Most of my career, I have worked at large companies helping them to become more innovative, adaptable and delivery-focused.
Product management and marketing holds tremendous improvement opportunities in large enterprises as these have often become isolated disciplines, focused on delivering to a yearly roadmap of milestones and events.
While many large companies in telecom and banking operate with a healthy profit margin, the market is changing fast and adaptability is becoming an equally important factor alongside profitability. Here are key processes that often inhibit adaptability, as well as a few thoughts on how you could start changing them.
The Build Trap
Often, product and marketing teams focus on ’Build Build Build’ and ’Do Do Do’ according to a year-long roadmap, that was developed 6 months ago. Having a plan and an intended aligned direction for your team is useful however the problem is that with rigid, fully committed plans to your stakeholders (mind your HIPPO’s –highest paid person in the room) and customers, there is little room left for adaptability and capitalising on new, better, and more valuable emergent opportunities.
The advice: Establish a number of feedback cycles across your company, where you can Build – Measure – Learn. Each work item you undertake should have a benefit hypothesis, whether it is a large project (an epic in agile terms), a feature or a user story.
If you are working in Scrum, you will have a natural feedback cycle for each team, the sprint cycle where you can collect customer and internal stakeholder feedback on the product and measure the progress of your team. If you have multiple teams, aim to synchronise their sprints across interrelated components and products, so that you can plan in alignment.
The Scaled Agile Framework has very good material on this – called the Program Increment and the PI Planning Event – which is bundling together a multi-sprint time-horizon to align re-planning and feedback across the organisation of up to 125 people (larger organisations might use the Solution Increment concept).
At the end of each feedback cycle, allocate time to ‘Measure’ and ‘Learn’ – look at your delivery Flow metrics – Throughput, Flow Time/Cycle Time, Work in Progress, Predictability – and Product Metrics – Leading indicators to determine, have you moved closer to your Product KPIs and delivered business value. Don’t skip your retrospectives – invest in your metrics.
The Yearly Upfront Budgeting Trap
To be adaptable, your core business processes need to design in adaptability as well. Why do we still have yearly roadmaps and yearly performance reviews? Why do we have yearly budgeting? Traditional budgeting is in most companies still project based and projects need to be fully scoped out based on a lengthy Business Requirement Document and an elaborate Business Case. Unfortunately, the world of software is inherently complex and most of these estimates never deliver the value it was intended to.
A more agile, adaptable budgeting is needed which forecasts intended outcomes but releases funds only on indicators of progress. Welcome to Lean Agile Budgeting. The SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) has good guidance on how to re-design your budgeting process in accordance with the inspect-adapt nature of agile lean businesses.
The nature of this change is best described with the Dragon’s Den TV show in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas based on a 5 slide presentation to investors. In fact, companies like Adobe and Nestlé have now implemented an internal Dragon’s Den and incremental funding, frequent pivot or continual style evaluation of funding streams in their companies. Companies essentially shift from funding projects to funding the team, and evaluating their progress towards mutually agreed objectives via ‘Hypothesize’ – ‘Build’ – ‘Measure’ – ‘Learn’. There is still a lean business case (pitch deck) for every larger piece of work this team undertakes, which is reviewed, prioritised and incrementally funded based on what is learned.