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Crunch Time!

If you have been involved in building products, you have been there. Crunch time! Months or years of preparation have led to this one moment when your organization unveils its creation to the world.

The effort began with great exuberance. Everyone was excited by the potential to improve customers’ lives and maybe even simultaneously transform the organization. Then, everyone put their heads down and got to work. Virtually every part of the organization had a role to play.

  • Finance needed to develop a budget for the effort

  • Marketing needed to produce a launch plan

  • Sales started sharing hints with key prospects and getting early feedback

  • If you’re building a hardware product, manufacturing, inventory, purchasing, and warehousing, all have a role to play

  • Let’s not forget the actual builders

For those of us on Agile product development teams, how could we forget this Agile principle?

Agile processes promote sustainable development.

The sponsors, developers, and users should be able

to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Burning people out isn’t the only reason why this principle exists. Unsurprisingly, history is full of attempts to push up against a deadline with disappointing results.

  • In 2017, Samsung released the Galaxy Note 7 phone. The phone was plagued with problems, including exploding batteries. Samsung had to recall the phone and eventually discontinue it.

  • In 2018, Uber released a new version of its app that was full of bugs. The app was so bad that Uber had to shut it down for several days.

  • In 2019, Boeing released the 737 Max airplane. The plane was involved in two fatal crashes, which led to the grounding of the entire fleet.

Teams that work sustainably can focus on the work and the outcomes it will produce, rather than “getting it done,” which results from focusing on timelines. The pressure to hit a deadline usually comes from outside the team.

Many organizations have Agile product development teams, but the rest of the organization does not operate the same way. So, when the work takes longer than initially estimated, finance may put pressure to wrap up to avoid budget overruns. Marketing may be working with external partners for the launch campaign and thereby committed to a set timeline.

All of these external forces push the product team to honor their time estimate, which results in the need to adjust the scope. Unfortunately, nobody wants that either. Expectations have been set, and work has been done based on those expectations. There are no easy solutions. My favorite approach is to take a page from the Menlo Innovations playbook.

Menlo is a firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that develops software on a contractual basis. They recognize that their customers and partners must be willing to support their Agile approach, so they develop agreements with these parties. The agreement ensures that they understand the process and have the right expectations. They also have a role to play in having an active partnership that keeps them in the loop as the dynamics of the development process unfold.

If Agile teams don’t put in the effort to educate all their stakeholders and hold them accountable for their way of working, deadlines will always unravel the sustainability principle. If there’s one takeaway, it is to talk about deadlines up front. Make sure that everyone involved, however tangentially, understands the trade-off between timing and scope. That doesn’t mean a quick session at the beginning of the project. It means having ongoing communications with a constant reminder about the timing/scope situation.

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