build your professional network to find a job? At the end of the day, if the experience motivates you to achieve more, it is a victory.

2) Do Your Homework

Start by brushing up your programming skills. Go through APIs, open source libraries, and hackathon themes, if any. Check out if there are any existing templates that you can use. Practice your introductory pitch at home. Jot down ideas that you can use. Bookmark websites that offer free templates and prototyping tools.  

3) Don’t Forget to Bring the Necessities

Make sure you take everything you need including your laptop, USB chargers, pen drive, etc. Although internet access is free at the hackathon venue, it is a good idea to have your back up ready, just in case.

4) Reach the Venue on Time and Network

Being on time not only makes you look professional, it also gives you the chance to talk to everyone at the venue. Once the hackathon starts, almost everyone will be too busy with their projects. The best time to network is at the beginning of the hackathon. Use the opportunity to introduce yourself, present your pitch, and connect with people. If you have not formed your team, try to get people onboard. Talk to the organizers and sponsors to get some tips. Many hackathons also have company-sponsored booths, fun activities, and workshops. You can meet headhunters and maybe even take home some cool hackathon giveaways like T-shirts, laptop stickers, etc.

5) Be Willing to Teach and Learn

Depending on your team and the prototype that you plan to build, you need to be ready to learn and teach. Don’t start building immediately. Brainstorm with your team to finalize a strategy to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Be honest about what you can offer to the project. Assign ownership of tasks to team members according to their skills. As you build new products, you may have to learn new technologies and implement them on the fly. You may also have to explain technical concepts to your teammates who aren’t familiar with it.

Lastly, try to get enough rest and remember to have fun! You can perform your best when you are rested and happy. If you are focused and relaxed, you can code better and reduce the likelihood of bugs. With the right attitude, teamwork, design, and presentation, you can make the most of your first hackathon.

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6 Hackathon Ideas That Turned into Million-Dollar Startups

As a melting pot of creativity, ideas, and skills, hackathons have helped in building some of the coolest apps of our times. Hackathons offer the opportunity to meet like-minded people, mentors, and potential investors. This makes it easy for participants to test and validate their product. The hackathon environment has led to the invention of many successful business ideas.  Hackathons have helped solve pressing issues and business challenges, worldwide. Here are some of the most popular hackathon success stories about apps invented at hackathons:

1) Carousell

What are the odds of winning your first hackathon? Lucas Ngoo and Quek Siu Rui found the answer at their very first hackathon conducted by Startup Weekend in Singapore in 2012. Their idea for Carousell, an app to simplify the process of selling unwanted household clutter, won the first place in the hackathon and turned into a successful startup. They closed their series C funding at around $70-$80 million.

2) GroupME

Conceived by Jared Hecht, and Steve Martocci at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010, GroupMe raised over $10.6 million in funding. One year into the venture, the popular group messaging app was acquired by Skype for a whopping $80 million.

3) Docracy

Docracy is another product of the TechCrunch hackathons. Designed by Matt Hall and John Watkinson, Docracy is an app that allows businesses to locate legal documents safely. Seven months after winning the hackathon, the founders raised around $650,000 in funding.

4) Zaarly  

The winner of LA Startup Weekend 2011, Zaarly is an app designed for hiring and scheduling different kinds of local services. Creators Bo Fishback, Eric Koester, and Ian Hunter raised close to $15.1 million from investors including Ashton Kutcher, Felicis Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Bill Lee, Naval Ravikant, and Lightbank.  

5) Appetas

The winner of AngelHack in 2012, Appetas is a website builder for restaurants. Founders Keller Smith and Curtis Fonger raised a funding of $120,000. The startup was later acquired by Google in 2014 for an undisclosed amount.  

6) EasyTaxi

EasyTaxi was born out of the Startup Weekend Rio in 2011, where Creators Tallis Gomes and Dennis Wang started out with an idea of a bus monitoring app. After winning the hackathon, the duo launched the beta version of the E-hailing app and succeeded in raising close to $75 million from investors since its inception. The app covers a network of 30 countries and 420+ cities.

Tips to Build a Winning Product

Looking for a million-dollar idea? Here are a few tips to get started:

1) Create a product that you would use

Start by solving a problem for yourself in a simpler way than anyone else. Is there a problem your friends complain about for which you have a simple solution? Can you offer an innovative solution in place of an outdated product? When you build a hack for a problem that you face, you get a clear end-user perspective. You are more likely to build a product that you would use personally. It’s very likely that such a product will be used by others as well who face the same problem as you.

2) Know your market

Getting the product-market fit right is the secret to the success of a new product. When you give people what they want, they are more likely to use and endorse your product. By investing time in understanding the needs of your target market, you can build a loyal group of users for your product.

3) Validate your idea

A hackathon is a great a place to test and validate your ideas. Take inputs from teammates, companies, and mentors to see if your product is likely to solve their problem. Test your prototype with friends, family, and colleagues. Collect honest feedback to know if you are on the right track.

4) Don’t be afraid to take the plunge

Often, great ideas happen by chance. It is OK if you are not 100% confident about the result. Start small and build a simple prototype. Don’t be afraid to give your ideas a chance. Who knows, you may be working on the next billion-dollar project!

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Create Remarkable Products, Fast! [3-Step Guide]

The pioneer of  the disk drive industry Alan Shugart once said: “Sometimes I think we’ll see the day when you introduce a product in the morning and announce the end of its life in the evening.”

We’re almost there! Companies that fail to innovate fast today, die out tomorrow. But how can we create products at a remarkable speed without compromising the quality? The answer is – continuous improvement, both of your product and business as a whole.

Did you know that Amazon releases a new change to its services every 11 seconds? This is 8000 changes per day. Amazon is already miles ahead of the competitors, way before they finish their morning coffee.

Amazon knows that the secret to success is not found in some “giant-leap-for-a-mankind” projects. Rather, it’s the small human steps that bring all great companies to the stars. Manageable, incremental, consistent actions.

Below, we have identified the 3 fundamental steps towards fast, high-quality product development. Please note that all of them are vital and have to be done simultaneously and regularly to ensure the best result.

1) Iterate Fearlessly

Team working on a project together

First of all, we have to understand that no product has ever been rolled out perfect the first time it hit the market. This liberates us to deploy faster, of course, but it also helps focus on the core MVP (minimum viable product) and iterate confidently.

Iterating basically means improving gradually. Providing the essential features (MVP) at first, and adding new ones later when it makes sense.

This is, of course, the basic idea behind Lean startups, and continuous improvement overall. Lean approach is extremely popular nowadays, especially in the software development (remember Agile/Scrum?), and there are good reasons for this.

The benefits of such a rapid yet balanced product development include:

  • Quicker results (if you fail, you fail early and lose less);
  • Less initial resources required;
  • Faster return on investment;
  • Safer scaling (thanks to the early user feedback).

The truth is, no one can give you a better feedback about your product than the customers. Therefore, make sure you reach them quicker and spend as little as possible until you are confident that the core assumptions work.

Minimize the Time To Market, launch small, get feedback fast, and then improve madly. Follow the same cycle to deploy new features for your existing products – this will enable you to scale at the right pace.

2) Plan Properly

Sticknotes on a desk - business planning, marketing analysis

Continuous improvement methodologies and Agile in particular are far from an unstructured mess. In fact, no improvement is even possible without planning. Therefore, highly flexible systems also require an overarching plan to stay productive.

Product development strategy often can be improved in the process, when the new marketing insights are gathered. That’s why you always have to keep in mind the following basic questions:

A. What is your market?

It goes without saying that before starting any product development you should have an idea of your target customer. But what if you’re wrong about who your business should target? Plus, the world keeps on spinning, and, maybe, you’ll have to change your marketing focus with time.

Ask yourself more often:

  • What are the needs of our target market?
  • What are the benefits of our product?
  • Does it fit in the current market?
  • What are the features users find lacking?

B. What is the time frame?

Deadlines help us stay put and keep our production rate intact with demand. That’s why it is absolutely necessary to properly define and mind the time frames. Remember that your success heavily depends on how quickly you respond to market changes.

