Going beyond ‘what success looks like’

#BASummit14: I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in this years BA Summit by Penny Pullan of Making Projects Work Ltd.

To hear my talk on this topic you check out my SoundCloud.

Over the past couple of years I have seen a growing trend in BAs and product teams striving to define what ‘success looks like’. It’s comes from a desire within the business to understand how we’ll know when we’ve achieved what we set out to do and what the world will look like at the finish line.

I think it’s worth recognising that there are probably a collection of terms out there that describe similar things here. You may call the, Critical Success Factors in your organisation and have associated KPIs.

If you’re working in a Scrum team you may refer to theses as the Definition of Done, a series of criteria or success factors that must be met in order for something to be considered as completed, as done.

The closest I could find in the BABOK about measuring success was in chapter 6.3 Specify and Model Requirements [1]:

The activity of analysing expressed stakeholder desires and/or the current state of the organization using a combination of textual statements, matrices, diagrams and formal models

I’m a real advocate of this approach and have found it resonates well with the product team I sit in, as together we defining a testable state in which to measure if we have achieved our intended goal. This is similar to the team’s approach in writing software, where they will write tests that fail, prior to writing a line of code. They then write software that passes the tests that were defined. Once all the tests pass the project is finished.

However, too often I think BA’s try and define success far too late in a projects life cycle and as a result, miss out on being able to show real business value early in the process.

Lean Statup

Many of you may have heard of Eric Ries and Lean Startup. You may have discredited it as applying to your organisation, as you’re not a startup, but I believe that everyone can use Lean Startup principles in their work, especially business analysts.

Eric discusses in his book, The Lean Startup, a new approach to testing hypothesis to help innovation. I believe we can use this same approach when identifying the impact of problems we uncover in our projects, whether it is a bug, an inefficient process or a missed deadline. And using the same principles we can continual measure for the improvements made as we get to work on tackling those issues.

Measuring failure, the “as is” state

So before we can measure what success looks like I encourage people to re-frame the problem. I ask them what failure looks like, often to their surprise. What I mean is, if we did nothing to resolve this issue what would the cost or impact top the business be. This may cause them to go and collect some information in order to answer this, but chances are they have a good idea and can articulate it.

This is a great place to start and will have many other benefits that can feed your product vision, and even help with ROI calculations further down the line.

Once you understand the problem or opportunity, you can start to consider solutions for achieving your goals, but how will we know that we’ve actually been successful?
If you work for a company that sells products online it may be easy for you to measure success. If you sell more items or increase your profit on what you sell, you’ve clearly been successful and perhaps these are some of the most obvious ways of measuring success and may not require models or equations to prove it.

However, if your project doesn’t have an obvious revenue stream to measure, you may need to be a little more creative with what you measure – and this I think, is where Business Analyst can really take a lead.

Have you ever considered the impact your project may have on customer satisfaction? Do you know what your current customer satisfaction score is and would you know how to measure it? Do you know where you rank amongst competitors, especially the ones that you are chasing for market share? I’m willing to bet someone in your organisation already knows the answer to all of those questions!

Do you know how long a manual process takes to run in your organisation? If you could identify improvements then you could calculate an efficiency saving to the business in terms of employee cost or an increase in productivity per employee.

Now measurement isn’t just something that we do at the end of projects. I often hear of the Definition of Done or the definition of what success looks like as being the finish line of a race that once crossed, means the project is closed. While this is true, I sort of dislike the analogy as it suggests it’s the last thing that happens in a project. I believe measuring success is a continuous process. if the definition of what success looks like is our finish line we measure at every step along the race course asking the question, have we crossed the line? Have we improved revenue, have we improved customer satisfaction? For teams that work on incremental delivery strategies, this data is crucial in checking that the team are going in the right direction and if they’re not this data will help support the need for changing direction or pivoting. This in itself is ensuring project success by getting early visibility of failure and risks.

