rollercoaster

Roller coasters are designed to give you a thrill. Part of the excitement is that they make you feel like you're in danger. Many product teams will tell you that the emotions and experiences involved in the product development life-cycle are much like the exhilaration and fear of being on a roller coaster. Excitement is high as we start the ride. We can be flying high one day as the team gets close to a working product, and suddenly we could hit a low point when an unexpected curve ball gets thrown at us.

Anyone can focus for a few weeks. The harder challenge is finding a way to keep that same sense of purpose and exhilaration as things continue to shift and when the outcome isn’t quite certain. Here is a look at what it feels like to be on the wild ride of the product development journey that we take on each day.

I’ve Got a Great Idea! Who’s with Me?

At the onset of a new product development project there’s a good bit of energy and excitement. The team is formed. Most members enter with good attitudes and are very interested in strong teamwork and heavy collaboration. They want to make the best possible product. We jump out of the gate by making great progress on the idea and by creating the technical foundation for delivery of the service.

We’re Almost There! Man, This is Going to be Great!

A few weeks or months into the real work and it feels like you’re almost there. You have a working product that’s still a little rough, but functional. It’s alive! The team is still riding high together and we believe that we can create something exceptional. We believe in the mission and in the vision more than ever. The plan is perfect. We seem to have it all figured out. The team can see the light at the end of the tunnel and they’re committed to work really hard to get there.

Wait. Maybe that Wasn’t the End of the Tunnel After All.

star-wars-meme

As we get close to wrapping up the last few features, we hit a small bump in the road. Something unexpected happens during development. All of a sudden, the mood starts to shift. The rest of the plans start to feel a little shaky, since we didn’t see the first bump coming. Doubt starts to sneak in to the heads of a few team members. Your team might even start to question, is this product really going to make money? Other questions start coming in from other teams or stakeholders. You aren’t so sure this is such a good idea. You may wonder, maybe we should cut it now.

How we work

While these scenarios can be true for us at times within CenturyLink, we have adapted to a work style that helps us cope.

Don’t expect to have a perfect product on Day 0.

"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late." - Reid Hoffman

In order to enable our teams to build products that make a difference to our customers, we want to get those services into the hands of users as soon as possible. We build and release a minimum viable product (MVP) as soon as the product is able add value for a user. We do this so that customers can recognize that value as soon as possible. Releasing an MVP also allows us to start the process of constant feedback and progressive refinement of the product. This ensures that what we build really matters for our customers in the end.

Be ready to adjust to feedback.

We love our customers and we love their candid feedback even more! Through the use of Agile development practices, we not only encourage taking in customer feedback, we thrive on those interactions. We use surveys, customer ticket data, and in-depth customer interviews to ensure that we’re building products that help solve real business needs. We listen carefully and work to clarify the feedback so that we understand what is most critical to a customer's success. It’s imperative that we understand the objective and the business scenario when listening to customer feedback.

Understand what drives your metrics and steady state expectations.

We operate within a DevOps model on our team. We all attend daily stand ups to discuss current work in process and we collectively participate in release activities in order to create and maintain a shared understanding of what we are working on and how the service is performing. As a result, all members of the team understand the key performance and availability metrics to measure and track them against larger business goals. We are constantly examining what we are doing today and how it can become better.

Also, we don’t create unrealistic plans. Plans and reality can often be far apart. We are willing to chuck our original plan out the window, change assumptions, and shift things based on how our launch is unfolding. We use this feedback and data to shape our plan instead.

thomas-edison-quote

Iterate quickly.

At CenturyLink, our development velocity is a feature. We run through a full development iteration every 15 days. Most importantly, we prioritize the customer feedback and evaluate what work will provide the highest return on investment every 15 days. Then, we gracefully adjust accordingly to what we have learned during the previous iteration. We are able to take advantage of specific customer feedback very quickly.

It requires so much effort and teamwork to launch a product that it’s easy to understand why such high emotions get involved. And, we should celebrate our efforts and reaching such a critical milestone as in launching new product to market. But perspective is everything. Make sure that the team stays informed and aligned with what’s next. As long as the team knows that the ride has really just started, it’s easier to keep folks engaged with making the product better. As a result, our customers get access to new features much faster than they can internally or by other methods.

You wanna know the best part about this roller coaster? It never stops. Check out ctl.io for the latest news on what we’re working on now.