C. What are your methods?

In the software industry, we use various different approaches to prototype, develop, and test the products. Most of our choices depend on the project scope, then the rest follows. Our own checklist looks the following way:

  1. Product Development Specifications

Here we note the details about requirements, whether it is a native app or web service, has something to do with eCommerce or not, etc. Here we include information about the budget, design features, technical functions, marketing specifications.

  1. Wireframes Or Functional Prototyping

The complexity of the project defines the depth of the concept development. Sometimes it’s more efficient to simply go with wireframes, agree on the concept, and get right to the development stage.

  1. Development Team

The right choice of people on the team is crucial. For example, we have people with various expertise and technical skills, so for each project, we have to peak the developers carefully. Too many companies try to do everything at once, but it’s simply not possible. We understand that every developer has his strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Testing Strategy

The product development team chooses the optimal testing method according to the nature of the project. Some products require test automation, which we cover either with our own solutions or frameworks like Selenium. We make sure that testing stage is both fast and effective.

3) Document Everything

Case with documents and pens

By everything, I mean all of the information regarding the product development strategy and history. It doesn’t have to be a truck-sized book, but it has to include the key points and data.

Given that documentation is clear and concise, it can significantly speed up the development process. It also saves a lot of headaches when something breaks, because you have both the grand plan and the history of changes. This way, you also simplify maintenance and boost the overall quality.

Documentation is intended for everyone involved in a project. In software development, for example, it benefits designers, marketers, developers, testers, users, and, of course, clients. Therefore, we usually form the following types of documentation:

  1. Technical Documentation

Includes information about the architecture and functionality of the software. Extremely important, especially for large projects. Contains a detailed description of different functional parts, APIs, and discussions on the code itself.

  1. Design Documentation

Explains and shows the final look of the product. Can include both narrative and graphics on how the software should feel like, look like, and behave. Simplifies building stage, helps visualize the result before the product is finished.

  1. User Documentation

Explains how the code works. Depending on the complexing of the product and the target audience, the depth of explanation can vary. As a rule of a thumb, when creating documents for general users, aim for a clarity and brevity. Use a clean, easy-to-scan layout.

  1. Marketing Documentation

Everything regarding marketing strategy, brand development, and analytics are included here. Very important, as all of the decisions invoke a certain market response, which can be researched beforehand. Marketing data is power when it’s in the right hands.

Conclusion

Deploying high-quality products quickly and improving rapidly is possible. However, it requires adopting a constructive yet flexible development framework that will support consistent improvement.

To succeed in today’s quickly changing market conditions, companies must concentrate on product development speed, not just quality. Time To Market has to be reduced to a minimum to receive customer feedback and improve faster. Higher quality can be achieved through Lean methodology (like Agile), parallel testing, and proper documentation.

Finally, finding the right partner for your business can make your business improvement process ever easier. Whether you’re up for creating a new product or supporting the existing one, we’re ready to help you!

Boost Solutions has both business experts and software developers to help your company succeed. Contact us today to find out more about our custom solutions.

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How Failure and Experimentation Lead to Success

Building a new software product is a highly innovative and creative process. Things simply don’t go to plan all the time, setbacks and failures are inevitable along the way. What makes a difference is how a team deals with them. Each failure is an opportunity to reassess, make a change and try a different approach. In order to succeed, teams must become resilient to failure and focus on the learning outcomes that they present. When we feel that it is safe to fail we are more likely to try risker experiments, and sometimes these riskier experiments have huge payoffs. Early on in a project, prioritising the product backlog by the user stories that bring the largest learning outcomes is hugely beneficial. Teams should ask,”What do we know the least about?” or, “What is our riskiest assumption on the project right now?” and prioritise this work to maximise their learning outcomes.

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Time for a quick thought experiment. Think back to a time when you worked as part of a team that built a new software product and work out roughly how long it took to deliver the project from start to finish. Now, imagine if you could do the whole project all over again, with the exact same people and the exact same budget but with one big difference: this time your team already knows everything that they collectively learned during the project. Every rabbit hole and dead end you all hit would be avoided this time round due to these new collective learning. How much faster would the same result be achieved?

In my experience, it is 20% to 30% faster.

Wow, just think about that for a minute—product development teams spend at least 25% of their time reasoning with uncertainty, trying to figure out the right thing to do. What are the right product features? What is the right architecture to adopt? Will this technical solution work? Who is the target customer? What are their traits? What is the right pricing structure for the product? What is the best way for the team to work together?

When you think about it, the art of building a product is the art of successfully navigating through lots of uncertainty and the faster you accelerate your team’s learnings the faster you’ll get to the end goal.

Adopting safe to fail experiments on a project accelerates a team’s learnings and delivers a better end product in less time.

Introducing the Growth Mindset

The concept of the growth mindset was developed by the psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck proposes that people deal with failure in two very different ways depending on their mindset. Some people have a fixed mindset and others with a growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence and talent are fixed traits. They believe that talent alone creates success without effort. They don’t deal well with setbacks and they try to hide their mistakes.

In contrast people a growth mindset believe that their abilities and talents are just a starting point and that they can be developed through dedication, hard work and learning. They are keen to learn from the people around them. They respond positively to failure and are best described in one sentence: “I can’t do that…yet”.

Growth Mindset

Fixed Mindset

Failure is an opportunity to grow

I can learn to do new things

I like to try new things

Inspired by the success of others

Embraces challenges

Failure is the limit of my abilities

I’m either good or bad at something

I stick to what I know

Threatened by the success of others

Gives up easily

Agile teams that operate with a growth mindset have a much more malleable view of success. They do not view failure as a reflection of their ability but rather as a starting point for experimentation and testing of new ideas. They have a passion for learning and improving themselves and their team. They strive for continuous improvement and never give up.

How to Deliberately Create a Growth Mindset Culture

Establish Trust

Firstly, you need to establish trust through open and honest communication within your team. Speak openly about every success and failure in a blameless way. Trust allows a team to communicate freely and respond to change more easily in a blameless manner.

Make it Safe to Fail

As a team you should collectively agree to expose your ideas and reasoning to scrutiny, despite the risk to yourselves. Egos must be left at the door. Recognise that your knowledge isn’t perfect and that things may not go as planned. With each success or failure recognise that progress has been made and then focus on the learning outcomes. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He viewed every mistake and setback as a learning opportunity.

Take an Experimental Approach to Information Discovery

The “Build-Measure-Learn” loop is a core component of the Lean StartUp methodology. It encourages a feedback focused approach to building a product by testing assumptions and measuring the results in a systematic way with users.

By taking an experimental approach to information discovery you don’t simply build features in priority order from your product backlog and chuck them at users to see if they stick. Instead we shift focus from a feature factory to a laboratory.

Jeff Gothelf’s Lean UX book refers to these as experiment stories. These are logged in the product backlog along with all other types of work so that they can be visualised and prioritised against delivery work. This in term forces the conversation to happen about when experiments should be run and what value they bring. I like the format that Gothelf proposes as it explicitly spells out what needs to be measured

We believe that [building this feature], [for these people] will achieve [this outcome]. We’ll know we are successful when [we see this measure]

It’s important to define what will be measured as part of each experiment and what success looks like before a line of code is written. Figure out the proper “exposed population” before you get going and once an experiment is underway avoid the temptation to change it in any way as this will skew the results.

Regularly Brainstorm for New Experiments

Run regular brainstorming sessions to encourage new ideas for experiments within the team. Run some risky experiments that you think are stupid—these may yield interesting results.

Scrutinize Every Failure for Its Learnings

Each failed experiment uncovers new learnings. These need to be scrutinized and shared freely with everyone. Analyze what happened, what can be learned from each experiment and figure out what impact this new learning has on the backlog and the underlying the assumptions for the product.