Change, measure, change, measure…

So I’ve explained how I think measuring should take place at every step of the journey and how “what success looks like” is the finish line, the goal we’re aiming for. But in reality the improvements and gains that we see from the success of our projects don’t end once we cross that finish line. If you’ve managed to see an increase of 2% in sales as a result of your project, that’s for life. The business will continue to see that additional value month on month and as a BA I think it’s important that we shout about success and recognise the value that we as BA’s and the teams we support add to the organisation we live in. Everyone likes to have evidence they can show their boss that the project they’ve delivered was successful… And if it over achieved, how pleased will you be that you were tracking the data from day 1!

Conclusion

So to conclude I want to just recap on what I’ve said and recommend some further reading:

  1. Measuring success is linked right back to your initial requirements and stakeholder desires. You’re helping your team prove that they’ve been met with real data
  2. Measuring success is a continuous process, measuring it at the end is too late… you could be miles off and have not known
  3. Measuring success continuously reduces risk and allows for innovation and agility
  4. Evidence of success is the best reward of all, and will really help you as a BA

How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business by Douglas Hubbard

For more on creative measuring check out Douglas Hubbard’s book.

[1] 2009. “IIBA BABOK V2.” [online]. iiba.org/babok

Agile Estimating: What’s the point(s)?

Recently I gave a presentation on Agile Estimation, as based on some of the material cover in the course I attended. While I can not take credit for the materials, or the activities, I was keen to write about them as I believe my own perspective could be of benefit to others who find themselves in a similar situation.

Estimation is something that every team does, but approaches vary wildly. Commonly developers will estimate in hours based on their feel for how long a task or activity will take. While this is not terrible the individual doing the estimating makes a number of assumptions about their approach, their experiences of similar tasks, their confidence in finding a solution, the risk involved, etc. However, what if the person that has done the estimate isn’t the person who will complete the task? What if they aren’t aware of the assumptions made and are not able to understand how the estimate was so low or high?

In the session I asked the teams to estimate the distance from our office to Paris. Instantly they started working on understanding the distance, what roads they would need to take, a ferry or a train and if they would need to sleep on the way. Within a very small variance the teams were pretty consistent in the distance it was from our office to Paris. However, when they started to estimate the time required, based on their distance estimate, the hours varied based on speed assumptions, accounting for traffic and other variables.

What I was trying to show the team is that most of us are good at judging the complexity of a task. They were all good at determining the distance, the route and even the car they’d take and those that had driven the route before knew more confidently what the number of miles required to drive.

When teams decouple complexity estimates from duration estimates they are usually more accurate. Even for the guys that had driven to Paris before, the number of miles required to drive was not smaller in any way, the size or complexity of the task didn’t change for them.

Mike Cohn teaches that we should

Estimate size and derive duration

Mike Cohn

You see duration or velocity is something that a team understands best through practice. Once teams get into a rhythm or cadence they naturally start working more effectively. This will improve the speed that they are working at and the number of tasks that they can complete.

By estimating as a team (or at least in pairs) developers will at least get some peer input into if their estimates to help them check they are in the right sort of range. And through conversation and repeated estimates the teams should see an improved confidence in their estimate ranges.

Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn

For more on Agile Estimating & Planning check out Mike Cohn’s book. A must read for anyone who is moving into planning and managing agile projects for the first time. Mike packs the book full of helpful lessons learnt from over 20 years in the field.

Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)

Scrum_Product_Owner_Horiz1
Last month I attended a fantastic course to become a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) with the legendary Mike Cohn.

What are Product Owners?

To quote the Scrum Alliance:

“Certified Scrum Product Owners® have been taught the Scrum terminology, practices, and principles that enable them to fulfill the role of Product Owner on a Scrum team. CSPOs are typically the individuals who are closest to the “business side” of the project. They are charged by the organization to “get the product out” and are expected to do the best possible job of satisfying all the stakeholders. CSPOs maintain the product backlog and ensure that everyone knows the priorities.”

