The Value of Having a (Minimum Viable) Product
As most of you know, I conduct my training and coaching practice across a broad spectrum of Agile practices including the Scrum Framework for risky projects, People values and leadership at the higher levels of the organization and of course, Lean or Toyota Methodology for Operations teams. Of course, I like to bend this spectrum into the “Agile Organization Wheel” (https://pyxis-tech.com/en/agile-coaching/). The common ground for all these areas of Agility is to Value People, Live by Values and Deliver Value.
I usually focus on the first two, but today I would like to focus on the Delivery of Value. As I developed my “Agile for Operations” training course over the past year, I discovered that if you want to deliver value in the eyes of your customer, you must have a product!
While this sounds simple enough (especially when as agilists, we talk repeatedly about Minimum Viable Product and indeed, in the Scrum Framework, the incremental product is the expected deliverable of each and every sprint), it is easy to get caught up in selling an unfinished product or concept that we will deliver soon.
Show me the money!
Guess what folks, the product that you will deliver soon does not matter one iota to your potential customer! Or as Jerry McGuire so eloquently said “Show me the money!” Or in this case, show me the product!
Let’s face it folks, talk is cheap! It is ridiculously easy! And it is worth what people are willing to pay for it which, as I discovered, is absolutely nothing. When you talk about an idea you are working on, people will nod and show a polite interest, but I can absolutely guarantee that they will not buy unless you have something to sell!
In my case, the saleable item was the “Agile for Operations” course. I recognized in early 2017 that Lean or the Toyota Production System (TPS) were my strongest teachable because of my extensive background as an advanced scholar and practitioner of the subject and I began to talk about the “Course I was developing” whenever someone who would never work on a project came to a Scrum training! I promised these people that I would have something for them soon, so over the summer of 2017, I wrote the first draft of the course.
I am fortunate to work with a wonderful team of Agile trainers who attended that Alpha version of the course. And what a product review that was! They willingly shared ideas, provided much needed feedback and a load full of humility that would result in the preparation of the Beta version.
Everyone will not be friendly
While the beta version was not to the point of saleability yet, I invited some leaders and agilists from various groups around the Agile wheel to come and take the course with me. With those first people, I had a blast, gained input and mostly gained confidence and booked out my first public training. They were so excited about the concepts that we ate lunch together both days and had a hard time ending conversations when it was time to go home. I did not pick up on the cautionary note of choosing friendlies namely that is because when you go to market, not everyone who crosses your threshold will be friendly.
A month later, I held the first public training. This time around, most of the participants already had quite a few tools in their Agile toolkits so, where on the friendly trial we had a hard time limiting the conversation, there was a sense that nothing new had been learned. As with any iteration of any product, I was forced to ask why. This lead to the third version, with a bigger focus on the Values and Culture of Agility than on the tools.
I was ready to take this third version out to a private audience. This time, there was a return to enthusiastic participation and the course was enjoyed by all. But was it perfect? . . . not yet, but much closer. The participants liked the course, but this time identified that the practice session of Simple Continuous Improvement (Simple C.I.) provided them with the most value! Now the feedback was incredibly constructive! In response, for the next Iteration I tweaked the flow to put Simple C.I. as the first as well as the final exercise and to weave it through the tools and culture that was taught.
In June of 2018, the fourth version went public and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive! But does that mean that the learning and iterations stopped? Of course not! We cannot truly call ourselves agilists if we don’t learn and adjust constantly in search of improvement.
Now, I have a wonderful little course booklet tucked under my arm when I meet new people! I no longer say “I am developing a course”, I now say “This is the course I developed”. And guess what! The reaction is totally different. Now when people ask me about dates, I can provide a list of public trainings. We are talking about a real life working product! In fact, a series of products as the workshops are also available as stand-alone offerings!
My lesson learned? Remember the Nike swoosh and “Just Do It”. Stop talking about what you are going to do and show what you have done!
And next time I do course development? I will start with the workshops as iterations and build my course around them. The moral of the story: get that product out there! Test it on real people! Stop talking about it and . . .
Just do it!!