In Summary

Since our childhood days we’ve been programmed to perceive failure in a negative light. In many organisations failure in the workplace is unforgivable and a culture of deflecting and concealing mistakes pervades. In order to innovate and build better products we must try new things and experiment with the expectation that some will fail. In a growth mindset team failure is most definitely a result to be proud of, and the quicker we can fail and learn from our failings the faster we innovate.

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6 Effective Steps to Accelerate the Product Development Process

Striving to achieve remarkable product speed without compromising the quality of the product is a challenge companies often face. Hence, they are always on the lookout to accelerate their product development, because only speed and quality can get them ahead of their competitors.

Did you know that Amazon has a software change every 11 seconds, about 8,000 changes every day? So you can just about guess what this would do to their competitors who do not make changes so often.

It is also important to note that making changes to the product every now and then is not expensive or time consuming at all. In fact, continuous deployment can be cheaper, with lower risk, because it is all automated and when done in small development teams, would bring in better coordination.

As the projects become larger, the code bases also become complex and testing new software releases becomes a must. Quality assurance professionals run elaborate test procedures, but traditional testing procedures can always take up time and still miss the errors. So, they opt for automated testing options.

Through expertise and long-term commitment, companies are able to create strategies by which they can market their products faster, minus the errors, but with no compromise in quality.

Through fast product development, companies could take less time to launch their product on the market, i.e; less Time To Market, or TTM. The faster they get a perfect product into the market, the better it is for them, in terms of sales and leadership position and flexibility.

Companies look forward to improved requirements management (gathering the requirements for something that is yet to be designed) because it lets them market their products faster and with improved quality. This is because getting the requirements in a clearly articulated format would help ease the design and development stage.

No system can be perfect, but adopting the TTM strategy along with “improved required management” would help companies deploy high-quality products on the planned launch date.

How Can You Speed Up Product Development?

The success of a company depends on how well it keeps its word – to the shareholders and to the customers. This is why launching a product on time is one of the most important challenges for them.

Over the course of product development, a number of obstacles may crop up; some of them expected, but a good number of them, unexpected. These hurdles can really slow down development.

Given below are six stepswhich, when correctly followed, will help you speed up product development without compromising quality.

1. A Well-Defined Product Development Strategy

Having a product development strategy is the first crucial step in planning a product. The strategy can be defined only when you know the purpose of having the application around. For example, if you are going to have an app released by Christmas, it has to be out by Christmas; it cannot be released in January. Or maybe you are going to release an app that allows seamless switching of trains between stations. In that case, you have to be really very careful with the coding because you cannot afford to have the trains crash because of a software failure. In a situation like this, cleaning up the code and making it free of bugs is most important, rather than timing.

Before kickstarting product development, create a well-planned roadmap that will detail all the necessary steps – right from product iteration to product launch.

There are three main tactics that can be applied to the product development strategy. Here is a deeper review of the tactics:

a. Identifying the Market

Before releasing any product in the market, it is very important to do research on whether it will be accepted by your users or not. You can do surveys and hunt the community forums and social media channels to know the pulse of the audience.

Here are certain things to consider while on a quest to understand your people:

  • What are the needs of your target audience? Get to know the real people who will be using your product, so you understand their needs well and create apps accordingly.

  • What are the benefits of the new product? It would be a great idea if the product could solve a problem a user is currently facing. For example, some of your users would like to know where your ingredients are sourced and their health benefits in your restaurant app. You can create an app just so the users can collect all the information they want.

  • Will the product fit into the current market? Deep research will tell you whether the product you are planning has become obsolete or will still have a market once it has been released. This way, you can save energy and time and concentrate on what people really want.

  • What are the features that you intend to incorporate into your product? Research would tell you the likes and interests of people, so you can incorporate only those features that people will use, so when the final product is out, you have a lightweight, feature-rich product.

b. Fixing a Time Frame

Deciding on a timeframe for the release of the product is so important. This will help in allocating the project to different team members and deciding on the different iterations on which it has to be completed. Choosing the right team for the project is so important here. Your timely release will depend on the experience and skill of the people in your team.

Team efficiency and coordination are so important for a successful development process, so your product is released on time before competition sets in. Depending on the features of the product, user needs, and the skill of the people involved in the project, you must decide the correct launch date.

c. Determining the Key Approaches

It is important to have certain key approaches to do away with the challenges that come with product planning and launch. Mentioned below are some of the main ones:

  • Wireframes or prototypes

Prototyping is one of the important steps to be taken while designing a product. Before actually creating a product design, it is imperative to create low fidelity wireframes that act as rough blueprints of the application. This will give the UX designers an in-depth idea about the designs, features, and functionalities that should be included in the app’s UI. All the elements that make the app user-friendly will be added here. These wireframes act as the link between a theoretical idea of the app and its final outcome.

  • Product specification requirements

All the details about the app have to be detailed in the product specification. This includes pricing, design features, and functionalities, marketing specifications, etc.

The documentation part of the product must be detailed clearly because different teams will be handling it, and each person on the team has to comprehend it. Any unclear part of the product specification will delay the product launch because of unnecessary resets or other inadvertent defects.

  • Define testing strategy

The product development team must go through the testing strategies that are both time-saving and effective. They have to choose a test automation suite consisting of frameworks like Selenium, Appium, Loadrunner, JMeter, etc., which help in conducting parallel tests, including regression testing and performance testing.

  • Hire a development team

Choosing the development team for your product is the next important stage in product development. In order to launch a high-quality product in the market on time, you need to outsource product development to a dedicated engineering team that has the right mix of skill and expertise.

Sometimes, hiring skilled developers for the in-house team can be highly expensive for the company in the long run. Outsourcing software development is a smart strategy in such cases. The right people on your team can reduce the TTM, helps you come up with innovative products, and control costs effectively.

2. Using Agile Methodology

The project management team peruses development methodologies and chooses the one that’s best suited for their project. Agile methodology, based on the 12 fundamental principles of the Agile Manifesto, is the most popular one of all. It breaks down the project into several iterations of equal duration, spread across a time period of 2-8 weeks.

What the stakeholders and clients like most about Agile methods is that it lets them see into each and every development stage of the product so they can make decisions throughout the project. If “time to market” is of greater concern, then Agile lets you quickly produce a basic version of the software product, tested after several successful iterations.

Through Agile methodology, it is possible to create an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, with all the user-friendly features, and release it in the market. For each stage of the product, more features can be tested, added, and then again tested after getting feedback from customers.

This works mainly because cross-functional teams can work with each other on a consistent basis, right from the designing stage to the developing stage, and most importantly, the testing stage.

Each team (designer-developer-team) will work in parallel with each other, checking the quality of the work as they go along. Agile actually saves times compared to the Waterfall method because in this approach, tasks cannot be overlapped, and each task can be started only after completing the previous task.

3. Periodic Automated Testing

It is imperative for software tests to be conducted at regular intervals for development cycles to go smoothly as planned. Each time new source code is added or modified, testing has to be done so that the product works well on all the supporting platforms. Both automated testing and manual testing procedures are adopted. However, the problem with manual testing is that it takes up a lot of time, human effort, and money.

On the other hand, a Test Automation suite can considerably lower the testing time. What was done in days and weeks can be done in a few hours now. And time is not the only factor. Automated testing lets you go deeper into the tests to improve and increase software quality. Manual testing doesn’t allow this advantage during lengthy tests because somebody has to constantly watch the tests results.

Test Automation suites give you better insight into each product, analyze the codes memory contents, data tables, the contents of the file and internal programs to check whether the product is performing as expected.

This lets you improve the accuracy of the software, and of course, this depends on the type of automated software testing you are planning to do – Unit testing, Functional testing, Regression Testing, Integration Testing, Data Driven Testing and Smoke Testing are a few of them.

Whenever a new functionality is added, executing regression testing is one way to check the code and how well it functions. The tests can be repeated several times, and as they are automated, there is no time loss. It is faster, gets really in-depth into the code functionality, and you can finally release a perfect product.

Parallel testing is another major benefit of test automation suites. It lets you run multiple test cases on several operating systems and browsers at the same time. This approach eventually reduces testing time, whereas testing in a sequential manner on a single machine eats away your time.

