Agile – it’s a strategy

Agile process is normally just treated as a “process”. Well it is but more important is that it is a strategy. One cannot just take it in isolation and decide some roles and some steps, purchase a SPRINT planning software and expect it to yield results. Last few years I have applied and developed this strategy from grounds up. So what have I learnt:

1. What is Agile – lets start with the basics, the whole life is agile. Every day, every moment we take decisions, review them and adjust decisions. We don’t say that and Jan 14, 2001 I’ll get married and then on Feb 18, 2008 I’ll have my first kid. Life is unpredictable, well so is product development. In simple terms being agile is about breaking down big goals into small steps, monitoring those and doing course correction.

2. What is the strategy for? – This is the most important question, rather in perfect world people would be thinking of a problem and Agile (or any other process) would come as a solution to it. But there is value in looking at a solution first and then deciding if it helps solve any of the problems better. So back to the main point, every problem requires it’s own solution. Agile works well if you have a big but flexible goal. Take an example, if we take a fixed budget and fixed scope project – a commitment to a client delivered in a nice proposal with specific level of profitability tied to it, it ‘s difficult (not impossible) to apply an agile process effectively. Your goal in this case gets to meet your commitment/client expectation. But if you take the ownership of the results from the initiative instead of just delivering then you would find the agile is much better.
3. Prepare your team – This equally important. We are developing a software and the developer had worked on solving a particular problem which after some time had to be scrapped. That guy was upset and rightfully so. Agility comes with a price, we as humans always go for stability and agility wants us to be prepared for a change, actually several of them. So it’s important to spend time with the team and emphasize on what is being done, why it’s being done (previous point) and how to deal with this change.
4. Be Agile with agile – We started with formal process of having a proper roles, using user stories and giving it a points etc.. but not everyone naturally works that way. One thing we focus a lot on is to play by strengths. if someone is process oriented then have a good process for this person, but if someone is unstructured then plan for regular discussions, don’t just expect the person to follow the process. No strategy can remain static, it should change based on the environment.
5. Involve customers – transparency is you biggest friend, share what you are doing, how you are doing, and most importantly what you believe in. If you can establish that , then you have much greater leverage with your customers. This is not with the idea to take advantage of them but with the idea that if you make mistakes they’ll be more understanding. It allows you to take those small steps even before your solution is perfected and test it out with a goal to make a solution really great for your customer.

Apple Customer Care

I had taken the laptop for some repairs to Apple store yesterday. The laptop is still in warranty period which means that unless I spilled orange juice in it, they would not charge for repairs.

One of the problems I mentioned was CD burn process was giving an error. The guy there tried the process but did not get any error. With zero hesitation he told me that he did not get any error but to be sure he’ll ask for the CD drive to be replaced.

This is something that points to two things:
1. Focus on customer satisfaction over short term monetary gains by apple
2. Empowerment of store employees – he didn’t have to call the manager to consult or anything.. was able to take a decision in one snap that Apple will bear the cost for CD drive just because customer mentioned a problem.

Measure customer success to measure yours

Recently Rashmi had written if the page views are dead essentially in a world of rich internet apps the concept of page is diminishing so how does page view mean anything.

I think the intent behind page views was to check how much customers like your site, the question to be asked is how would they like your site. It’ll only be if “their” goals are being met.

Here are my thoughts in context of, but these apply to other domains as well.

Define user segments, you might already have done personas.. in any case.. one way could be publishers, consumers (might be a separate consumer who is download heavy) , by standards/occasional consumers

The goal of each of these guys is different but connected. The publisher’s goal would be to offer great content and gain visibility.. so how do you measure if content is great or not – one way is star rating, another could be sharing of links by other users (more thinking can draw more ideas), similarly visibility – if you track who is getting how much visibility (in terms of views) and then map these two, you’ll see how successful are in you in helping publisher achieve her goal.

Another matrix you could build on top of this is what I call “Zero to Sixty” – as in acceleration measure (like in cars) is amount of time it takes for someone to visibility, may be that 10% presentations on on reach 10,000 viewership in 30 days

For consumers – they care about quality of content, so you can start taking the above matrix and looking at it at site level and see if the quality of content is improving.

The other part with consumers is presentation completion rates – how many reached to the end. And second aspect is how much time.. a parallel example to this is market research using online surveys, there are mathematical models available to find outliers (by measuring who run through surveys very quickly etc..). You could explore similar models to see what is the amount of time one should spend on online presentations for it to be valid.

These could be interesting stats to include in product blog as well….

Similarly with other user segments.. this really tells you how successful your product is in meeting customer needs which will drive business value..

Lets take an example of facebook – why would one visit facebook – to connect and communicate. I have had a facebook account and I do visit it once in a while – am I a loyal customer .. I don’t think so, am more of curious customer. There is less in the site that pulls me. For facbook, it’s just a repeat visit.. they could look at frequency of this and decide if they made progress or not.

Instead if they see how many friends i have added by inviting others, or if I have posted content, they’ll find I am not as active. That should say that for some reason am not such an ‘involved’ customer, even if I visit every so often..

Steve Jobs had said once that the purpose of the company is not to make money but to build great products. It’s important to measure customer success and company’s success will follow.

Two more gems from apple

A couple of design elements to share apple’s eye for detail:

In the recently access files menu, if there are two files with same name, then it automatically shows the folder name where the files belongs. This one is from “Pages” but I think works across most/all applications on OSx:

The next example is from ichat. I logged into ichat, change my status to not available and went away from machine for a little bit. When I came back and clicked on something (something else other than ichat) I get the following: