Category Archives: Product Launch

Banish long Sprint Planning meetings

In the Agile world, a Sprint Planning meeting would typically have the Business / Product Owner listing and explaining each story to be delivered and the team goes about doing their best to understand each story based on questions and discussions. The team then estimate the effort needed for each story and commit to whatever they think is feasible within the Sprint duration. For a 2 week Sprint, this typically takes around 3-4 hours.

In many cases, discussions on stories unearth scenarios that need further Analysis by the Product Owner before they can be ready for development. These stories cannot be picked up for development even if they are of highest priority since there are some unknowns about them. This means that the Sprint backlog could consist of stories that are not of highest priority. Also, this results in a long Planning meeting due to more discussions and more stories to discuss.

Is there a way to change this and ensure that the Sprint backlog is filled with stories of highest priority and value? Also, is it possible to have a shorter planning meeting?

Fortunately, the answer is Yes…

The key is to remove the discussions and visit all possible scenarios up front.

The answer is to have an Elaboration session for the next Sprint in the middle of the current Sprint. The Scrum Master gets the team and the Product Owner together for the Elaboration session. Here, the Product Owner presents the stories for development in the next Sprint and solicits questions and feedback. The team and Product owner discuss all possible scenarios and get a complete understanding. There is a huge possibility that some stories might not be ready for development. The Product Owner then has the time to action these before the actual Sprint planning meeting a week later.

This way, the team is fully aware of the stories coming up in the next Planning meeting, the Product owner has time to fine tune his high priority stories and many stories can be committed to and taken up for development without much discussion at the planning meeting. All this leads to a short planning meeting and a less stressed out team. The additional meeting that is added would provide value by unearthing issues up front thus providing enough time for resolution.

I strongly encourage management and teams to try this option out. Do let us know how this worked for you.

Product Management by Committee

One of the key issues that plagues a delivery team is having no Product Manager to guide the team. However, something that is more troublesome is having multiple Product Managers for a single product. This is what is sometimes referred to as “Product Management by Committee”. I am reminded of a scenario where a boat in a race had 5 people managing it and 4 people actually rowing.

Did you say “Oh, Come on..!! it can’t be that bad” ?

I personally feel that if you want to set a team up for failure, this is one of the things that you could definitely do.

Let us take a closer look at what the problems could be, with having multiple product managers.

Same goal, different priorities: Each PM tries to push his Agenda. Many times, each PM might have the same overall goal, but different priorities. They don’t want to contradict / confront each other. Often, they end up talking to some key resources in the team and pushing their items / enhancements without letting the other PMs know.

Collective knowledge or Collective confusion? There is a possibility that each PM has a different understanding to a scenario in the Product domain. For example, 2 PMs might have varying understanding of how an Insurance claim is to be handled when a car being driven by a person less than 25 years of age gets into an accident at a roundabout with a car driven by a drunk person. In such a scenario, the team would be chasing a moving target if they have to listen to both PMs.

Personality clash: PMs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more technically oriented than others, some more forceful, some more knowledgeable and some more articulative. When you have a mix of such people providing directions, the team would be torn apart and staring straight at failure.

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When Ted, my colleague took up the role of the Scrum Master for one such Agile team, this was one of the things that he identified as a failure factor. He set up a meeting with all 4 Product Managers and told them that henceforth the team would be happy to take inputs from all of them, however, all decisions and directions only from one of them. The PM committee now had to decide who that would be. They nominated Dave ( one of the key stakeholders within the PM committee) to be that person for the duration of the current release. This meant that

  • Dave would set priorities for the team and define the Acceptance criteria for each story.
  • Dave would resolve any conflict of ideas within the PM committee and provide direction to the Delivery team.
  • The Delivery team is not faced with various personalities with different agendas providing conflicting requirements. The team and PM have an opportunity to understand each other well and compliment each other for a successful delivery.

The team is now slowly increasing their iteration velocity, meeting most iteration commitments, gaining the trust of senior management and is able to enjoy their work. I believe this change has been the major factor in causing this turnaround.

Let us know what you think…

@SampathPrahalad

(Pic: Thanks to Remix Monkeys (A new creative look and Style on Urban Dance))

Case Study: The Waterproof Umbrella

This one is a old story. This happened somewhere, sometime in late 1950s.

Case Study: Waterproof Umbrella

Case Study

AB Corporation is among the leading manufacturer of Umbrellas. They manufacture a range of umbrellas that protect users from rain and blazing sunlight. Competition is heating up as there are many new entrants in the industry and AB corp is facing stiff competition ahead of the monsoon season. The Product Manager of monsoon umbrella proposes new range of attractive umbrellas to increase market share and profitability. Idea is to shred away old type dull looking umbrellas and introduce colorful and stylish umbrellas that just don’t protect from rain but also becomes a style quotient in this monsoon.