4. Right Software Development Technologies

There are plenty of software development technologies on the market. They come with their own stories, positives, and negatives. If you don’t choose the right technology stack for the product that you want to build, then you will simply run into roadblocks that will delay the product launch.

In a test software framework, Application Development Environment (ADE) plays a crucial role in the test systems. System developers spend plenty of time with their ADE, so it is imperative to choose an ADE with multiple platforms and integrate it with measurement and control services. An ADE should also help with the presentation and report features of your app and provide training and support worldwide.

Keeping those aspects in mind, let us look at some other points to consider while making technology choices for your product development.

  • Keep tabs on the latest industry trends.
  • Is the technology suitable for the new product’s development?
  • Find out about the technology adoption lifecycle.
  • Is the software development technology open source?
  • Know the long haul expenses of your technology choice.
  • Can the product be ported to other platforms?
  • How important are execution and versatility?
  • Would you be able to profit from third-party code?

5. Documentation

The documentation describes the architecture and functionality of a product that is under development. It is intended for everyone involved in a software development project – designers, developers, testers, marketers, end users, stakeholders, etc.

Documentation helps to improve the quality of a software. This becomes very effective as software teams usually come with their own informal best practices in the coding documentation and code review process. Once you start formalizing these practices, formal documentation takes place, and this helps in tracking the forward progress of the project.

When written in a clear and concise manner, documentation can speed up the development process. It helps the developers reach a consensus on how to implement a particular functionality in the product.

Proper documentation makes it easier for new developers as well, and this is both time- and cost-effective for companies as well, as they can skip the training and plunge right into product development. Properly documented error codes and FAQs guide developers to troubleshoot production issues as well.

Documentation can be mainly:

a. Design Documentation

Design documentation helps developers by providing the details on how the end product will look. There will be a narrative and graphical documentation on how the software should look, feel, behave, and so on. This gives an understanding to everyone in the team ofn how a product is to be built, helps users understand it quickly, and actually simplifies the product.

b. Technical Documentation

The correct technical documentation is quite important to the success of any product. It describes the architecture and functionality of the software in its intricate detailing and is used by developers, designers, and quality analysts.

This is very, very important for large projects because it keeps everything from falling apart. It contains the exact outcomes of the different functional parts of the software, API calls and responses, the final look of the project in the hands of the end user, and elaborate discussions on various sections of the code.

c. User Documentation

Good documentation helps users understand how code works. Developers generally assume that people who use the software know how the code works, and they create documentation by skipping the essentials. As long as the user understands the language, it will be fine, but if not, then it will be of little use to them.

So, when creating documentation for general users, make sure it is clear-cut and easily understandable. The documentation should be in a good layout so the developers can easily scan through what they need. The documentation for WordPress and Bootstrap are good examples of this.

d. Marketing Documentation

Marketing documentation contains a basic overview of what the software should give back to the company – the ROI. Documentation acts as a good marketing tool to help maintain a good process and helps in scaling better heights in software quality.

6. Removing Unused Code

It is so very important to remove unused code because it can lead to a number of issues. In large projects (especially in complex ones), the documentation could get into the hands of many people, even developers who are new to the project. They might make changes to the code, even to dormant code, and inadvertently introduce bugs.

Maintaining any code is a burden because you really have to go through all of it and if unused code is there in the codebase, it can only create more confusion. It is highly unlikely that unused code will ever be used again, so even if you have taken the time and effort to create code, just remove it if it serves no purpose.

Team members working on the code must know which is the used and the unused code. Code cleanup can speed up the development process and improve the quality of software.

Conclusion

Companies must concentrate on reducing time to market of their products. To eliminate the risks associated with product delays, it is imperative to focus on parallel testing, Agile methodology, proper documentation, and the right technologies. If the development team has sufficient resources, the project will take off successfully.

Also, it’s important to rely on TTM tactics to gain marketing advantage and acquire a competitive position because, in certain situations, it could be a matter of pure survival. Last but not least, besides focusing on speed, make sure you uphold the quality of the product in development.

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"Design Thinking": An Out-of-the-Box Strategy to Build Innovative Products

Most often, in this era of dogged competition, companies fail to realize that a customer is not a statistic or a sales target and that newly released products fail miserably in the market if they don’t meet customer expectations.

Companies need to understand the real user and his needs and create a specific user-driven strategy before releasing a product. At the base of product development, companies must introduce a concept known as Design Thinking, wherein they need to look at a problem from inside out and think about the product from the customer perspective.

For example, you built a feature-rich mobile app and launched it in the market, but despite all the hype, there are not many downloads taking place. What will you do?

You work with your team to find a solution for it. You churn data and come up with a list of feasible solutions, but none seem to work in your favor. Why is it so? Because you have not thought about the end-user of the product.

This is where Design Thinking comes into action. You need to first analyze the user’s pain points with the product — some feature or service that irked them or features that they found lacking. Then, list out all the possible solutions, adopt an Agile workflow, and improve the product.

Design Thinking has evolved to be an out-of-the-box approach where the product is perfected by empathizing with the user and understanding the product’s shortcomings through the “mindset” of the user.

Design Thinking – A Problem Solving Methodology

According to Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO:

“Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

In Design Thinking, the focus is not on the product’s technicalities, but firmly on the user’s needs. The problem can be best identified by asking the “why” at every stage of product development, and through brainstorming.

The team works in a continuous feedback loop, so they can be assured that user needs are addressed. Supplement this by showing the product to your colleagues and listening to their feedback as well.

In his 2008 seminal paper on Design Thinking, Tim Brown discussed the following traits needed for a design thinker:

1. Empathy

Design Thinking creates an empathetic connection with the user, where you see and understand things from your user’s viewpoint. This is one of the first steps in the Design Thinking process, where you focus on human values and needs. This can be done by assuming the user’s mindset and asking questions like what, how, and why.

2. Integrative Thinking

Through Integrative Thinking, you can create clarity from complexity, meaning you can produce a coherent vision to avoid messy problems in the future. Don the holistic thinking cap and look at the bigger context from the user’s perspective.

3. Optimism

The design thinker has to be an optimist. He has to firmly believe that there will be a strong solution to the problem, however complicated it may seem.

4. Experimentalism

Design thinkers have to experiment with various alternatives and then try to figure out which one works best for the product and why.

5. Collaboration

Procuring feasible solutions is much easier when you work as a team. So team collaboration with members of different disciplines is a must when you are looking to find the best solution.

Main Stages of Design Thinking

Design Thinking undergoes a series of design processes. Design principles are created through a series of stages/phases. An early model of design process consists of the following stages: Define, Research, Ideate, Prototype, Test and Learn.

Through these stages, the designers can understand the problem, try out different solutions, observe the results, generate ideas, experiment, test and implement.

1. Define

In order to come up with a design solution, it is important to understand the root cause of the problem. Next, empathize with the user to know how he feels about the product.

For this, conduct site visits, talk to real users, interview them, send questionnaires and observe their usage patterns before actually proceeding to solve the problem.

2. Research

There are several ways to research the problem, such as reviewing the problem history and collecting tried-and-tested solutions of similar problems. Do this by going through user cases, user stories, personas, and creating empathy maps.

Asking the “how might we” questions will bring you closer to the finding an answer to the problem. Through the empathy map, you will be able to focus on what the users “said, did, thought and felt”.

3. Ideate

This is the third stage of the Design Thinking process, and a step where designers start generating ideas. At this stage, you understand your users better since you empathized with them, and you know what they need. Indulge in brainstorming sessions to generate ideas as much as possible.

Plenty of ideation techniques like Brainstorm, Brain write, Worst Possible Idea and Scamper are used to stimulate free thinking, and to help you test your ideas.

4. Prototype

It is important to create a series of prototypes to test and refine the concepts collected from real-life situations. This is more powerful than the data collected through surveys and market research. Then bring out these ideas in a rough physical form, through low fidelity prototypes (wireframes, HTML prototypes) or high fidelity prototypes.