The course covered

  • Overview of Scrum
    • Scrum is empirical
    • The Scrum project community
  • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Team / ScrumMaster / Product Owner
    • Your role in the four Scrum meetings
    • Things that are not your job
  • Chartering the Project
    • Creating an “Igniting Purpose”
    • Five techniques
  • Estimating
    • Estimating the size of work
    • Planning Poker®
  • The Product Backlog
    • Emergent requirements
    • User stories on the product backlog
    • The product backlog iceberg
    • User stories in a formal contract
  • Sprints
    • What is potentially shippable?
    • Changes during the sprint
    • Sustainable pace & over commitment
    • Abnormal termination
  • Tracking Progress
    • Burndown charts
    • Taskboards
  • Prioritising
    • The proper level for prioritizing
    • Four factors to consider
    • Kano analysis
    • Theme screening and scoring
    • Relative weighting
  • Release Planning
    • Extrapolating end dates
    • Fixed-scope and fixed-price projects
  • Scaling the Product Owner
    • Sharing one product backlog
    • Visualizing a large product backlog
    • The scrum of scrums meeting
    • The chief product owner

Conclusions

I loved the course and would highly recommend it. I particularly found the session on Prioritisation one of the most valuable with the section on Kano Analysis being used in my recent presentation. I’ve also taken what I learnt in the Estimating session and delivered something internally with colleagues at Sigma to help the whole team to estimate better.

Developing an MVP that your users will love

Last week I was lucky enough to present again at Camp Digital, a two-day event run by Sigma UK full of inspirational seminars and workshops discussing user experience, exploring key trends in our industry and connecting people in our community.

It’s the second year that I’ve been invited to speak, after my presentation last year on Rapid Prototyping.

Synopsis

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a key lean startup concept popularised by Eric Ries to maximise validated learning for the least amount of effort expended. No-longer just a concept used in the lean startup world, defining MVPs has become a popular product development strategy for agile teams around the world. But what’s the impact of constantly focusing on delivering the ‘minimum’ and do your users ever truly love your product as a result.

In this session Jamie will look at how your team can develop an MVP that both meets your business requirements and keeps your users coming back for more.

Presentation

[slideshare id=32844736&doc=cddevelopinganmvpyouruserswilllove-140328043803-phpapp01]

Sigma Camp Digital 3D Shadows
Camp Digital – Manchester, UK

Camp Digital returns as a two-day programme of inspirational seminars and workshops discussing user experience, exploring key trends in our industry and connecting people in our community.

Why not check out some more presentations and videos here?

Kanban: Optimising for predictability – presentation

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be presenting at a ‘Lightning Lunch’ at Sigma UK on Kanban and how you can optimise the flow of tiny tasks (stories) to make predictable deliverables. This presentation is based on a blog post I wrote some time ago on the same subject.

I’m currently working on a very large Scrum programme that uses a board very similar to a Kanban board, however, we’re not enforcing WIP limits and we only ship things once a sprint. While this in itself feels very fast and very agile to some, it’s not without risks and sometimes feels a little ‘big bang’ release due to the amount of code that is getting delivered in a single sprint. This got me thinking about the continuous test and deployment cycles within Kanban teams as a potential enhancement to our current process.

Kanban doesn’t pretend to solve the problems, but it does allow teams to focus on continuous delivery and continuous improvement. It encourages teams to work as a multi-disciplinary unit rather than as a collection of silos and functions.

I should say that I have only ever done this ‘agency-side’ and as a result commercial constraints sometimes limit our ability to apply too aggressive WIP limits. I’d be really interested in hearing from anyone who has experience of running Kanban projects for multiple customers within a software/design agency. I’m sure there is some additional tweeks to help the implementation.

Prototyping your processes diagrams

This week I heard a fantastic podcast over at TheBACoach.com about writing high value user stories through structured conversations. In it Ellen Gottesdiener and Mary Gorman, authors of Discover to Deliver, suggested collaboratively working on process diagrams with your customers. In fact, they suggested encouraging stakeholders to break the diagrams!

The idea got me pretty excited about a project I’m currently working on and some workshops I had coming up. Although I’m pretty confident at diagramming as a requirements specification technique and have studied UML, BPMN and database modelling techniques, I rarely use them for elicitation purposes. And I have to say, however confident I am with the practice, I’m always worried that a stakeholder will spot the bit I’ve missed or will mention an edge-case that I didn’t identify. But Ellen and Mary were suggesting a completely different approach – hold your hands up and say it’s not finished, that it needs some polish and it needs input to be completed and allow your stakeholders to roll their sleeves up and participate in the drawing of your process diagrams.

