Recently, I co-authored a white paper on six pillars required for successful business transformation to agile (click here to download the paper). In my mind, product management is where the rubber meets the road with being or becoming agile. It is where organizations attempt to balance customer needs, corporate strategy and technical delivery at a rapid pace.
Frequently companies begin their agile journey when they realize product or services updates are lagging, competitors are beating them to market, an attempt using a traditional approach failed or worst of all, unpredicted outsiders are disrupting their industry. I see this taking shape most recently in healthcare, banking and insurance, with deregulated utilities right behind them.
With agile, making sure all stakeholders – from functional areas to IT to marketing – are bought in and speaking the same language is imperative. As discussed in our white paper, there are many ways to start your agile transformation, but I find it helpful to provide real examples of successful agile processes to our clients to help them picture what success can look like.
What Does Agile Look Like?
Agile can take many different shapes and forms depending on an organization and their use cases. The old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” is an apt metaphor for the various ways we work with clients to apply agile processes to their product management processes.
Some clients have small teams or may not be focused on product management as an area of priority or strategic differentiation, and they need help fishing; some want us to fish side by side with them, teaching them by bringing them along in the process; and others have the resources and determination, but want to learn how to get the fish for themselves with guidance on processes, roles, structure and tools.
Fish for me. A company providing software to the financial services industry had spent the past 20+ years bolting together acquired software packages without a holistic vision, resulting in a complicated solution that was hard to sell and maintain. With a desire to move to the cloud and be as nimble as SaaS based competitors, they knew they needed to streamline their solution, but their small team was engineering focused and didn’t include resources to redesign their product from an end users’ perspective. We utilized a user-centric design approach to redesigning their software using agile process, which reduced technical debt and maintenance, and enabled their solution to be delivered in the cloud. The number of screens was reduced from over 1500 to less than 60 with no functional fidelity loss. With a simplified product, they are able to innovate more quickly, sell more easily and bring new features to market on a consistent basis.
Fish with me. A healthcare company desired a mobile app to create additional value for their clients. The organization used traditional waterfall development to create the app, a process that took nine months. When it finally released the app, patients didn’t like it. The primary problem: the organization didn’t engage patients in designing it! West Monroe was engaged to help the company revive the app. We guided the organization to incorporate experience design principles, including developing user personas, user journeys and stories; creating development sprints; and gathering input from users during the design process. The revised effort succeeded in driving near 75% usage and compliance compared to an industry average of 30%. The organization is using this experience as a foundation for creating a more robust agile strategy for bringing future apps to market.
Teach me how to fish. A web-based tax software company had a robust product management function, but needed assistance designing an agile methodology to redesign their product. We advised what roles and types of skills were needed, how the design processes should work, and how to gather customer feedback and embed that into its process. We didn’t touch the product at all and offered no design services – instead, it was a “boot camp” approach to make sure they were operating effectively and held accountable. In the end, the newly formed product management team launched a completely redesigned mobile app to market in less than four months.
Customer is the center, whatever your approach
However you decide to manage product strategy and development, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the customers or users should be at the center of the process. Make sure their needs, and your brand promise to them, instructs the decisions you make. Like anything worth doing, agile requires energy, effort and investment to be successful, but we recommend you begin where you can make a meaningful impact, even if it’s with a helping hand, to show quick wins and a return on effort. Start with a maturity assessment of where your organization is at in its ability to transform to agile.
For additional guidance, please read the white paper “The 6 Essential Pillars of a Successful Agile Transformation.”