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Applied Agile: A Methodology To Make Your Product Development More Strategic

4 Signs Your Business Strategy and Product Processes Need Realignment

8Dec

The results are in: Across the board, businesses are winning with agile design and development. According to VersionOne's 11th "State of Agile" report, 98% of respondents say their organization has seen success from agile projects.

Yes, agile builds better products. The tech community has known that for decades. Today, the question is this: Can it build better businesses?

The Power of Product-Business Alignment

McKinley Inc., a Michigan-based real estate company founded in 1968, thinks so. When CEO Albert Berriz took over in 2002, he implemented his self-titled "Gumby System." In just seven years, Berriz doubled McKinley's size and earnings all while increasing employee satisfaction and reducing turnover.

Beyond its name, the Gumby System should sound familiar to tech entrepreneurs. At its core, Berriz's method is actually a version of agile co-opted for business development. It's about letting go of old ideas to instead focus on newer, more promising ones. "If your plan sucks," Berriz quipped in the "Gumby System" report, "you need to be able to let it go with no hesitation."

Like the EOS Model and Rockefeller Habits, Berriz's "Gumby System" brings agile practices to business processes. But even companies that follow such a system and practice agile product development often struggle to sync the two.

Most executives work on five- to 10-year timelines, which they then break into yearly and then quarterly goals. Agile product development, however, does not conform to such neat, long-term timelines. Mismatched timelines cause each team to talk past the other, creating inefficiencies and miscommunications.

What's Applied Agile?

The answer? Applied Agile. Just as agile does for software design and development, Applied Agile makes companies that build products more flexible, strategic and iterative.

Applied Agile (as well as scrum and the EOS model) calls upon companies to set goals and work backward to understand the steps that'll help them reach those objectives. EOS is a five- to- 10-year model, while Applied Agile looks one or two years into the future and focuses on product development.

Like its methodological cousins, Applied Agile requires practitioners to start with a concrete, shared and realistic vision. Then, also like other models, it breaks that vision into achievable steps for specific teams. 

How, exactly, does Applied Agile differ? It prescribes regular production meetings, like existing scrum practices, but it also focuses on the long-term product vision. In other words, it augments standard agile processes to create strategic clarity. Applied Agile recognizes that only by regularly evaluating their progress can teams stay on track for the future.

Applied Agile at Work

Although Applied Agile focuses on product development, it can solve problems across the company. If you're struggling with any of the following four issues, give Applied Agile a try:

1. Your vision isn't clear or actionable to all.

As CEO, you've got a vision for the future. Do you, like many other leaders, assume that everyone at your company shares that vision? If you do, you're on a dangerous path.

Removing the iPhone's headphone jack, for example, might have sounded crazy to some at Apple had Steve Jobs not shared his vision to standardize wireless earphones. But because Jobs made his intentions clear, Apple's product team knew to include wireless earbuds and a Lightning port adapter as standard iPhone 7 accessories.

Once you've shared your plan, break it into team-specific goals. Explain how each team's goals contribute to the overall vision. Then, ask managers to translate those team goals into individual-level responsibilities. For your vision to succeed, everyone must know what's expected and why his or her contributions matter.

2. Your day-to-day operations are misaligned.

Sure, you host monthly all-hands meetings. But between those meetings, odds are good that confusion reigns. Team members doing redundant work, missing deadlines or overlooking feedback are all symptoms of an alignment ailment.

To get everyone pulling in the same direction again, implement a workflow that makes clear what completed tasks look like. Something as simple as a file nomenclature system can work wonders. According to Towers Watson, highly effective internal communications result in 47% greater returns for shareholders.

But like an automotive alignment, business alignment requires regular maintenance. That's why Applied Agile calls for formal checks and informal day-to-day updates and communication. At Yeti, we like Asana for business initiatives and Jira for development projects. The system is less important than the follow-through, so whichever you choose, stick with it.

3. You aren't tracking short-term success.

As Patrick Lencioini explains in "The Truth About Employee Engagement," the inability to measure success is one of the most prominent causes of workplace misery. By placing mile markers in the form of strategic sprint goals, you show your team members that their work has value.

With that in mind, don't pressure sprint participants to produce full products every week. Sprints aren't design to churn out perfect ideas; they're designed to discover the best ideas throughiterations.

Keep sprints short to balance goal-setting, urgency and evaluation. Google Ventures uses agile design sprints to help companies like Uber and Nest rise to startup stardom. Applied Agile's short sprints facilitate both quick product wins and long-term exploration.

4. You're missing forward motion. 

Traction is the art of combining discipline and accountability to achieve regular, repeatable results. If your team is burned out, your product is stalled, and your leadership team feels frustrated, then you lack motion. Applied Agile can help fix that.

According to Kronos, nearly half of HR leaders blame burnout for their turnover issues. By creating traction through a process your team believes in, you can hold one another accountable without missing short-term deadlines or losing sight of long-term goals. The result? A happier, more productive workforce.

Jump-start accountability by putting the problem front and center for your team. Give them a limited length of time to come up with creative, actionable solutions. Maybe you want to solve a product-market problem, increase retention or boost sales. Use sprints to iterate through several ideas and put together the perfect solution.

If roadblocks arise, seek outside help to get your team over the hump. A recent study by two former Harvard Business School professors discovered that companies often fail to take full advantage of their consultants’ industry experience. The best advice comes from people who've been in your situation before.

Don't live with problems you know how to fix. If you follow agile practices for software development or the EOS model for business, then you're already on your way to Applied Agile. By committing to it, you do more than bandage communication or motivation issues; you adopt a framework that marries business and product strategies in productive, profitable matrimony. 

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