5. Test

Once the prototype is made, it is easy to select and test the most workable and feasible idea from it. Testing must happen with real users, as well as in the lab. During the testing phase, you can revise, adjust the prototype and test again. The results garnered during this stage are used to redefine the product, and so it naturally comes after the prototype stage.

The main aim of this step is to solicit feedback from your users, and their experience in interacting with the refined product. The questions like, “Has it improved their experience in using your product?”or “Can they do their tasks?” will find their answers here.

6. Learn

Once the testing phase is over, get the user feedback, to know what worked or didn’t work, and whether the modifications were good or not. With the feedback in, the focus will be on improving the solution until it is brought to perfection.

The stages mentioned above may not always go in this sequential order — they may run in parallel, or in an iterative manner. This means that there will be several feedback loops and cycles. Improvements are made to the solution irrespective of the stage.

Design Thinking is thus an Agile approach that calls for continuous feedback and validation. Through validation, you can analyze whether the needs of a particular group of target users are met.

Success Stories of Design Thinking

Have a look at how some of the top companies of the world implemented Design Thinking into their product development and achieved success. These success stories would help reinforce your conviction that Design Thinking is extremely important to deliver powerful results.

These are all major players from different industrial sectors, proving once again that you need to really know your customer before coming up with a product. Just being a big name in the industry isn’t enough; you have to be a fierce fighter and think in terms of customer needs and wants, and this is possible only through the Design Thinking process.

Observe how these companies gained an edge over their competitors, by building and redesigning their products. Interestingly, Design Thinking plays an important role in all industries, be it retail, travel, technology, healthcare, finance, and so on.

1. Procter and Gamble

In the 1990s, P&G’s “Oil of Olay,” an anti-aging skincare brand, was running at a loss and was struggling hard to dominate the market. The company understood that adopting innovative measures can only help it to overcome the crisis.

They had three options before them –

  1. Launch a new brand,

  2. Acquire another established skin care leader, or

  3. Reinvent Olay brand.

Eventually, after considerable study and research, which included senior managers closely observing consumers at retail stores, the company realized that their main consumers were women over the age of 50.

They found out that women who were in their 30s and 40s, were equally worried about wrinkles. By ignoring the beauty interests of these women, they were missing out on a potential consumer base that had to depend on other skincare brands.

By keeping these consumers in mind, P&G reinvented Olay by trying and testing different formulations that addressed many new skin concerns as well. Finally, Olay was relaunched successfully in 1999 and to this day, it is the leading brand for anti-aging skin products. Through Design Thinking, P&G not only earned huge profits but also earned customer loyalty.

2. Airbnb

Airbnb has revolutionized the concept of travel booking in the tourism sector. But in 2009, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and people were not booking their rooms/houses. The ad campaigns failed, and the founders were miserably losing money.

The problem was with the ad campaign itself — in the 40 different ads that they published, the rooms looked almost similar. Moreover, the pictures were of low quality and did not include all the rooms of a house. Hence, people could not understand what they were paying for, and this led to a drop in bookings.

Design Thinking helped Airbnb to come up with a brainwave solution that had little to do with scalability or technology upgrades. The founders of the company personally visited New York, interacted with their customers, clicked pictures of the rooms and houses and displayed the enhanced pictures on the ads.

Had they sat in front of their computers and played with the codes, they wouldn’t have come up with the right solution, and the company would have met with a premature death.

With the Design Thinking strategy, the company’s per week turnover doubled from 200 dollars to 400 dollars. Today, Airbnb is one of the largest travel companies in the world and is estimated to earn a profit of $3 billion by 2020.

3. Apple

The “i” in Apple products really resonates with users and creates a unique bond with them. Considered as one of the world’s favorite tech brands, Apple is known for driving innovation in all its products, which is why it enjoys a high level of brand loyalty.

But, there was a dark period in the history of Apple. It all started when Steve Jobs was fired from the company in 1985 when he had a fall out with other members of the board.

And with this started the downhill ride of the giant company. During the period 1985-1997 (that was when Steve Jobs was not involved), Apple went through a crisis from which there was no coming back in sight.

Other IT giants like IBM and Microsoft entered the foray, and Apple was slowly melting away because their products were not unique in the market anymore; most of their products failed miserably and there was confusion about selling OS licenses. The executive team changed, adding more fuel to the problem.

Eventually, in 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple, and a new era of success started for the company. He applied the concept of Design Thinking and unleashed a series of innovations.

He understood the relation between Design Thinking and Innovation and applied the following concepts with great success:

Market feasibility – Conducting a SWOT analysis to understand the Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats of products and analyzing if there is a market for a particular product. This helped in creating a successful business strategy.

Technology Possibility – The necessary tools and technologies required to innovate and build new products that will always have a market.

User Desirability – It is not possible to go wrong when you think and understand what the user requires. Rather than putting their efforts to enhance product technicalities, Apple focused on incorporating consumer’s needs and desires into their products.

Thus, Apple built empathy, developed user-friendly products and gave the users exactly what they wanted in each of their devices. The rest is history.

4. Makassar

Makassar is the provincial capital of South Sulawesi in Indonesia. Recently, it entered into a partnership with the United Nations to solve the city’s traffic problems by bringing in fresh and workable ideas through Design Thinking. In fact, 70% of the traffic accidents in the city was caused by motorbikes and the only way out was to quit using two-wheelers and switch to public transport.

To ease the heavy traffic congestion, UNDP and Pulse Lab Jakarta jointly conducted a workshop on the importance of Design Thinking techniques to Makassar’s officials. They found out that the minivans (also known as pete-pete), the main mode of transport in the capital, were not really meeting people’s needs.

To find a solution, they actually went out to the streets to ask people about their transport experience, and to know more about the problems they were facing. They also studied the traffic patterns in the city.

In the end, they identified that they had to design new routes to avoid any overlapping of traffic, encourage people and transport operators to follow traffic laws and make the general public aware of transport schedules.

By the end of the workshop, three key ideas emerged.

  1. To make minivans economically viable by using them for transportation of students.

  2. To use minivans as a first and last mile transport between housing complex, schools, and province-run bus routes.

  3. To create an app that shows commuters the arrival time of the minivan and show the bus schedules offline.

Eventually, the officials began to understand the problems of drivers and fixed schedules, and an income for them. Makassar is planning to introduce smart pete-pete that will have GPS sensors and facilities like WiFi and air conditioning. This will encourage people to opt for public transport over two-wheelers.

5. Stanford Healthcare

Stanford Healthcare, through Design Thinking process, revolutionized emergency care patient experience. The hospital personnel themselves played the role of patients and family members through a demonstration on how to improve patient health care.

They wanted to get a sense of how the patients and their relatives felt in a chaotic atmosphere when faced with an emergency. They empathized with the patients by interviewing them and understanding the reactions they had towards emergency care.

Apart from proper treatment and care, the patients expect coordinated and clear communication. When left in the dark, it would only heighten their anxieties and fears. Through Design Thinking Process, Stanford Healthcare understood that patients and families have to be involved in the treatment right from the start.

6. Bank of America

People and money! Some are good at managing it, some are not. While investing in schemes, people would like to know that they are in control of. This is what Bank Of America did, but they reached this conclusion, only after implementing the Design Thinking.

IDEO, the company that handled the Design Thinking process for the bank came up with ideas of a banking service, named “Keep the Change” to help solve the problems of people so that they have a better control over their finances. They also had the challenge of enticing people to open bank accounts and to bring innovation to an industry where conservative thoughts were so rampant.

As part of the Design Thinking process, IDEO conducted observations in different American cities by talking to families and individuals to know more about their spending and banking habits. The bank came up with a strategy that helps people not only open a bank account but also to save money through an ingenious service idea.

They could enroll in a savings scheme that would round up all their spending (made with the debit card), and the overage would be transferred to a savings account. This endeavor was a major success; there was an emotional touch to it, and people who had trouble saving money, instantly accepted it.

