Innovation in an Agile Environment via NUXUK

This past Monday night was the next in a set of regular meetups here in Manchester kindly organised by NUXUK and this time presented by Mark Shahid from Sky Betting. In my experience so far it’s actually really difficult to find the right balance of integrating UX and the Design mindset into the Agile process, particularly staying innovative, as has been for many others. I was excited to see what someone else’s viewpoint was on it, how they tackled it and I’d like to share with you the three takeaways I had.

 

1. Get a “discovery pipeline”

When I was a member of the development team in my past life, I very quickly started to put my UX brain to practice and noticed I had no idea where new features really came from or how they were validated. As a junior I had almost no clue but even as I jumped up through to being a middleweight and talked more often with the senior team, I was still confounded that I couldn’t point anywhere conclusively to the “why” of the features. Eventually I had to have faith that our clients did their due diligence before each inception, grooming and planning session.

At a product company such as Sky Betting however, you are the client and need to craft your own product roadmap. This is actually a hard task and although you can check your customer analytics, run focus groups and review customer service requests that’s only the tip of the iceberg to delivering innovation. What Mark and his team learned was that you need to put in place a discovery pipeline to explore, test and validate new ideas and a way to pipeline in new ideas into the roadmap process. Here you need to feed the innovation engine and have a way of filtering out the low priority or low value ideas from the promising and high potential ideas to your backlog.

2. Find your “North Star” vision

Working using Agile principles is great; it’s great for developers and the usual roles like Project Manager and Product Owner but it can be easy to forget about the big picture vision or delegate all the responsibility to the Product Owner. Over time the vision can start to decay and backlog prioritisation becomes working on the “small-fry” work to fix, “productionise” and enhance what’s already there. We start to take the safe bets so that we can deliver a sprint on time and forget to take a step back to innovate and rethink the existing experience.

Take a step back and ask yourself if you have a “North Star” vision for the product; if you do, make sure it’s still valid. If not, try and collaborate together to set the vision and future direction of the product. From there, spend some dedicated effort looking after that vision and making regular efforts to discover how you might better achieve that vision over what the current product is. Your UX team should have time and space to look ahead, design and test some new ideas in-line with that vision and feed it back into the roadmap and backlog. From there, any development efforts can be guided to morph the product into its next generation.

3. Keep an eye on the “Golden Tickets”

Mark called these “Golden Tickets” – you can call them whatever you like, but in essence they’re tickets in your backlog geared towards driving the “delight” factor of your product. Work here tends to have a longer exploratory phase, can cause several existing features to be deprecated and is often fed by your discovery pipeline. The bottom line is that these tickets can be risky, might not pay off, and it’s easy to de-prioritise them in favour of classic deliverables that can be demoed at the end of a sprint.

Let’s use an example – the iPhone X is an innovative iteration over the iPhone 7 that changes many ways you interact with the phone, whereas the iPhone 8 is a smaller iteration that improved upon what existed. If you spend all your time and effort on only iterating your product, you end up not investing into the iPhone X of your product. Both are very important to your business and development process, and it’d be foolish to do just one or the other. Start to invest some time and effort into the future direction of your product, if you haven’t already, and innovate ahead of your competition.

Summary

Being innovative is hard to do, even more so in an Agile organisation that is classically “development driven”. Not only is it valuable to spend effort on innovation to rise above your competition, but there are several tweaks you can make to your flavour of Agile in order to do so: by having a healthy discovery pipeline you can try, test and filter out promising candidates for higher risk but higher payoff features and experiences; setting a “North Star” vision helps to provide direction for your innovation efforts and helps you start to think about the bigger picture of your product and organisation; finally be mindful about prioritising your “Golden Tickets” since these are your way to finding the future delight points and driving innovative experiences your users will love.

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