Something similar to the finished product. Basic, bare even, but full of meaning to the team who helped craft it.

So that’s exactly what I did, I thought back to some of my experiences of prototyping wireframes and some of the lessons learnt are very transferable. Mainly, if the prototype looks polished stakeholders will think it’s finished (and will often be far more critical). So, we used paper and pens to draw out a basic process flow, there were no swimlanes or beautiful straight lines that a tool would give you, but it was there, a vehicle for some structured conversation.

I put it on the table with some other pens and watched as the team looked at it, quite shocked at how bare it was (probably questioning my fee…) but straight away people started drawing on the missing elements. And then they took it further, “this bit is only happens if X is true” and “We want to be able to delay a step, in fact we’d like to be able to delay two of the steps.”

We were prototyping a process flow, well they were and I was taking the notes from all the business logic and constraints that were being discussed. And because I wasn’t holding the pen and doing all the work I was able to sit back and facilitate the discussion and prototyping, dipping into the 7 Product Dimensions [pdf], that I also learnt about on the podcast, ensuring that we had covered where the ‘data’ was coming from for an aspect of the diagram or what the ‘control’ was around another.

Now I was lucky, the team I was working with are pretty technical. In fact they are a mix of subject matter experts and other analysts, which made the job a bit easier. But even if your team aren’t expert diagram drawers, with your help they’ll be able to articulate enough to help you draw something that they can validate. Constantly ask questions like:

  • Is this right?
  • Is there anything that happens after this step?
  • Is there anything missing that you can see?

Working with your stakeholders in this way will help them to feel empowered in the delivery of your project, it helps develop rapport between the team and will pay dividends over the lifetime of the project.

Annotating wireframes for delivery: the agile way

I usually try and keep these posts technology agnostic, but when it comes to wireframing it has to be said that I’m an Axure fanboy. I know there are lots of other great tools out there but this is the one that I’ve settled on.

Axure has a built-in specification generator, which reminds me of projects where the quality of my deliverables were measured by the length of the documents. However, I’ve been playing with some of these settings in order to turn the built-in features into something a bit more useful. Here’s what I discovered:

The Annotations Widget

This is the Annotations panel within the Widget Properties Pane (you can open it using ctrl+1). By default it has lots of options, covering a range of needs from the features status, risk, owner and benefit etc. While this is all very useful it can feel a bit overwhelming if you don’t know all that information or feel like you’re duplicating effort by repeating info that is already being captured against your user stories. To help me capture what I need, without writing war and peace, I’ve opted for the following fields:

axure widget properties
An example of the annotation properties with Axure 6.5

<dl>

Description
I use this field to describe what the feature is, nothing fancy. “This is a drop down picker that allows a user to select their timezone”.
OnClick
This field describes what the user can expect to happen when they interact/click on the feature. “Onclick the user will be presented with a list of timezones to select from. By default ‘GMT London’ should be selected”.
Design Logic
I use this field to describe when the feature will be shown and any edge cases where the design or layout may change. “The first time the user uses the application they should set their timezone. On returning to the application this should already be set and display the option the user has stored previously in their preferences”.

dynamic notesOn generating the prototype it builds into HTML and adds a small iconnote over the top right hand corner of the feature. If you hover over them your cursor will change to have a ‘?’.

When you click on the note it will open up and can be moved around the page, in order to prevent it to obscure the feature it is describing.

You can play around with combinations of fields that you use and even have different ones saved for different clients. Any fields that are left blank when annotating your prototype will not be shown once the HTML is generated.

Sharing Axure Files

If you’ve not seen it yet I strongly recommend Axure Share. It allows you to store and share your Axure prototypes and even has functionality to allow users to discuss elements on the prototype.

Read More…

If you want to find out more about the Axure annotations feature why not check out the following: