During our company’s last internal Agile Open conference (see InfoQ), we had a session that brought together Agilists using AgilityHealth (an organizational assessment and growth tool). The questions we tried to answer were:
- What common challenges do you see across your teams?
- What are things that can be done to help the teams improve in these areas?
As people reported on what they had observed, the common patterns that kept repeating were:
- The further out into the future teams looked, the less clarity they had.
- In other words: while most teams were pretty clear on what they were building an iteration or two out, they had much less clarity around the longer-term product roadmap. (Think of driving in the fog.) The backlog gets filled “just-in-time” for the next sprint.
- Root cause could just be simply omission by the product owner to communicate the roadmap or actual challenges planning further ahead.
- One of the impacts of the lack of a product roadmap is that design and architecture decisions are challenging because the teams won’t know what future capabilities their applications will need to support, which may result in suboptimal design, i.e. architecture that won’t easily support future features.
- Teams aren’t clear on the value they’re delivering sprint over sprint to the business.
- While they produce working software on a regular basis and release it to production, they’re not clear on how these features support business objectives and what results they produce, e.g. incremental revenue, customer sign-up/retention, etc.
In the process of brainstorming solutions, the following ideas came to the surface:
- If longer-term roadmaps do exist and the product owner simply doesn’t make the effort to communicate them the team, it’s an easy fix to make the time to review and walk the team through them on a regular basis. Frequent communication between product owner and team are key.
- In the case where these roadmaps actually don’t exist, this becomes more of an organizational growth item and needs to be addressed by working with the organization to drive towards developing longer-term roadmaps, e.g. quarterly or longer.
- It was also suggested to publish a regular newsletter which could describe to the organization what the longer-term plans are and what business results recent features have achieved.
- Establishing certain metrics may also be useful, such as using business value points at the feature level.
- The organization may also want to make a concerted effort to capture customer reactions post deployment, e.g. customer sign-up or conversion (as suggested by the Lean Startup), user behavior through site instrumentation, etc.
- Even capturing anecdotal customer feedback, customer success stories or app reviews with comments and communicating those back to the team could be useful.
- It was also suggested to internally showcase the product features and capture survey responses.
On the positive side of common patterns, it was noted that a lot of teams rated themselves highly in the culture dimensions, which includes overall happiness and is the sign of good employee morale.
If you’re users of AgilityHealth, which common patterns have you observed and which actions have you seen as successful?