As companies increase in size and complexity, the challenge of scaling Agile product development becomes more pronounced. The 13th State of the Agile Report found that, for 52% of respondents, the greatest difficulty they encountered was reconciling the company culture with the principles of Agile.
Organisational leaders may leverage Agile culture to enhance product development. By cultivating a strong Agile culture, teams are empowered to independently address complex issues, while also fostering close collaboration with customers. Furthermore, leaders must also focus on long-term vision and strategy to ensure successful, sustainable growth.
It can be challenging to evaluate and leverage abstract qualities within a business setting. This makes it difficult to devise an effective plan to make the most of them. To address this issue, mid-stage businesses have developed a new approach called Mission Driven Development (MDD). This method provides an alternative means of creating a culture that is conducive to utilising abstract qualities.
As a project progresses, it is common for teams to experience patterns of inefficiency. When the ultimate objective of the project is ambiguous, it can be difficult to maintain team morale and enthusiasm. This can lead to product managers becoming disoriented during operational meetings and having less time to formulate a strategy for the product. As the system becomes more complex, it can take longer to deploy new features and products.
In order to successfully overcome any impediments, it is essential to address them from both a cultural and a practical standpoint. To do so, it is necessary to let go of control, promote autonomy within the team, practice radical transparency, and establish an efficient product development framework that is designed to achieve specific outcomes.
|TYPICAL SLOWDOWNS||MANAGEMENT LEVERS|
|Team motivation dwindles.||Giving up control and increasing team autonomy|
|Operational meetings overwhelm product managers.||Introducing radical transparency|
|The rollout of new features is slower.||Creating an effective product development framework|
The Difficulties of Scaling Traditional Agile Frameworks
As Agile practices continue to gain traction, it is essential that both the management and team levels are in harmony. At the management level, key responsibilities include formulating the business strategy, creating a clear product vision, making hiring decisions, and fostering team development. Meanwhile, the team level is accountable for successfully executing the tasks required to translate this vision and strategy into products and services of value. By ensuring that both the management and team levels remain in sync, organisations can maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of their Agile methodology.
The traditional Agile frameworks (Extreme Programming, Scrum, and Kanban) have been developed to facilitate team collaboration, yet they do not take into consideration the management relationships within an organisation. To address this gap, a new set of scaled Agile frameworks have been introduced, such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), Scrum of Scrums, Nexus, and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). Although these frameworks can provide a solution to managing complex and large-scale Agile projects, they require considerable time and effort to set up and maintain.
The Mission Driven Development (MDD) framework is an efficacious and streamlined approach which provides fundamental guidelines to facilitate the scaling of development and the adoption of Agile practices. This highly practical framework is designed to provide the necessary structure for organisations to effectively execute their operations and maximise their productivity.
The Fundamentals of Mission-Driven Development
Our mission at Discovery is to identify the underlying problems, opportunities for solutions, and desired outcomes for our clients. Establishing a clear purpose for our business mission helps to create enthusiasm, encourages collaboration, and facilitates our exploration of broader design concepts.
Teams of two to four individuals are responsible for ensuring the success of the mission. These squads work in collaboration with the product managers to create solutions that both meet the mission objectives and are within the specified timeframe.
Cycle of 6 Weeks
By establishing a six-week timeline, all teams can adhere to the same base planning schedule while still having enough time to generate meaningful results.
A one- to two-week buffer phase is often incorporated into the MDD architecture to allow for the completion of final integration and deployment tasks, training and skill development initiatives, innovation activities, and planning for the subsequent cycle.
The Value of the 6-Week Cycle
While six weeks may seem like a long time for some Agile practitioners, it has numerous crucial advantages.
Teams who operate in short cycles often find it difficult to stay motivated in terms of the product vision. This is because they may feel as though they are simply working through a checklist of fixes, problems, and minor improvements. This lack of motivation can have a detrimental effect on the team’s ability to effectively analyse the situation and determine the best way to provide solutions.
Product estimate accuracies decline as cycles lengthen. As a consequence, product teams must invest heavily in planning.
It has been suggested that a six-week timeline is the optimal period for product development, as it provides a sufficient amount of time to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) through the use of creative problem-solving, expedited prototyping, and ongoing deployment. This timeline has been referred to as the “Goldilocks” of product development, as it is neither too long nor too short.