Conclusion

More and more businesses are moving to a Design Thinking approach because it not only fuels innovation but also saves money and the painstaking effort of developing an inferior product.

Design Thinking approach provides validation to the future goals and mission of the company. Through frequent releases, it is possible to support a building block approach to product development, while all the features are perfected and modified. And, there is a continuous delivery of valued features throughout the product’s lifecycle.

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How UI/UX Proves to be Important for Your Product

How well we communicate is determined not by how well we say things, but how well we are understood.” –Andrew Grove

What makes our company different from others? How could we stand out from a crowd? An interesting and a tricky question to which all firms and enterprises are coming with a number of quick fixes.

One of the key solutions to the above question is the UI/UX of the product or the website of the company.

You might have heard about people collectively thinking about the UI/UX of the mobile app or a website. Most of the time these words are used interchangeably, but from the designer’s perspective, it is a fatal mistake to consider UI and UX as same. What actually is the difference between UI and UX?

According to designer Nick Babich:

“The best products do two things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product. Details are what keep them there.”

UX designers act as the makers of macro-interactions while UI designers, as the architects of micro-interactions, attend to the details.

UX is User Experience, which is simply the feeling grabbed by a user. This term encompasses the end-user’s interaction with the services and products of a company. On the other hand UI stands for User Interface refers to the combination of the elements and approaches used for the creation of the desired UX.

The success of a website or an app depends on how the design, functionalities, and entities are portrayed to the end user. A design needs to have the right combination of an excellent user experience with eye-catching elements.

Difference Between UI/UX

Consider a simple example of a park. The benches, bridges, playground, merry-go-round etc form the UI-contributing to the experience whereas relaxation, happiness is the feeling that makes up the user experience.

In simple words, UI refers to the means the user use to communicate while UX is just the feel the user got.

Features of UI/UX

An excellent user experience means that your digital product is easy to use. When your customers use your product you have to provide an excellent user experience so they continue using it and recommend others to use it.

UI features are crucial for social media and social networking sites. The prime characteristics include:

Simplicity

It is the prime feature in social networking and social media sites. The apps or websites should be simple in colors and graphic design. It should have a minimum number of clicks.

For example, Whatsapp is most popular social networking application. It has simple layouts and visual design.

Clarity

Clarity is one of the most important characteristics of any digital product. The sole purpose of your product is to facilitate users to interact with your system. To achieve this it must clearly communicate with the user. If the user cannot achieve this clarity he might feel distracted and may abandon your product. To improve clarity labels must be given for buttons and actions.

Feedback & Response Time

Feedback & Response time is one of the good features of any social networking and social media sites. Feedback is a pointer to interaction design. It enables the user to communicate with the product whether the desired task is completed and what to do next.

The response time in feedback is also a key factor. It must be a real time. It should be between 1 and 10 seconds.

User Assistance & Help

Another feature that makes your product easy to use is user assistance & help. It provides information when something happens unexpectedly suddenly or when people get stuck. Help will guide the user through the necessary steps towards a solution to the issue he is facing.

Forgiving

Nobody is perfect and users are bound to make mistakes when using your digital product. How well you can handle such mistakes is an indicator of your product’s quality.

A forgiving interface is the one that can save your users from costly mistakes. Undo is the most commonly used forgiving interface.

Is UI/UX Important?

Research has shown that rejection or selection of a website is 94% design related. This points that UI/UX is the crucial factor determining the success or failure of a website. As online business transactions are gaining popularity now-a-days it seems to be critical to offer a good UI/UX for the website. Since different options are available for the users, they would look for those sites having good appearance and are easy to use.

In recent years UI/UX plays a major role in user acquisition and retention. If you build something that is easy to use and handle, more people will use it. Today, a product, whether digital or analog, gains popularity not only by the way it works but also through the look and feels. Whether that experience is good or bad one, it is going to have a direct impact on the sales. Here comes the importance of UI/UX.

How UI/UX Impacts Business

In the present era, there is a tremendous growth in the social networking and e-commerce markets with billions of dollars in sales taking place every year. The Internet has emerged as a one-stop source of entertainment, information, social interaction, and commerce.

For success in any online business, a user-friendly website is a must as it will provide enhanced user experience to the online visitors. Any site that is too complex and difficult will definitely push away online traffic. Providing best user experience means you are delivering best services that help to boost your sales. Satisfactory use experience is the most important aspects that impact on the future of your business.

  • Through good UI/UX, you can win the confidence of your customers. The more they will be happy, the more they come towards you.
  • Your website or app represents your brand. It will help to establish your brand name in the market. Innovative features and attractive designs in your product help you to move forward in the fast-paced digital world.
  • The aim of UI/UX is to present an optimized design and experience to the users for their satisfaction.
  • Your business can get a boost for future growth if you get your UI & UX aspects right through your existing budget.

Schneider Electric’s global director of partner relationship management, Hiram Barber, puts it succinctly:

“Investing in the digital customer experience of your customers and channel partners is an investment into your long-term business strategy – critical to customer satisfaction, loyalty and market differentiation. It demonstrates your willingness to ‘live a day in the life’ of your most trusted advisers…the individuals interacting with your products every day.”

UX is not an end, but a means to an end. It deals with customer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention. You’re dealing with people having different thoughts. This enhances the need to embed UI/UX into your long-term business strategy.

Wrapping Up

User acceptance is crucial for any product, project or service. The businesses that create positive user experiences can have a large number of loyal customers. And these customers can become the advocates for your brand. Businesses and products offering high levels of usability are more likely to be recommended to others.

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Release Planning and Predictable Delivery

Any software that you create is an organisational asset and decisions to cut quality need to be reflected in your company accounts. As such, those decisions need to made by your executive leadership and should not be made by the Development Team. Once you accept this, and quality becomes non-negotiable, your Development Team can focus on creating shippable increments of working software. Once you have shippable increments of working software, you can then start to look with interest at the progress being made on features and goals.

Without a regular cadence of delivery of working software any belief that you will get working software is misguided at best. Professional Development Teams create working software.

Release Planning and Predictable Delivery

The incompatibility between predictable delivery and agility is fictitious and is usually created by an organisation that is unwilling to let go of the old ways and embrace the tenants of Agile. It can also be the result of a team’s fervor to divest themselves of all things that smack of prior planning. There is a lack of understanding that Agile and the path to agility is far more than just a change in the way that you build software; it is a fundamental shift in the way that you run your business. Much like the lean movement in manufacturing, companies that embraced it wholeheartedly were the ones that ultimately see the competitive edge that it provides. If one is unwilling to let go of the old ways, then one can’t attain the value of the new. This change will take hard work and courage as the fundamental transparency required to inspect and adapt effectively is at odds with the measures of the past. The lack of predictability of software development is the key to understanding the new model.

Why Is Software So Unpredictable

All software development is product development. In lean manufacturing, we can optimise the production of pre-developed products through the nature of its predictable production. Each unit of work takes the same amount of materials and time to produce so any changes that we make to the process, time, or materials can easily be qualified and the benefit demonstrated. Manufacturing lives in the predictive world.

With software everything that we create takes its own amount of time: you can really only know how long something took after it has been completed. Even in manufacturing if you asked an engineer how long it would take to develop a new type of unit of work they would not be able to tell you with any certainty. Once they have developed it, however, they can tell you exactly how long it will take to make each one, and then systematically optimise the process that you use to make it. In software development we are always doing new product design; therefore, we have no certainty, which and this often results in chaos. Software lives in the empirical world.

All is not lost, however, as we can, by looking at our history of delivery for similar things, make a pretty good forecast.

The best thing we can then do is to expend effort to make that forecast as accurate as possible while accepting that more time spent planning does not necessarily affect the accuracy of that forecast.