So the Product Manager calls for a  brainstorming session with research and development team and puts forward the proposal of launching a new  range of designer umbrellas for this monsoon. He shares following specification with the team;

Key attributes of the umbrella were envisage as:

  1. Weight: 30% lighter than the existing umbrella series.
  2. Cloth color: 6 colors, blue, yellow, white, black, red and green.
  3. Cloth material: 40% Transparent
  4. Tube: silver color, non-corrosive coating
  5. Rib: fiber
  6. Top end: lesser than 2 inch with protected ferrule
  7. Handle: straight (not like hockey stick) with soft leather cover

….other attributes remains as they are today.

Research team found the idea worthwhile and started working on new assignment with various ideas and one fine day invited Product Manager to have look at their new offering. On the day of first demo, Product Manager took this invention in his hand for the first time, it was lighter than what he had planned for and it was looking stunning in those bright colors. A dream come true indeed. That evening Product Manager decides to take one umbrella back home, use it for few days and even show to shppowners in nearby locality to seek their opinion.

Next day morning on his way to office, Product Manager gets first opportunity to use his new umbrella. It started drizzling and our man opened his umbrella and started walking with pride. In no time rain was at its peak and he felt like hero, but only for few minutes. Soon, water started seeping, water cracked through the cloth and starting falling on product manager. No this definitely was not kool. He ran through his way all the way till office, straight into the R&D office. Wet and upset, he started talking to team in an assertive manner, sharing his morning experience. “What a crap have you developed? this could not withstand a normal rain for more than few minutes. How do I sell this?”. The team though was puzzled, they were surprise to see our man in such a mood. “Oh well, we thought you liked the Umbrella. But this one is not a waterproof umbrella. Why did you use this in rain?”. Now that took product manager by surprise, “What do you mean, an Umbrella is supposed to be used when it rains.” The argument continued till Product Manager realized what had happened.

Research team’s understanding was that the new umbrella would be used for protection / shielding against sun light. That’s how it has been traditionally. They had never designed anything other than black umbrellas for rain. To make the matter worse, product manager in his specs never mentioned that the cloth used should be waterproof, specs just mentioned about color and transparency.

Today, at fag end of 2013 we still end up meeting such “Out of Context engineers” who would go on developing anything without learning about domain and market. While a Product Manager may try and detail as  much as he can but the question is more about engineers with very low level of involvement in their work. They are brilliant and once specifications are delivered they would deliver what is asked as mentioned in the document. Now why would an engineer limit his thinking or design to what is mentioned in a document? Why do they miss on something that is so obvious and expected? The out of context engineers often end-up creating such horror stories. Escape route is always very easy: it was not covered in the specifications.

Mitigation

While the engineers would work as they work, what best a Product Manager can do to avoid unplanned bath on road is to set the expectations clearly. Be sure of what you have communicated and be sure that you do routine checks and verification with research team as they work and not at the fag end. There is always too much detailing to do but they are necessary, do not take things for granted, mention all expectations and specifications. A little extra effort may save the day for you, and of-course a pair of clothes as well.

@mathurabhay

Backlog Elaboration: A Win-Win Proposition

As we all know, Product Managers are responsible for maintaining the Backlog such that it reflects the demands of the market. As market dynamics change, the backlog changes too. The Agile way of constantly prioritizing the backlog and keeping the most relevant features or stories at the top are key to ensuring that the product stays competitive in today’s dynamic market.

Many times, the Product Manager and the Product Development team go into Sprint Planning without enough clarity on some features or user stories. This causes the planning meeting to go in circles Continue reading

Hey Product Manager, is your backlog mature?

As the world embraces the Agile methodologies with gusto, it is important to get certain elements right to ensure that the key Agile principles are properly implemented. One such element is Transparency. A mature Product Backlog goes a long way in ensuring transparency.

For the beginner, a Product Backlog is a wish list of features or enhancements that would make your product great. It contains User stories which are features or enhancements written in the language of the end user. Contrary to Waterfall projects which have a baselined and frozen list of requirements, the Product Backlog is kept alive and constantly modified through the life of the Product. It is this changing nature of the Product Backlog that is both an asset and a potential liability. It is important to ensure that the Product Backlog does not become just a stale document of EVERYTHING that might or might not get implemented in the product’s lifetime. It is the Product Manager’s responsibility to maintain a mature backlog and once done, everyone involved in the organization stands to gain from it.

