Ask us anything: Your digital product development strategy questions answered
by Alex Lukashevich, Director of Managed Services at Forte Group
Last month, we asked you to submit your questions on product engineering, team management, testing, and product strategy. We posed your questions to Alex Lukashevich, Director of Managed Services at Forte Group.
Alex’s answers draw from his 20 years of experience in a variety of software development and testing leadership roles. Here are your questions and how Alex responded.
Can you share any strategies on how to avoid unplanned development costs?
— Patricia T.
Alex: It’s a great question that many — if not all — organizations struggle with. My answer is to focus on “human cost” versus “hardware cost.” Human cost is typically driven by scope creep, deadlines, product quality, and retention.
That said, unplanned costs are pretty much unavoidable. However, here are some ideas that can help minimize those costs:
Allow for development “slack”
Many organizations set a goal of having their development teams spend as close to 100 percent of their time focused on new feature development as possible. In reality, this rarely happens. When planning work, I encourage folks to split their time between feature development and “non-feature development” activities, such as addressing technical debt and improving existing processes.
This split requires some discipline and maturity, from both organization and its individuals, since it might be perceived that developers are not “delivering value” unless they’re producing new features.
I’ve seen organizations that go with an '80/20 model,' wherein they allocate one day a week where devs can choose to focus on 'non-feature' activities that improve the overall product. While this 80/20 model may seem counter-intuitive, it typically improves the speed of new feature delivery in practice, ensuring that features meet a standard of quality and performance.
Invest in quality
Too often, organizations focus solely on the delivery date instead of product quality. If you’re trying to hit a hard deadline, too often, you’ll cut corners when it comes to testing and automation. That’s a short-sided approach. Yes, you may hit your date, but you’ll be dealing with production support requests and your team will lose focus fighting fires and context switching. This creates a demoralizing environment where unplanned development costs are likely.
Invest in people
Sure, this sounds pretty straightforward, but way too often I see teams where folks who are responsible for delivery aren’t vested. This can happen for a variety of reasons, which is why it’s important for leaders to understand the people on their team. What makes them tick? What working style best supports their productivity? If you’re a manager, it’s up to you to figure out — often through trial and error — how best to keep your team motivated. Figuring out the best ways to keep people engaged is a huge step to improving delivery. Once you figure this out, it makes your job managing much easier in the long run.
What are the red flags to look for when choosing a managed services provider?
— Tamia M.
Alex: Rather than focusing specifically on red flags, I’ll share a general overview of the things I look for when working with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider.
Editor’s note: You can find some of our vendor red flags by downloading our “Overcoming Delivery Stagnation” white paper here.
When it comes to choosing vendors, I’m looking for someone who is focused on partnership and long-term value. Partnership-focused service providers will try to establish a relationship where their team becomes a true extension of your team.
Instead of saying, 'Hey, just give us the work and we’ll do it,' they will focus on designing and solutioning as one with your team. Not only does this lead to a better working relationship, but it also leads to a sense of ownership. We, as a team, own our successes and failures.
Next is value. When it comes to value, too often, service providers are trying to win the bid by offering rock-bottom prices. Obviously, cost matters, but if that’s the only thing that service providers are focusing on, that’s a huge red flag for me.
As a client, I’m always thinking about the total cost of ownership. This includes “initial spend” as well as ongoing support and maintenance costs. I’m okay with paying a premium if I see that a service provider is not just focused on price, but rather trying to work with me on understanding my short- and long-term goals, then coming up with pricing scenarios to help me to achieve them.
We are using Jira to manage tasks, but are searching for a tool to manage incoming projects. We want the tool to identify incoming projects, timelines, and priorities (as well as other things). Which tools are successful to use for that purpose?
Alex: Depending on the number of projects in your pipeline and budget, the options will vary. Free tools like Trello may meet your needs, but if you’re looking for additional paid options, Asana or monday.com are also good options. This topic is well researched, but you’ll never know until you give these tools a try and determine which is the best fit for your budget and needs.
Tools are there to support your goals. Depending on your goals, the tools that work best for you will be based on your unique needs. To truly answer your question, I would need to know more about your goals. I’d be happy to walk you through what tools might work best for you — feel free to reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org for a brief walkthrough.
Do your teams have any trouble matching product/service strategy with the actual tech strategy? How do you solve it?
— Peter M.
This is a fairly common challenge. Here are some typical scenarios: The product organization sells a vision of a product and then they go to the IT organization with a “build order,” and delivery dates that are driven by what was promised to the client. Alternatively, you have IT organizations that “do stuff” but no one on the product side understands where this work fits and whether it’s valuable.
One way we typically solve the above is through backlog alignment. Both product and IT organizations have their own backlogs and roadmaps that lead to a strategic goal that is shared by both parts of the organization (for example: Deliver a new version, improved functionality, etc.). While the “end goal” is shared, IT and product teams have flexibility on how they plan to achieve this goal.
This is where transparency and collaboration come in. Both product and tech backlogs should be shared with the organization as a whole and reviewed on a regular basis. Depending on the delivery schedule, bi-weekly or monthly backlog alignment meetings between IT and product teams empower organizations to be on the same page regarding what and when will be delivered, as well as how it aligns to the product roadmap.