Diminishing returns from Agile Estimating – Estimation Approaches

Ultimately, software development is a creative endeavour and has the same lack of predictability that painting a picture, writing a book, or making a movie has. Yet movies get made all of the time. How can that possibly be? They have a director (Product Owner) that has a bunch of money and a plan for delivery, a producer (Scrum Master) to make sure that everyone has the skills, knowledge, and assets available at the right time and place, and one or more units (Development Teams) that have all of the skills necessary to turn the director’s ideas into a working movie. They create storyboards of what they expect to create so that they can run it past the stakeholders and get feedback. They take those storyboards to the units who collaboratively work together with the stunt, prop, lighting, camera, sound, and wardrobe crews to get estimates and costs and ultimately coordinate to create the movie. Sometimes they don’t know how to do stuff, and just have to have a go and see what they get.

Making a movie is just like building software: you need a budget, you need a plan, and you are trying to reach a ship date. And just like building software you have to make money at the end of the day so that you can do it all over again.

Accept the Lack of Predictability

While I hope by now you understand that the lack of predictability is part of the nature of building software, there are many things that we can do to lessen the impact of that chaos. Indeed, if you were to estimate all of the discreet things that you need to do to achieve a goal (let us call them backlog items) in small, medium, and large, what would your standard deviation of actual hours be? I would wager that it is fairly large. So large, in fact, that at least half of all mediums would be more accurately classified as large. But that reclassification can only be done with hindsight. This is indeed one of the tenants of the No-Estimates movement, as really there are only three classifications of size: trivial, fits in a sprint, or too big to fit in a sprint.

This difficulty in estimation is normal for organizations that move towards agility, as the transparency that it brings uncovers these sorts of problems. In order to increase the accuracies of our forecasts, there are a number of simple activities that we can perform. These activities, while easy to understand, are very hard to do as they require a culture shift within your organisation as well as the courage of the participants to make them work.

Focus on Continuous Quality

Most software lacks quality for the simple reason that you can not easily see the quality in software like you could with a table or a painting. I am not talking about the quality of the User Interface, but the quality under the covers, the quality of the code.

If you put developers under pressure to deliver they will continuously and increasingly cut quality to meet deadlines. —Unknown

A lack of quality of the code results in an increase in technical debt which in turn results in two nasties. The first is the teams increasingly have to spend more time struggling with the complexity of your software rather than on new features. If you are still pushing your teams to deliver the same feature level every year you are only encouraging them to cut more quality and thus incurring more technical debt which becomes a vicious cycle. The second is an increasing number of bugs found in production. Bugs found in production also directly impact on the number of features that the team can deliver and any bug, no matter how small, costs ten times and much to fix in production than it does in development.

The only way to handle technical debt is to stop creating it, and then pay a little back each iteration. If however, you are so drowning in technical debt that you can’t create working software at the end of the iteration then:

  1. Create a short measurable checklist that mirrors minimum releasable product (the definition of “Done”).
  2. Stop adding new features and make your product meet that checklist and release your product.
  3. While you have an increment of working software, a sprint,
    1. Work to create something of value (Increment)
      1. Work towards a new goal while meeting the DOD (sprint goal)
      2. Leave things better than you found them (engineering excellence)
    2. Review that thing of value with your stakeholders (Sprint Review, Backlog Adaption)
      1. Get feedback on at least one new thing for stakeholders
      2. Update the Backlog to reflect this new information
    3. Reflect on how you worked with your entire team (Sprint Retrospective, Kaizen)
      1. Is quality increasing?
      2. Is the DOD increasing?
      3. What can we change to make things better?
  4. Go to #1

You can call the activity that results from dropping out of the while loop of working software to be a Scrumble. You need to stop piling more features on top of the features that don’t work and fix things so that you can make new things. Ultimately professional teams build software that works.

There are a number of strategies that can help you both stop creating and start paying back technical debt:

Sufficient Requirements

If your backlog has things in it that are too big or too vague then your team will not really be able to understand them and this, in turn, creates a multiplier for uncertainty. Follow the INVEST model for every single thing that you ask the team to deliver. If you invest in your backlog in this way you will find it much easier to deliver the contents and thus predict that delivery. This will require you to spend a significant amount of time in refinement. Backlog refinement is key to facilitating a flow of actionable Backlog Items to your team.

The Development Team Chooses What They Can Deliver

This implies that the Development Team can reject any item on the backlog that they do not understand. If we accept that every Development Team is trying to do their best to deliver for their Product Owner then the only reason to reject anything would be if an item is too big or does not have enough detail to understand. These Backlog Items can be put on the queue for refinement and refined over the next sprint. Remember that there is no such thing as a rejected backlog item, only actionable feedback and continuous improvement.

Definition of Done (DoD) 

Along with having sufficient requirements the single biggest blocker to predictability is a lack of common understanding of DONE. Done for a Development Team should equal what it means to complete an item with no further work required to ship it. If you can’t ship working software then you need to stop sprinting, Scrumble, and focus on getting your software into a shape that can be delivered in a Sprint.

Test First 

Focus on Test First practices like TDD or ATDD to help you make sure that not only did your engineers build what they expect, but that you ultimately built what the customer expects.

Fixed Length Iterations

 If you have variable length iterations you can’t be sure what you can do in a particular timeframe. How much decomposition do you need to do to the backlog? How much can the team deliver in a single iteration? You can’t be sure unless you have fixed length iteration, and you reject the idea of staggered iterations.

No Separate Teams 

This means no separate test teams, configuration management teams, and definitely no separate maintenance teams. It’s hard for folks to grasp, especially with the recent focus on DevOps, but if you have separate teams then why would your Development Team, those best placed to fix any problems, care about the problems of other teams? The most successful organizations at creating software have development teams that own the entire application lifecycle. 

Manage Dependencies

Managing dependencies is a hard task and my advice would always be to minimise the number of dependencies that you have. A Development Team should have all of the skills required to deliver what you want at the quality level that you want. So if you need to have productionised databases or scripting for production delivery then you might need a DBA or an Operations administrator or two. This can be hard for many teams or organisations but you will have far less success creating silos like Configuration Management or DevOps. Rather add those individuals that you need to the team. However, if you have a dependency on a separate team, maybe you have an application upon which all of your other applications depend, then you may need another way. This is not a silo of types of individual skills, but of a domain and that team just has something in their backlog upon which you are dependent. It is up to the team’s respective Product Owners to fight negotiate over when these things get done.

Use a Modern Source Control System

A modern source control system is more than just code management, it should include all of the goodies talked about in DevOps practices and beyond.

If you can, do them all, and many more…

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The Road to Agile: Continuous Innovation One GIG at a Time

How do you make sure your product gets better over time? Better as in solving more and actual problems for your customers? At Tricentis we have a couple of strategies:

  • Our product management is in close touch with customers all the time.
  • We established multiple feedback loops throughout the organization and encourage support, consultants, sales, pre-sales, etc. to provide his or her feedback back on the product at any time.
  • We have an extensive Sprint review event (more about this in a later blog post).

But most importantly, everything circles around our core values, two of which are: customer focus and innovation.

Hackathons

Hackathons have become increasingly popular with the rise of the Silicon Valley tech scene. Hackathon, a portmanteau of “hack” and “marathon” are any sort of events where developers meet to spend a short amount of time intensively focusing on specific ideas. Twitter, for example, was conceived and implemented (as a prototype) at a hackathon. Enterprises also host internal hackathons – e.g. Facebook’s most popular feature (the Like button) was introduced based on a hackathon idea.

Tricentis’ engineering department hosts an annual innovation contest, similar to a hackathon – we call it the GIG – Great Ideas Gathering.

Great Ideas Gathering

The GIG takes place in late spring or early summer. Tricentis employees worldwide are allowed to participate in teams with up to three members. They are excused from their daily tasks and can focus on whatever innovation or idea they have. Teams are mixed – some consist of just engineers, some have non-technical members. They hack away a whole day (and night) to have two artifacts ready the next morning:

  • A short video (3 minutes max) pitching their idea.
  • A prototype implementation.

All employees worldwide are invited to vote for ideas – the top 10 get to pitch their ideas to a high profile jury (usually our CEO and two founders are part of the jury).

