Tuesday, 11 September 2018 12:17

Developing product? Then aim for agility, not perfection, says CPO

By
Petra Gross, CPO at MedicalDirector Petra Gross, CPO at MedicalDirector

There are plenty of quotes about not needing to aim for perfection, but excellence and continuous improvement instead, and even Voltaire said "The best is the enemy of the good".

You can read some very pertinent quotes about the problems with perfection here, but what does a chief product officer have to say about it?

Well, Petra Gross is the CPO at MedicalDirector, and her advice is to "Aim for agility, not perfection, in product development".

Gross explained: "Any product lead worth their salt knows they need a unified and cohesive team vision to build and execute the best product road maps. But perfection shouldn’t always be the goal anymore, not with the ever-increasing need for speed to market. Instead, an agile approach should take precedent, with primary KPIs centred on the customer and a customer’s engagement with a product.

"A CPO needs to look beyond trendy and shiny new things to understand agility in a genuine way. A recent report, based on 1,500 responses from business leaders across Australia and New Zealand, found that 55% of businesses that view themselves as above-average in agility are also experiencing above-average revenue growth. Such a demonstrable connection between agility and business success aids in its graduation from buzzword to metric."

The changing face of agility

Gross then takes us on an illuminating trip into the past, noting that "Back when I joined eBay in 2000, developing products was different. We used to hand instructions over to engineering that were supposed to result in the perfect product, without or with very little consultation with customers. Now, efficient product teams are the ones working not only with engineers but also customers, rather than trying to get everything right in the first go.

"Evolving from traditional waterfall methods to agile methods has also played a huge role in the way product teams optimally operate. Using waterfall for product delivery isn’t relevant anymore, except for processes where creativity isn’t needed such as complying to a standard or implementing a policy in a software. But using waterfall methods from A to Z, by the time you launch new features the needs of the customer have already changed.

"Now, agility is the hotbed for product success. It’s both exciting and lucrative to work in agile ways such as launching MVPs (minimal viable products), reiterate and learn from our customers. No more sequential documentation or siloes."

Don’t wait for perfection

Gross continued: "CPOs are usually problem solvers, who seek to make things better or different. It’s about always looking forward. For example, more and more people are now using health-related wearable technologies such as Fitbits. But my question is – how will this impact how doctors are interacting with their patients? How can the product we develop aid or influence this interaction?

"Best product development practices look different in each organisation. For me, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has been a game-changer in the industry, and signalled a cultural shift between the old and new product development eras. We live in a fast-moving world, with fast-moving customer needs. It means there is no perfect product anymore. The best solutions are those that can adjust as fast as possible to new situations and market needs.

"A SAFe enables alignment and collaboration, and synchronises delivery for multiple agile teams, including elements such as product increment planning, which is an efficient three-month planning cycle we are using. It enables constant reprioritisation of the next changes we want to bring to our products based on need, where disruption is not feared, but embraced.

"Within our product team at MedicalDirector, we have created dedicated “squads,” partnering with stakeholders to prioritise new feature development in these three-months cycles, allowing for both business-as-usual and unplanned work.

"The constantly moving pieces of the business puzzle means that CPOs need to seek constant collaboration with and feedback from customers and adapt to it. They know better what needs to be improved and how the product should evolve to answer their needs."

What is a Scaled Agile Framework?

Here we learn from Gross that "Agility continues to reshape in order to best service innovative organisations. A SAFe provides a lean development approach, greater transparency, greater role clarity, and constant measurement of success beside a clear vision. In addition, you need to give teams enough autonomy, which is key to let them unleash their creativity".

"This has changed how we operate for the better. Our teams are more motivated because they know what’s expected of them. Without a road map it’s easy for organisations to have too many distractions, and too many competing priorities. Teams end up being misaligned because they do not know what they are working towards, and it’s easy to get frustrated with executives jumping in and out of a process. With enough autonomy they also are at liberty to bring the best of their thoughts and efforts to life and to the product.

"The role of a CPO can often be thought of as ‘service leadership,’ rather than dictating what people need to be doing, CPOs should provide support to set up highly-motivated teams for success. And they won’t get there unless they take an agile approach."

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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