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Giving Agile A Brain

November 17, 2014 at 7:13 am PST

There’s a pretty great, short post from Business Insider last year that’s been getting re-circulation recently. It’s one-sentence summaries of famous business books like The Innovator’s Dilemma, Good to Great, Outliers, Purple Cow and The Lean Startup.

I particularly liked BI’s short summary Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, which is centered around the concept of creating a “minimum viable” product and then iterating on it, fed by with continual customer input and analytics. Here’s the nicely done reductionist summary:

“Rather than work forward from a technology or a complex strategy, work backward from the needs of the customers and build the simplest product possible.”

If you’ve been in tech the last few years – and especially in Silicon Valley – you won’t have escaped the term “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP), and you’ve undoubtedly been immersed in Agile development methodology. But there’s a dilemma in the seductive notion of Lean and MVP when misapplied: We all have seen teams who focus on the alluring idea of minimal without thinking about what will make the product viable from the standpoint of the customer: Across industries, we’ve seen that the “work backward from the needs of the customers” part is easy to miss in the rush to produce efficient code and quick deliverables.

This occasional lack of customer orientation has led to the backlash observation that “Agile doesn’t have a brain,” meaning it’s very good a producing efficiently, but not guaranteed to produce the right end products in the eyes of customers. We in tech have all seen this happen, and it’s vexing because it’s against the core principles of Agile to produce un-useful end deliverables.

Enter author Jeff Gothelf, an ardent evangelist for Lean and MVP thinking. Jeff is author of the excellent book Lean UX, and recently wrote about this “Agile doesn’t have a brain” topic in a really interesting post on the subject.

Jeff is working with us on some upcoming talks and a workshop, and in addition to what he says in the post above, brings some good advice for including design and customer thinking to the MVP debate:

  • Work “Lean” on projects, and focus relentlessly on the customer in your process and measures
  • Focus on user-driven metrics to understand how you’re doing 
  • Make sure designers and other key non-coding disciplines are in your agile sprints — they will add efficiency and dimension, helping to make sure the “right things” are being produced
  • Think “team,” not “roles” within the sprints (at Cisco, we even do this in Marketing sprints).
  • Most important: Transform from a culture of delivery to a culture of learning, where you are constantly tuning and improving based on end objectives and customer needs.

If you’re new to ideas of incorporating the customer-oriented design into MVP and Lean, I recommend Jeff’s book Lean UX.  And, as a bonus, there’s a great video overview he recently gave at Google on some of these topics.

Enjoy!

LeanUXBookPicture

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In Between the Numbers: Big Pipes and Lean Stores

June 24, 2011 at 9:02 am PST

 Thinking about the ICT future of the store with my colleague Bharat Popat.  Doodling at the mental whiteboard.

 Current state in the lower left.  It’s client-server architecture. Three to six servers per store, depending upon segment and store size. Fat-client POS and desktops. Fans and hard drives. Ongoing break-fix maintenance contracts.  A network pipe just big enough to each night send out batched transactions, inventory, and other performance data, and download the price-item files, promotions, and performance reports.

 Now, a line from the lower left current state all the way to the upper right future.  From the “as is” to the “will be.”  Figuring three to five years.  An assumption that a retailer will want to lead the segment and compete worldwide. 

 Hmmm.

 Grab the pen and draw the line, and as you do so, calculate the evolution of technology and of consumer expectations.  Calculate the impact of global e-commerce, of multi-channel and omni-channel, of smart phones and tablets, of social networks and social shopping.

 Calculate the impact of content clouds and IP video, of augmented reality and “mashops” of virtual into the physical. Calculate the impact of right time data analysis. Calculate dynamic video messaging.

 Calculate how to cut time-to-capability down to weeks, not years.  Calculate how to do more and spend less.

 Now multiply it all by the demographic weight of the tech-savvy Millennial generation.  

 Do the math.  Yes, I’m prejudiced -- I’m a proud Cisco guy.  But it’s the math (not the badge) that leads me to this future state: a retail store that’s a living, breathing website.

 A retail store that’s built on a lean, network-based architecture and a significant increase in network capacity to and from the store.  

 Lean store and big pipe.  

 More about these calculations in weeks ahead.

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