Continuous Product Improvement – Melissa Perri

Melissa is an agile coach working with companies to help them identify the right things to improve and limit the things they are improving so they can see how small incremental improvements can make a big difference.

Not only should a product be built well, it also needs to be the right product to be used! A well-built unwanted feature will still be unwanted

Melissa has looked at the lean way of working to get inspiration and ideas on how to help companies improve the way they work and how they deliver.

Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before – Shigeo Shingo

Toyota was really the first company that was written about that practiced continuous improvement. They had a kata that was
1. Understand the direction or challenge
2. Where are we now
3. Establish the next target condition – for example increase revenue by 50% by doing x
4. Iterate towards the target condition
A useful thing to do after the kata has been done then is to ask the people in the team the five question card and reflect on the last step taken. This should become a ritual, repeat until it becomes habit, part of everyday life.

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Does the product you are working on have a kata? Do you know what the company goal is, or what product KPIs should be captured, what is the wanted future state. These things should be made clear as it’s hard to work to change and improve something if you don’t know where you are going or what it was like to begin with.

If you are working on a project look at what are users doing now. Think about how you could measure this. Metrics need to be captured to baseline the as is situation but make sure you capture the right metrics. What is important to the business, what is the target condition therefore what do we want to improve. Some of the ways to capture this information is via user research or product experiments.

Your target condition may be that you want to retain customers. This could be achieved in several ways either by converting freemium (free users to premium) users or by making it faster to on-board users.
You need to plan towards a goal. This goal will not be linear, there is a need to iterate and get feedback.
You need to not ask people what they want but instead what they are trying to achieve, by changing what factors could help achieve this outcome, then working out the smallest thing that can be done to test this theory. Find out what the problems are and fix these, rather than asking what they want.

Start with goal; this aligns the vision for the team.

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Complete the target condition (Critical success factor) – sellers call office less than twice a week.
What is the obstacle – we don’t know how often the sellers are calling.
What is the simplest step can be done to overcome the obstacle – measure how often they are calling over the next week just using pen and paper and do a tally.
What is the result that is expected – calling 4 times a week
What is the reality – calling 7 times a week
Now update the current condition – the sellers are calling 7 times a week
Obstacle –  we don’t know why are they calling?
Step – What is the simplest thing we can do to work out why the sellers are calling? Ask the office staff why they are calling most for and write this down on pen and paper.
What do you expect to get out of this experiment – to come away with a top list of reasons called
What have you learned – The sellers ask most about their revenue, what are they selling, and can they see the list of how much is being sold
Now just pick one thing to improve – did it make a difference?
Do things in a manual way first, see if it makes a difference and then automate.

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Focused on the revenue first and gave the sellers weekly spreadsheets with their revenues. Then they learnt that the sellers really liked this but they wanted to know daily how much they are making, not weekly.
The next thing on the list was to look at what are the sellers selling most?
By iterating they reached the target goal of getting the sellers to only call in twice a week and they had not even gone through the top 3 reasons why sellers called.

All this was learnt in 3 weeks of running manual experiments then it took one month to automate these changes. This allowed the office workers to do more interesting stuff!

These steps are the lean version of MVPs, spending a small amount of effort to learn about your customers.

What are the hard parts…
Getting buy in from the team – need to get the team to be excited
Coming up with an experiment – hard to start but practice makes easier. Think small. What can you do in a day, max one week.
What do you measure and how
People want to do all the things – do 1 at a time otherwise how do you know what made a difference

But these are the benefits
Empower your people
Teams get more invested
Provides focus
One target condition at a time
Always improving! Can’t just try and slot it into one quarter during the working year as it will not be done as there will be no time for that

What are the differences between the lean MVP and the agile MVP:
MVP – minimal feature set in agile it’s a whole product to ship as a product
Lean MVP – learning what to put into the agile MVP set

How can you help the team?

You need to help set small goals and then break into chunks
Get them to come up with an experiment, how long will it take and then reduce the time. Do manually first and then automate. Don’t spend time automating until you know what the right thing to do is.

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Here’s the full talk.

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