The Art of Simplicity

Do you find that it takes months to years to deliver your organization’s products and features? Does your organization try to get all the product scope complete before shipping value to the customer?

In the Agile Principles, one of the principles is “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.” This means what is the minimal amount of work needed to meet the customer’s overall need(s). I have seen projects at different organizations take over a year to ship, only to find out that it didn’t meet all the customer’s needs.  Roman Pichler states in his book Agile Product Management with Scrum “As our ability to predict the future is limited, our best chance of success is to envision the minimal marketable product, a product with minimal functionality that meets the selected customer needs.”

By getting a product and features out the door quicker, one is able to be more agile and potentially:

  • Get valuable feedback and adjust the product sooner rather than later
  • Provide value to the customer quicker
  • Reduce the amount of risk and uncertainty
  • Save a large amount of investment money on a product that may not be as viable as originally thought
  • Opportunity for a quicker ROI

If you aren’t able to ship sooner due to organizational constraints such as system design, try getting customer feedback through sprint reviews and refinement sessions. Ideally these ceremonies are included throughout your development cycles. Let the customer use the software even if it is in a lower environment. When one lets the customer use the software, try observing first without telling them what to do with the product.  Are they using the software how you anticipated?  Are they doing something different and exposing a different need?

An example of focusing on simplicity and shipping a product’s functionality sooner could look like this:

Customer need: We need social sign-in for our news site so that users are able to sign in quicker, generate more usage of our site, and gather more data/social media marketability.
Customer wants: We want a Facebook sign-in, Twitter sign-in, and a Google sign-in
Data gathered from multiple site analytics (approx numbers): 90% of customers have Facebook accounts, 80% have Twitter, 70% have Google
Estimates from the development team:

  • Facebook sign-in can be done and shipped in approx 2 weeks
  • Twitter sign-in can be done and shipped in approx 2 weeks
  • Google sign-in can be done and shipped in approx 2 weeks

Decision: Do the Facebook sign-in work and ship in two weeks to the customer to generate a quick ROI, reach a majority of the target audience, and maximize customer value. The Twitter sign-in solution is prioritized above the Google sign-in solution for later in the backlog as we know that approx 5% of those users don’t have Facebook vs. Google where 2% don’t have Facebook. If we had waited to ship all of the items it would have taken a minimum of 6 weeks for customers to start using all the functionality vs the chosen solution of 2 weeks to meet the majority of the customers sooner and get feedback on the new functionality for social sign-in.

What are your experiences with simplicity and shipping software at your organization?


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