The foundation of every Agile method is the backlog: a prioritized list of everything that is needed in the product. Getting this right means starting with your customers: what are their priorities, their unmet needs, their jobs to be done? Armed with these insights, and grounded in the facts of your research, you can create the roadmaps, portfolios and projects that drive your success.
Understanding Customer Priorities
A great backlog, and the foundation of Product-Market Fit, is created when companies take the time to understand their customers unmet needs, jobs to be done, pains and gains. Here are just a few of the frameworks that you can use to understand your customer’s priorities.
Identify Opportunities for Improvement
Use Speedboat to better understand our customer’s perceptions of what’s working well and what can be improved with your offerings. The conversations clarify priorities, fueling your roadmaps and backlogs and making sure you’re creating awesome products and services.
Buy a Feature is prioritization framework that you can use to engage dozens to hundreds to thousands of customers and stakeholders in the prioritization of epics, stories, features and capabilities, ensuring that you’re allocating your precious development resources on the opportunities that matter the most.
We Wrote the Book!!!
No kidding! We really did write the first book on how to use collaborative frameworks (aka, serious games) to better understand customers. Innovation Games® for Customer Understanding thoroughly describes the original 12 groundbreaking frameworks by Conteneo CEO Luke Hohmann. With tens of thousands of copies sold it remains a key part of every agilists library.
A product roadmap describes how a product is expected to grow and change over time, communicating direction and progress to internal teams and external stakeholders. It serves as the glue between product vision/strategy and tactics of the product backlog.
Conteneo has created numerous powerful frameworks for roadmapping: Prune the Product Tree, a framework for directly engaging customers and stakeholders in creating your roadmap and the Market-Driven Roadmap framework that shows how product management, product marketing and engineering will work together to serve the needs of target markets.
Gather the Data for Roadmaps
Prune the Product Treegives your customers and stakeholders the opportunity to join you in shaping the future of your products and services. We also use this framework internally, as we find that creating multiple trees for each of the engines that power our software platforms help us balance the growth of each engine.
Market-Driven Agile Roadmaps
Once you’ve gathered the data to create a high-impact roadmap you need a means to share it with others. We’ve created the most widely used pattern language for market-driven agile roadmaps.
Liftoff / Kickoff Meetings
A project Liftoff or Kickoff meeting is a (typically) in-person meeting designed to start a project well by ensuring that the teams working on the project are aligned and focused on what needs to be accomplished and that they reach agreement on how it will be accomplished. Kickoff meetings often incorporate the following activities:
- Product Managers/Product Owners outline the vision of the project or product release;
- The group confirms roles and responsibilities;
- The group agrees on how they will implement various Agile ceremonies and practices;
- The group develops a release plan.
While most Agilists prefer that Liftoff meetings are conducted in-person, the reality is that distributed teams can’t usually afford in-person Liftoff meetings. Travel costs and time delays in coordinating schedules are key reasons why distributed teams need to conduct online Liftoff meetings.
Fortunately, there are a number of frameworks that distributed teams can leverage to create high-impact Kickoffs.
Building Empathy for Customers
We create better products and services when we “put ourselves into the shoes of our customers” and try to genuinely connect with the challenges they’re facing. This isn’t sympathy! It is empathy and building empathy within your team helps you build products and services. Empathy Map is a terrific framework for building empathy within your distributed team by helping them consider what your customers are experiencing when they are or might be using your products and services. Have each team build their own empathy map and then review all of them as a group to identify important patterns.
Building Excitement for the Release
We find that keeping our eyes on the prize in a major release can be somewhat challenging. Even when you’re making concrete progress ever Sprint, you can sometimes feel lost in the woods. Cover Story/On the Cover is a framework that supercharges Liftoff meetings by helping the teams create genuine excitement for the forthcoming release. We find that having each team create their own version of the story before a shared Kickoff meeting gives them an opportunity to express how they feel about the release. From there, you can develop a shared Cover Story that is extraordinary.
Agile Portfolio Management
Portfolio management frameworks enable enterprises to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. Agile Portfolio Management is rooted in the values of the Agile Manifesto and emphasize collaboration between stakeholders as they wrestle with complex choices. Here are three frameworks that enable high impact, Agile Portfolio Management.
An impact/effort matrix organizes a set of items such as features, projects, or user stories in two dimensions. The Y-axis captures “business value”, with higher valued items placed at the top. The X-axis captures level of effort. Impact/Effort matrices promote collaboration within and between Product Managers/Product Owners and development teams and are an indispensable tool in every Agilists tooklit.
Managing Shared Portfolios
Agility at Scale means finding ways to manage multiple portfolios. Conteneo’s platforms gives you the ability to create custom frameworks that allow each Product Team or Business Unit to develop their own Impact/Effort Matrix while also seeing the context of the shared portfolio plan across product teams or business units, improving the quality of decisions while eliminating the delays and costs associated with in-person meetings.
There is a difference between prioritization and resource allocation, and when more projects are approved than your organization can properly fund, the results are zombie projects: projects that fail to realize their goals and spend most of their time trying to suck the life out of properly funded projects. Fortunately, frameworks like Fund a Project can help you ensure that all projects are fully funded before execution begins.
We Wrote Another Book!!!
Yup! We wrote a fantastic eBook on how to systematically prioritize project portfolios. The book describes four proven game plans for prioritizing project portfolios that you can leverage at all levels of your organization.
The Agile community has created a large number of retrospective frameworks. Often leveraging rich metaphors and compelling images, you will find many of your favorite retrospective techniques in the Conteneo Weave™ platform. Here are a few that we find especially helpful.
Sailboat is one of the most widely used retrospective frameworks in the Agile community. This version has been tailored to enable your teams to improve their processes by categorizing their feedback as tools, processes and other. Use for a single team or across several teams.
Circles and Soup
Agile teams who are stuck discussing the same anchors (impediments) in every retrospective may be failing to identify the things that they can change on their own vs. the things they need help from others to address. Created by Diana Larsen, Circles and Soup is a retrospective framework that helps Agile teams get unstuck by clarifying which items can be solved by a team. Learn more about Circles and Soup in Diana’s original post here.