Innovation Drives Us

Besides being a lot of fun for the engineers, what do we get out of the GIGs? We crunched the numbers and it turns out that many of the features you enjoy in Tricentis Tosca were actually conceived during a GIG.

In total, close to 40% of all GIG ideas end up in the product in one way or another. Popular features like the Fuzzy Search, Distributed Execution, or Image Based Automation have been introduced based on GIG ideas.

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How to jumpstart your product development cycle

Every great startup begins with a great idea. But ideas are just ideas. Startups need to turn them into products that users will love for the first step to success. That’s why the product development cycle is the most exciting stage of your startup’s life. When it’s done right.

Here’s a quick A-Z on starting up your product development cycle properly:

1) Build the dream team

Every captain needs a crew. Even if you have the best idea, you’ll still need a kickass team to help turn that into reality. How do you find the right people, though?

Start with a question: what and who do you really need? From this one question, you can determine the people you want to have on your team. Building your dream team isn’t like an open call for volunteers. You’ll need a stringent screening process to ensure aligned goals and visions. Look out for the qualities you need – skillsets, experience, passion and attitude.

In addition, the structure of the team is important to your product development success. For starters, here’s a good guide on how you can structure a consumer-driven product team.

2) Determine your metrics

Not every product is created the same. A food delivery startup is wholly different from an SaaS provider. Each startup’s KPIs vary from one another. Like building your dream team, creating the perfect set of KPIs for your startup starts with asking the right question: how do you want your product to succeed?

At the earlier stages of your product development, creating the best metrics is crucial. Attaching the wrong metrics to your young product may influence how it grows, for better or for worse.

Luckily, thought leaders in the startup scene have developed trustworthy frameworks that help teams assess their product. Notable examples of these are the HEART framework and PULSE metrics.

3) Keeping clean codes

With startups coming out left and right, you might be tempted to push your product out as fast as possible. Besides the obvious quality issues, rushing your product can have consequences deeper into its heart—its code. Keeping code clean is a tougher challenge that all developers face. It takes time, effort, and a whole lot of coffee.

But it’s not just about poring over lines and lines of code to check for errors. Keeping code clean means keeping it easily readable and accessible for both the original developer and any succeeding developers who will handle the code in the future. In this state, software can be easily patched should any bugs pop up in the future. Having a clean code will ensure that your product is always up-to-speed and up-to-par for your customers.

4) Protecting your users

Crafting an enjoyable user experience is one thing; creating a safe one is another. With controversies on user privacy rising to the fore across the software industry, the race to secure software is on. More and more users are realizing the value of security. Creating secure software no longer plays second fiddle to the actual product experience itself – and integrating information security is best done during the development process.

Want to know more?

These are just the tip of the iceberg – there’s so much more to learn about the various facets of product development.

If you’re a product manager or developer wanting to learn more about the topic and how to create a product users will love, head on over to Tech in Asia Jakarta 2017’s Developer & Product Stage where speakers from Grab, Go-Jek, UrbanIndo, KODEFOX, Ematic Solutions, and Blackstorm will share their expertise and insights.

Also, don’t miss out on your final chance to save 10 percent off your tickets! The code is tiajkt10 and will only be valid for one more day until October 13, 11:59PM (GMT +7). Or if you’re not yet ready to commit, drop your details below to get our latest conference updates via email.

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Ways to Speed Up the Product Design-to-Development Process

Many companies are known for delivering a captivating user experience by providing an innovative product design. A captivating design works as a catalyst between a digital solution and its users. A simple example to understand the importance of product design is to look at Instagram and Snapchat, both being successful photo-sharing platforms.

In the world of product development, there are ways to remove inefficiencies from the design-to-development process without forgoing speed. In fact, this practice is quite simple, but the vision and passion to implement the strategy has to flow from the top management. Beyond starting from the right place and drawing user personas, here are the 4 hacks to speed-up the development of a captivating product.

Clear Away Confusion

Unclear communication with the client or failing to understand the requirements can lead to a confused product design. Here, a project manager has to lead the way by being a cultural manager to ensure that all the gaps are joined with an appropriate bridge.

Looking at this from the user’s perspective, confusion means unclear navigation or finding it difficult to understand the features. It is excessively critical to address them and that can be achieved only if you see the product from a user’s perspective. Thus clearing away any confusion can help you achieve the desired velocity.

Improve Designer-to-Developer Handover

This will sound familiar. Look around you. I’m sure you have gone through a phase where a designer hands over something to the developer and it has to be returned due to some errors. Time doesn’t stop for you while you are doing this back and forth. Use the right processes and tools to save a lot of time.

Be a Tasker and Not a Multi-Tasker

Designs flow from the vision of their creator. Quite often, it seems, developers get bogged down by the tasks at hand and thus have trouble sustaining their energy throughout the day. Losing projects or sacrificing on the functionality of a product is not something that an organization can afford. Better to consider the projects at hand, and deliver your best, than to try to do too much. 

Create and Re-Use

The easiest way to increase speed and cut on cost is to develop reusable code snippets, components, and prototypes. An organization can create a library of code and if a match is found, developers can use the previously used code. An engineer can make it a habit to write neat code to make things easier.

Nearly 80% of products miss their launch dates (source) and Time is money. The more you delay, the lesser you gain. But with these hacks, you get an opportunity to deliver more in less time, and, most importantly, beat the competitors by a fair margin. So just go out and WIN!

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Singapore’s first engineering-based incubator lends expertise to local startups

Conduct a poll on the current hottest startup verticals in Singapore, and most would respond with blockchain, sharing economy, big data, e-payment, and the likes. Despite being recognised as one of Asia’s tech hubs, few would associate Singapore’s startup ecosystem with wearables or consumer gadgets – a relatively nascent sector in the garden city where software and digital products have stolen the limelight.

It’s not hard to see why, as creating products, especially physical ones, can be challenging – from assembling the right multi-disciplinary team, high capital and product development costs, R&D costs, intellectual property rights, long lead times, lack of experienced manpower, and the list goes on.

Over the years, Singaporean startups have tried ways and means to break into the scene. Some have performed less than desirably, such as local popular case study Pirate3D whom made headlines for having the highest-ever crowdfunding campaign from a Singapore company but then ran into major cashflow issues and failed to deliver. On the other end of the spectrum, some have managed to stay in the game: Zimplistic, Touchjet, uHoo and Vibease, just to name a few.

While local hardware startups (or those that require heavy investment in product development for that matter) face inherent unique challenges when starting up, fret not as there are several avenues that can give them a leg up. Granted, there are still many ways the government could do to support, but all hope is not lost.

One such available and integral resource are incubators, as they provide much needed funding and guidance to accelerate the development of ideas to prototypes, products and even distribution.

Find out how Singapore’s first engineering-based incubator can help

If you’re a fledgling startup looking for opportunities to grow, or simply want to find out more about the current state of hardware and related products in Singapore, here’s a “can’t miss” event along the horizon.

Jointly organised by Innosparks – Singapore’s first engineering-based Open Lab and incubator – together with Tech in Asia on October 3, founders from some of Singapore’s established tech startups will be there to share their journey, experience, and insights on building a startup.

You’ll also learn and understand how Innosparks supports entrepreneurs (both hardware and software) by offering engineering expertise beyond equipment and labs to accelerate breakthrough innovations to market with their bespoke programme.

This event is free to attend and invite-only. Sign up below to secure your seat! Successful applicants will be notified via email by 27 September.

Speakers

  • Dustin Jefferson S. Onghanseng (Co-founder, uHoo)
  • Ong Jiin Joo (Co-founder & CTO, Garuda Robotics)
  • Dr. Tan Yeow Kee (PHD) (Founder, Sound-eye)
  • Gareth Tang (GM and SVP Tech Innovation, Innosparks)
  • Malcolm Chua (Head – Business Development, Innosparks)

Event details

Date: October 3, 2017 (Tuesday)
Time: 1.45pm – 4.00pm
Venue: The Meeting Point, JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, 73A Ayer Rajah Crescent, Singapore 139957

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