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Moving Beyond Agile: Why Value is Your Accelerator in 2019

It’s a new year and for many of us, that means a renewed focus on improving our health, well-being, and productivity. With self-improvement front-of-mind, it’s also a great time to ask: How’s your IT enterprise’s health faring?

Even within healthy IT organizations that I’ve worked with over the past two decades, one common frustration is prevalent among business leaders: Software delivery is too slow. This observation is supported by last year’s “State of Agile Report,”1 in which 75 percent of respondents listed “accelerated software delivery” as their desired outcome from agile adoption.

Everyone wants to deliver more, faster. But how?

The answer is that agile adoption alone doesn’t guarantee success or accelerated delivery. But this isn’t a blog about agile, it’s a blog about value. Organizations that maintain a laser focus on value will realize accelerated development and delivery in 2019. What follows are the steps to make that pivot.

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Evaluate Your Focus: Value-Driven Development

One challenge with building any product is to step back, consider what the goals are, then build around those desired outcomes. That’s always been the promise of agile software development—but calling yourself an agile organization is no longer a selling point. Many IT enterprises claim they’re agile organizations. Many are doing it wrong.

Rather than using agile as the compass that guides product development, the organizations that get it wrong see agile as a set of checklists, sticky notes, time-tracking tools, and procedures. It’s a toolbox rather than a mindset.

It’s why so-called “agile” product development often fails. In truth, it probably wasn’t agile to begin with. But rather than debating dogmatic labels or adhering to a prescriptive set of procedures, a simpler approach is to focus on defining value, then creating it.

At Forte Group, we call it value-driven development: Everyone in your pipeline—everyone in your entire hierarchy—should focus on what value they are creating. Most developers are great at writing code, but code alone doesn’t offer value unless it achieves a goal.

  • It’s why so-called “agile” product development often fails. In truth, it probably wasn’t agile to begin with. But rather than debating dogmatic labels or adhering to a prescriptive set of procedures, a simpler approach is to focus on defining value, then creating it.
Defining the Value in Value-Driven Development

Of course, the definition of “value” can differ from person to person, so organizational alignment on defining value is essential to success. The process requires candid conversations but doesn’t have to be caustic or painful. It does, however, require a leadership culture which accepts that business plans might not be perfect and that a healthy skeptical analysis from product teams almost always results in a better outcome for all parties.

Here are some questions that can help define value:

  • What is the problem or challenge we’re trying to solve?
  • What is the simplest and quickest solution to solving the problem?
  • Is this useful to our customers? How can we validate that what we’re building is the right thing?
  • What is the shortest path to value, both to our customers and to our organization?

 

With these questions answered, it’s the product owner’s job to plan a release roadmap that creates the most amount of value in the smallest pieces. The term MVP (minimum viable product) makes it sound like there’s always a version two. Instead, value-driven development defines an MVP as the smallest increment of change you can enact that will offer immediate value. A full product offering isn’t always what you want or need, at least initially.

When determining the value of a feature, it’s vital to consider analytics, data, and other quantitative metrics rather than instincts, assumptions, and other qualitative observations. This, of course, requires capturing user data, then making an objective analysis of the results.

With every sprint review, I include charts and graphs with data based on actual customers using a feature—anything I can use to show its value. That’s the challenge to developers: You’re working on this feature, figure out who’s using it. This allows us to prioritize each feature by aligning on value and creating clarity.

The process of releasing value in the smallest possible increments eliminates waste—don’t build things you don’t need. When teams are focused solely on achieving value, as defined by acceptance criteria, they will do the least amount of work required to build the right thing. Consider this process a product “wormhole”: It isn’t faster; it gets you to your destination quicker.

Create Cultural Alignment Through a Value-Driven Focus

With value defined and a roadmap established, it’s important to empower the individuals on the product team to maintain the same value-driven mindset. A developer, for instance, should have the mindset of “what can I, as a developer, do to release value?” rather than “what code do I need to write to meet this design I’ve been handed?” With this mindset, you’re going to have everyone asking the right questions with the goal of spending the most effort on what’s valuable to the customer and the least effort on what’s not.

A frequent anti-pattern with agile is that its processes can take a problem and still lead to a bad solution. A story that gets written, the product owner says, “this is what I think it should be,” and the rest of the team goes off to build it. With value-driven development, you’re defining a problem, finding the simplest and quickest way to fix that problem, then working alongside the team to produce the optimal solution.

This environment creates a culture of engagement: Rather than being a cog in the production wheel, everyone on the team is driving the solution.

Next Steps in Accelerating Development

The failures of agile can largely be attributed to misconceptions on how its methodologies should be implemented and—perhaps more importantly—why. One reason that we instead advocate for a value-driven development approach is that, quite simply, it’s more succinct. Ask, “why?” Find value; build value. It’s agile, without the noise.

As we’ve outlined, “why” is often the most important question. It’s also a perfect starting point to accelerating software delivery in 2019.

More on How to Accelerate in 2019

Look for more analysis of how IT organizations can accelerate delivery in 2019 by evaluating their approaches and practices in the coming weeks. A deeper dive: For more information on how we’ve implemented value-driven development approaches with our enterprise partners, you can get in touch with one of our solutions experts for a personalized walkthrough.

References

(1) “State of Agile” report survey responses were collected from a range of organization sizes, geographic locations, and industries. Respondents identified individuals in the following roles: C-level executive, ScrumMaster or internal coach, project/program manager, development leadership (VP, director, and manager-level), development team member (architect, developer, QA, tester, UI or UX designer), external consultant, product manager, product owner, and business analyst.

Author


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Glenn oversees and advises the robust engineering practices at Forte Group, ensuring that our development proficiency maintains its industry-leading standard of quality. Throughout his 15-year career working in enterprise software, Glenn has worked in the trenches as an engineer, solutions architect, agile practitioner, and technology consultant for some of Chicago’s top technology companies.