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With this background, I shall now attempt to define the characteristics of “A Mature Product Backlog”.

Valuable User Stories: A Mature Product Backlog contains user stories that deliver value to the customer. Each user story should take the product one step closer to the product that the end user desires. Additionally, each user story should have Acceptance criteria clearly listing the boundary conditions, performance criteria and other quality expectations.

Prioritized Backlog: The Product Backlog should be prioritized by the Product Owner in terms of the highest value stories at the top of the list. Another factor to be considered is the Risk involved in implementing the user story. It is a good idea to categorize user stories on Value and Risk and then prioritize the backlog on Value first and Risk next. High Value Low Risk stories would be at the top with the Low Value High Risk stories at the bottom.

INVEST(ed) User stories: A mature Product Backlog has user stories that follow Bill wake’s Independant, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Sized appropriately and Testable (INVEST) mnemonic.

A definite list: The backlog is a list of user stories that will make your product great and it is not possible to only have a certain number of user stories in it. However, instead of having an endless list of small and big features, all I want you to do is a) Keep features that are due to be implemented in the current Release very detailed, b) Group similar features that are part of future releases into Epics and c) Keep user stories from future releases big and break them down into smaller user stories only as you come close to implementing them.

Estimated User stories: This is an Optional requirement for a mature Backlog. It is great to have a Product Backlog with user stories that are assigned story points to determine the size and effort involved. This helps the Product Owner in prioritizing the user stories. For estimating a large number of user stories, Planning poker could be ineffective and the Affinity estimating technique will be a better method.

Over to you now. do let us know if something is missing in this list.

(Pic: Thanks to Flickr: Creative Commons for the Backlog pic)

Who let the product die?

One evening, few products who registered to the Products Anonymous forum met at a local cafe to introduce themselves and share their experiences. They started off in a round robin fashion and we shamelessly listen in…

I died as I arrived as I did not serve any significant purpose for my users. People did not pay for me as they were convinced that I am not good as existing products they were using. Few who dared to risk by buying me but they did not like me. I am result of reactive product manager.

I made good sense to my buyers and they too fell in love with me but none took me home simply because they could not take me home. I did convince them about benefits that I can bring to them and they did agree to most however owning was not so cheap. Their hands did go in their pockets but only few could come out. I wish I could have been better priced but my over confident product manager thought otherwise.

I made success the moment I hit the stores and I was at all the places. I was talk of the town. This was 2 years back, the same people who rushed to shops 2 years back to buy me are the one who hate using me. It is not that I am a bad quality product but like all other products I too need some maintenance which my makers really did not bothered about. My buyers find it hard to repair me or replace my parts, my mechanics are difficult to reach and they simple do not live up to my buyer’s expectations and my product manager believes customer satisfaction is not his responsibility. I am suffering because my product manager never bothered about customer satisfaction.

People liked me and they want me. Few took me home but returned me to the store simply because they find me little too complex to set me up, forget using me. And for those who could configure me correctly found difficult to use me. I know I am a good quality product but at the same time I am difficult to use. My product manager could never appreciate importance of user experience and even though I am efficient I died premature death as I was made me so complex for my users.

I was created so well by makers that I never thought I will spend most of my life in warehouse. Somehow my product manager screwed up big time. He put me in the wrong shelf. He should have put me in the second from right shelf instead he put me in second from left shelf. Pathetic, people who came buying me could not understand my need to be on second from left shelf and those who went to shelf at second from right could never find me. This guy made me nice but could never understand my use. My product manager only had technical sense but marketing sense was missing big time.

I was born with bad luck or shall I say bad timing. The day I hit the shelf I was liked by buyers but most refrained from picking me for simple reason that they knew what my product manager did not knew. There was something new coming in few days and most anticipated that product to be better than me. As a result no one picked me and though I was at par with my competition I did not gain enough word of mouth and eventually lost the batter. My product manager’s ignorance killed me.

All went well for me but I still could not make it big. I was good but business leaders never believed in my potential or success. They always wanted a reason to shut me down and my product manager never bothered to advocate about me to executive team. I died slow with great pain. I could only wish that my product manager should have been stronger in advocating me.

@mathurabhay

Pilot your product to success

Pilot Project Improves Success Probability of ProductA comprehensive study of requirements, a well articulated requirement specification and a marvelous work of engineering may fall short of customer expectations. The fact that the product addresses the requirements does not necessarily mean that it meets market expectations. Poor success rate of new product launches worldwide is a clear indication that doing your homework right might not just be good enough for success. While the truth is that nothing can guarantee success, there are some simple steps that will help you increase your success probability. Continue reading