Oftentimes, taking on a project in software development is strikingly similar to adopting baby Frankenstein, but without the negative connotation. Product development in an Agile framework involves drawing up value-based solutions, experimenting, and empirically adjusting these to users’ needs—exactly how Victor Frankenstein created his creature through trial and error.
So, when does the project start becoming a monster?
Using Frankie as an example shifts our perspective to the downsides we face when we’re creating all the right body parts (or features) that seem to theoretically fit but aren’t quite right when it comes to real life. Such a scenario challenges product development processes when it comes to taming the monster and shaping it into the desired product with a seamless UX.
So, how do we avoid creating a monster?
Product development best practices
Here are some product development best practices for creating a user-centric product that will transform your baby Frankenstein from causing trouble to delighting the customer.
- The main focus of product development is meeting the needs of your primary user. You have created a product with the sole purpose of benefiting a specific target user and must continue to validate any new features or solutions by understanding their interaction and satisfaction with your product.
Using tools such as story mapping and customer journey maps will paint a full picture of how a product is used. This can also help in identifying holes in the functionality of the product or areas to focus on since they can visually highlight gaps in the user experience.
Adopting the user’s perspective enables the development team to design a better overall experience by centering it on the product’s ideal client. Areas of opportunity for UX improvements naturally surface by carrying out this exercise.
- All existing digital products must be reassessed periodically throughout their life cycle in order to ensure that all development efforts are on the right track. It’s particularly useful to conduct Design Sprints or Product Discoveries when a new project is assigned. This will help the product development team in capturing emergent priorities, evaluating the market, and user research.
When enough research is performed, that information will serve as indicators for decision-making and the definition of target goals for the team.
- A project health assessment may be carried out to evaluate the development cycle as well as the development team’s dynamics. The purpose of these assessments is to identify practices, standards, and shared understanding to revise current processes accordingly for a nimble and efficient development. The need for improvements may range from team interactions (effective communication, conflict management, standards, procedures) to technical upgrades (technical debt, code optimization, refactors, user feedback).
- Now, when it comes to the compilation of new features, technical improvements, and bugs, the next step is to rank these requirements based on value. Prioritization techniques are applied here to maximize value, visualize dependencies, and minimize risks. This process helps the product manager in deciding which features to build, which to keep in the backlog, and which features not to build considering their complexity, ROI, and other variables.
Once these general guidelines have been set into motion, you may further enhance your product development cycles with the recommendations provided below.
Product management best practices
If you’ve gotten this far, then you know how to treat “Frankenstein” with the recommended best practices that should produce a user-friendly creation.
In the section below, we will examine the challenges and ways to manage software development considering the overall context of product management.
- Move towards a culture of outcomes
The outcome mindset is frequently lost in translation during the execution phase where requirements are transformed into features. It’s common to unconsciously shift focus from the problem at hand to the solution we believe will solve the issue. Functionalities are then written as specific outputs instead of achieving the outcome with boundless, diverse solutions.
Output-driven goals produce the following issues:
- One solution to solve it all
When we focus on a single solution, we put a limit on innovative and creative problem-solving. The lack of experimentation caused by this ultimately results in a difficulty to pivot as we’re left with no other viable solutions to act on.
- The Feature Factory™
Proposed solutions may come from a variety of sources when it comes to solving a customer’s problem. When there’s little consideration of the true customer’s feedback, we fail to validate the proposed solutions and increments delivered. The goal of the team turns into massive feature production with the belief that real value is the number of features delivered.
- Product roadmaps with hard delivery dates and defined outputs
A defined output may not necessarily be aligned with the defined outcome. The output itself may not even hit the mark projected with its hypothesis. The extent of the output may also fall short or be too broad. Therefore, any progress towards or away from the outcome isn’t measured accurately with this approach.
Strong product practices must drive towards product outcomes. With an outcome-based mindset, the product leadership team elaborates clear, outcome-driven goals while investing in experimentation and research tools.
These three practices are powerful aids in collecting insight for effective decision-making.
- Planning and communication
Having shifted our focus to outcomes, the next challenge is sticking to it during planning and communication.
When the planning is based on solution-specific and time-specific measures, these forecasts create false expectations of being able to resolve the problem with “X” feature in “Y” months. Predictable delivery (solution-specific & time-specific) contradicts one of the three pillars of empiricism where we are able to adapt our approach towards the problem whether it be the solution or the time period required.
In order to craft a useful and strategically oriented product roadmap, it’s important to communicate all project details on a very high level for executives while conferring with the team for a more specific approach.
It’s expected for management to want specifics and this is where the pièce de résistance comes in. It’s the product manager’s job to convey that due to high levels of uncertainty, commitments to specific solutions or timelines cannot be made without an initial hypothesis, experimental approaches, and proper validation.
It’s recommended to work closely with stakeholders and build trust through honest and effective communication. Any progress and details of tentative solutions should be shared with them in an efficient and helpful manner. Providing context and summarizing all the information gathered is key for stakeholders to understand the reason behind product development decisions.
- Goal settings and measurements
The ability to establish accurate goals, standards, and processes is a significant skill that can generate high impact in different contexts. An exact goal and precise metrics foster the right environment for teams to thrive and achieve outcomes as they have a clear understanding of the objective and how the objective is being evaluated.
A simple and powerful tool used is Objective and Key Results. The product manager must create alignment from top to bottom where the company strategy is ever-present and translated into product strategies and product roadmaps. This organizational alignment is key for driving company goals forward as all departments and internal programs are essentially smaller divisions that should ultimately contribute to the company’s mission.
- Team autonomy
After setting goals that point in the right direction, the development team must be allowed to make their own decisions on how to reach the established goals.
The best approach towards any software development problem would be to collectively brainstorm all the possible solutions for achieving said goals. This practice is favorable as the diverse backgrounds of the team can promote new interactions which result in innovative solutions deriving from a blended perspective. The ideated solutions are then prioritized and selected based on their impact-effort.
A great number of benefits come along when decision-making is consistently encouraged. The team becomes empowered and assumes ownership of the proposed resolutions., Furthermore, this practice allows teams to achieve meaningful engagement that enriches their experience.
This recollection of product development and product management practices, tools, and considerations has the purpose of engaging the Agile mindset of all those involved in software development and directing their focus on people and results.
Shifting our mindset is one of the greatest challenges we will ever face in life and the same can be said when it comes to product development. The sooner we start, the more mastery we will gain from our experiences.
“The first and best victory is to conquer self.” – PLATO
The challenges encountered in product management converge intrinsically with people management and traditional project management. Given the analogy of Frankenstein, we are entrusted to create valuable products that serve our users every step of the way and we must advocate for our customers in a holistic, empathetic manner.
About the author
Iwen is a certified Scrum Master with over 2 years of software product management experience in the IT industry. She’s currently a Product Owner at Applaudo Studios.