Involving the customer in everything helps them gain confidence in our approach and assures them that we understand and focus on their business drivers. Kickoff is a one-day workshop to set out a product charter, and we re-charter every quarter so that customers can invest budget incrementally tied to those periods. The customer pitches his product idea to the crew like an entrepreneur would to investors. We create a shared vision, identify users and what they value, list business goals, constraints, and assumptions to be tested, and design operational and financial measurements with quantified expectations. Then, we start delivering.
By concentrating on personas and user goals and doing planning on demand, we avoid backlogs and keep the customer close so we can write stories when we need them. Stories are built in vertical slices to get emerging functionality in front of the customer as often as possible, so they can provide immediate feedback and sketch new ideas. Sometimes, the tester joins up with the customer for some café testing to get feedback on basic usability from people in coffee shops. We run weekly showcases, which are great PR opportunities. They need to be meaningful for the customer, so they’re rehearsed to deliver an entertaining narrative with the demonstrated stories.
In a way, we adopt the customer’s product as our own. We challenge assumptions, provide options, and try to improve it in ways the customer hasn’t envisaged. We encourage the customer to launch a minimum viable product at the earliest opportunity and we track the charter measurements to see how it performs in the market. We learn how the product needs to evolve, and, as we continue iterating, the customer can assess emerging benefits against on-going costs. Customers love being able to recalibrate to respond to users while staying in financial control. Our approach is a closer co-operation than they’re used to, but they quickly see the benefits.
Lisa Crispin: There is such a good vibe in your lab. You seem to have “optimized for happiness.” Everyone seems to enjoy the work, and they’re willing to try new things. What would you tell other teams who’d like to achieve this level of enjoyment and willingness to experiment?
Simon Baker: It’s difficult to say without understanding the circumstances people are in. I can only share what has worked for us and hope some of it is useful.
Gus [Power] and I try to give the crew a place where they can be themselves that has space for them to grow. Ultimately, it’s down to the individual to use that space. Leading by example encourages people to try things. I’m constantly experimenting. It’s important to make mistakes publicly and show vulnerability. When others see it’s safe to fail, they eventually start experimenting, too. The learning needs to be visible, and it helps to demonstrate improvements are sometimes being made.