Agile Australia 2012 Product Afternoon Review

Agile Australia Product AfternoonAs a precursor to the Agile Australia 2012 conference to be held in Melbourne, a product afternoon was held at the Hilton on the Park in Melbourne in November and had a good variety of Australian speakers. The success of the event means a similar event is being schedule for Sydney in February 2012. Here are my notes from the event:

Look What Happened When We Let Customers into the Product Development Loop at Lonely Planet!

Nigel Dalton from Luna Tractor led this session, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  •  you can’t say product you need to start saying customer
  • publishing life cycles are enormous – publishers have to wait up to 5 years to change a font
  • The New New Product Development Game – the last paragraph sums it up
  • need to avoid the next bench design problem – only ask the person on the next bench about quality, do not go to the wider world
  • for Lonely Planet, realisation was a competitor in the market who produced a colour guide, no sales the month they launched
  • went to customers 4 times in the process, took publishing from 2 years to 9 months, visualise the project
  • Rob Adams talks about getting the developers to do some of the initial marketing calls

Marketing is from Venus, IT is from Mars – and the Customer Doesn’t Care

Daniel Oertli from REA Group led this discussion that he hastily renamed to “5 Kick Ass Principles for Customer-led Development”, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  • be customer focussed not customer driven
  • effect of marketing has changed over the last 5-10 years, we no longer control the marketing channel, need customer admiration
  • be a peeping Tom. Regularly – there is only one customer, the people who pay for products, none of this internal customer bull####, hard to put your business on the road regularly to talk to customers
  • 5 on Friday – Silverback on Mac, 5 internal employees for 15 minutes and ask them to do specific tasks with your product (eg. show me how to change the default colour scheme), continue to do this every Friday as parts of the product are developed
  • don’t ask for the solution – to get creative you need to figure it out internally, great people create great things
  • day and half every quarter – hack day – off tools, schedule around it, put ideas on intranet and vote, teams form around the idea self-forming, winning team gets a cash prize and gets sponsored product into production
  • 2 week inception process – use business canvas mapping to lay out the business drivers
  • democratize design – hard to get excited about something if you have not been part of the design, get everybody to draw
  • ready, fire, aim – Agile gives us opportunity to change things in motion but most organisations still execute iteratively what is planned up front, Agile gives you a bullet frequently, be very clear about your minimal marketable features, be ruthless about what you send to your Agile teams, you have a lot of go’s at this
  • teams win – good people outperform any processes, keep teams very small (6-8 people), have a mix of business fundamental understanding, lead designer and lead technologist and there for skills not core decision making, trust is essential
  • dealing with resistance – hardest change of all was getting business on the journey, need to get culture sorted and get teams focussed
  • more of what people do is outside of their hierarchy, biggest impact is dynamic thinking by thinking of type of things we will do rather than what we will do
  • public companies need a plan to show to shareholders, challenge is to make it more dynamic after that
  • engage people in their career progression – still report to a lead, but 90% of the time they live with their cross functional team – more about stretching their knowledge in their domain so have practice meetings

SEEK’s Approach to Product Innovation

Doug Blue from SEEK presented this session, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  • put customers before profits – no display advertising on the front pages, founder would prefer to have a dollar tomorrow rather than a dollar today
  • build for the long term – customer core needs, competitive advantage, long term trends and shareholder value, in GFC let customers negotiate out of long term contracts
  • strive for a rock solid core and out innovate the competition – focussed on number of ads and size of audience, now need to focus on the product
  • focus – do a few things very well, carried this over to the iPhone app as well, but run business on the things that are do-able
  • people engagement – never compromise on engagement
  • data driven decisions – if we build or change something, we measure it
  • test and learn – put it out in market and do course correction
  • balancing customer needs – 3 different customers with different needs (job seeker, employer, recruiters) – came up with an invisible salary to balance the needs
  • on bigger initiatives, need to do your homework

A Start-up Approach to Product Delivery in a Corporate Environment

John Sullivan from Jetstar delivered this session, his slides are available here.

From Miscellaneous
  • XP Explained lacked an explanation on how to communicate effectively with customers to understand what they wanted to achieve
  • base costs on optimum team sizes that can manage constant delivery of a number of system concerns
  • have no process, when problems occur, take those problems away
  • don’t use iterations, they constrain the customer, need to be able pick up any card and get it into Production
  • ideas wall – backlog for where the business is going, anyone can post ideas on it
  • don’t talk about what the product we are delivering should do, talk about what the business should do
  • challenge everything – stand ups are almost useless in large organisations – only say things what people in the circle need to know about, because they work together, so they should know
  • most people in large organisations are disempowered – how do I know I am doing the right thing? Just do it, everyone is the business
  • need to help everyone understand the market – understand what the impact of features are
  • whole of company showcases every Friday
  • need multi disciplined teams that understand the market they are striving for

Panel: Why is Customer-led Product Development so Hard?

Keith Dodds from ThoughtWorks led this panel with all of the above speakers. Some of the key learnings were:

From Miscellaneous
  • it’s hard to ask hard questions
  • if you have leaders that are customer focussed, everything else will follow
  • most organisations try to make the workforce effective and efficient by putting structures around them, need to retain a functionalised structure and stay away from specialisation
  • companies are introverted because traditionally they have not had access to customers
  • it’s hard to keep up with all of the tools out there – there is lots technology to seek out what the customers are viewing
  • most products are designed to be obsolete within 1-2 years, especially those that are consumer focussed
  • companies are not set up to evolve things, they are setup to build, the world has changed where everything is outdated the minute you deploy
  • grass roots movements are usually the most enduring
  • most companies lack the balls to shut things down when they need to
  • frugal innovation – constraints help you channel great ideas, would be interesting to apply some artificial constraints to hack days
  • what doesn’t work are artificial constraints and the team know it
  • next C level job will be the chief designer – targeting the customer
  • Agile helps to get a customer led product out, because the person who wants the product can talk to the person who builds the product
  • report on value delivered to the business rather than velocity
  • the pool of talent is not that big, how do you keep people motivated – sense of purpose, sense of meaning (problems that have currency in the real world), ability to react and shape, ability to be heard, about making a difference
  • where do great Product Managers come from, how do we develop and train these people

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