In today’s goal-driven product-creation world, there are numerous development methodologies a company can choose to adopt. Some promise top-notch speed, while others guarantee requirement accuracy — but all tout a 'better' route to development.
The truth is that there's no silver bullet. An organisation should choose the one that fits into the business's landscape and can be executed efficiently. After all, even a perfect strategy will fail if it's executed poorly.
Efficient product development enables a business to seize opportunities, pivot smoothly, absorb change, and ultimately improve its profit and loss. Inefficient strategy implementation, on the other hand, will inhibit progress, block opportunities, and become a source of top and bottom line decline.
The roots of inefficiency
There are several reasons why an organisation might be running an inefficient product development process, but some of the more common root causes include:
Too many cooks in the kitchen
One recurring blunder management teams make is adding more people to a project in an effort to increase output and speed up delivery.
That's just not how development works — it’s not that simple.
According to Brooks' Law (the software industry's version of the law of diminishing returns), involving more people in a project inevitably means more management and training overhead. It also increases the communication burden, which could result in misunderstandings that lead to technical debt or a product that needs to be reworked. At some point, this added overhead and risk can literally start moving your team backward.
Consensus decision-making. While it's important for all relevant departments, such as marketing, sales, finance, and operations, to be involved in the process and agree upon a development plan, product teams need to draw a line in the sand. These other departments don't build software products for a living, and this type of consensus mentality slows down the production timeline and brings a tremendous amount of extra noise to the table.
Product teams should seek insights from other departments, not their permission.
It's common to find passionate, gut-instinct leaders who put their might behind 'out of left field' suggestions and pivots. Unfortunately, it's also common to find product development teams that go along with these whimsical demands without communicating the adverse side effects they might have.
When undisciplined change infects a product development process, it becomes a disease that eats away at any chance for efficiency. It's incumbent on product development teams to stand up to these requests and clearly articulate the impact they will have. This doesn't mean they should always say 'no', but at the very least, there should be some negotiation.
Kick-start your product development organisation
Increasing a product development process's efficiency requires both physical and mental adjustments. Here are three surefire ways to get the ball rolling:
Embrace bite-sized change
When your team is looking to improve its product development process or refresh its methodology, it should make bite-sized changes instead of wholesale substitutions. There are so many phases, phase components, daily tactics, and strategies that go into a high-quality product development process; it takes time and experience to master all of the mechanics. A wholesale process change will leave your team drowning in risk and uncertainty.
Instead, identify small individualised changes you should make, and roll them out over time to accomplish your long-term plan. Playing the long game will help you steer clear of a train wreck.
Seek expert opinions
It's easy for management teams to hire trusted lieutenants who will follow orders and march into any battle regardless of the outlook. However, it's much more effective to hire generals who are true experts in the field. Provide them with a clear mission, then seek their input, listen to their feedback, and believe in their outlook. Then, hold them accountable for the outcome goals you mutually agree upon.
If building software isn't your core competency, do yourself and your company a favour by hiring (and trusting) people who have that experience.
Step outside of your box
We all want to provide value, and we'd all like to believe that our current methods are moving the needle of productivity. That's why, on a human level, it's difficult to admit that we might actually be contributing to a problem.
In its book, 'Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box', the Arbinger Institute explains that the best way to break out of a funk is to become aware of when you're shut off from ideas, people, and processes. Regardless of whether you're a manager or a member of the product team, take a step back, overcome your self-deception, and open yourself up to seeing the real problems.
As you search for the perfect development methodology, it's crucial to keep in mind that your strategy means nothing if it isn't a good fit for your company and isn't executed with efficiency in mind.
When product teams remain a manageable size, are packed with experts, maintain a laser focus, and are trusted to get the job done, any development methodology you adopt has the best shot of running smoothly and achieving the results you're looking for.
Joe Ryan is the COO of Skookum