The implementation of a 6-week cycle encourages team vision engagement to an even higher level due to the inclusion of autonomy. By providing teams with clearly articulated missions and short cycles, it allows them to focus solely on the desired objectives without the need for micromanagement.
Product managers should actively engage in planning activities every six weeks in order to ensure that teams remain on course to achieve their goals. This approach can create more time for the strategic and exploratory aspects of product development.
Mission-Driven Development Implementation
After recently securing a substantial investment, a mid-stage firm focused on providing a B2B solution to optimise network prices and enhance client income through the use of artificial intelligence technologies is now in an ideal position to become a major industry leader and expand its market share by 300%.
There are various product development issues in this scenario:
- How can the pending value hypothesis be validated by obtaining input from existing and future clients?
- What platform features should be added or deleted to provide a compelling user experience?
- How can the management structure be designed to withstand growing while also capitalising on cultural values to drive growth?
Ultimately, the organisation has opted to utilise the Mission Driven Development framework in order to avoid the complexity of other frameworks. Each organisation needs to detail the “last-mile” specifics of this framework, and the primary elements of this definition are as follows:
- Mission identification
- Structure of the mission
- Squad formation
- Examination and modification
- Iterative buffering
- Planning for Capacity
At Mission Discovery, our goal is to eliminate any ambiguity about a given issue or concept in order to construct the most appropriate product for the intended audience. Our founder, Tim Herbig, strongly believes that it is essential to verify the mission thoroughly before it is committed to any iteration cycle.
Teams have been designated to execute the Mission Discovery process. The product manager will serve as the leader of the discovery team, which is comprised of product researchers, business analysts, and designers. When there are multiple product managers on a project, they will report to the Chief Product Officer (CPO). The CPO will guarantee product cohesion across all products, product alignment with the broad corporate plan, and the timely completion of the project.
Beginning with challenges, issues, or opportunities can be a great way to start the process of mission discovery. By doing this, teams can explore a wider range of design options which can lead to more potential solutions. This can be especially beneficial when the challenge is framed as a problem, as it encourages the team to think more deeply about the various paths forward.
Mission validation entails a number of initiatives that assist the organisation in better understanding consumer needs:
- Researching the market and analysing competitors
- Recognising the issue domain in which the task is described
- Creating rough drawings and prototypes
- Developing a defined mission scope
- Obtaining and validating customer feedback
These actions contribute to the mission serving as a firm guideline for the development team and ensuring that value is delivered for users.
As a result of verification, certain tasks are added to the Mission Backlog, which is constantly changing due to the ongoing process of knowledge acquisition and feedback collection.
The Product Manager should consider the challenge of determining what features should be developed and implemented in the platform to deliver an engaging user experience. To address this challenge, it is recommended that only one discovery team be created and managed by the Product Manager.
It is evident that the example company’s platform presently offers an effective pricing network based on processed data files. However, the user experience has not yet been optimised to create a truly captivating experience. Therefore, our goal is to evaluate whether increasing customer value can be achieved by enhancing the user experience, introducing new features, or improving the platform services.
Following preliminary market research, the decision is made to build additional features. The following are potential platform features:
- Repricing at lightning speed
- Interface that is quick and responsive
- Intelligent and sophisticated repricing rules
- Sales history and price
The organisation has decided to employ a design sprint approach for the purpose of discovery; this is a five-day procedure that uses design, prototyping, and testing with individuals to tackle important business problems. This discovery process is conducted for each prospective feature in order to determine which offers the most value for current and potential customers. After careful consideration, intelligent and advanced repricing rules have been selected as the top feature for development.
Structure of the Mission
Developing a comprehensive mission statement that is able to capture the essence of a business and its goals is a difficult process. It must be able to effectively articulate a particular business issue and provide a set of parameters for its resolution, all the while still leaving space for employees to come up with creative and effective solutions. A clearly defined mission statement is essential for any successful organisation.
- After identifying and delineating the issue domain, clearly outlines a business challenge.
- All information and insights obtained in earlier rounds are synthesised.
Connections to a desired business result
- Is result-oriented, with a clear vision of mission success.
- Is feasible and attainable during the 6-week cycle window.
- Is sufficiently restricted to provide attention while being broad enough to avoid details.
In the example, information and user input were gathered and synthesised after a week of exploration.
Target audience: client-side pricing analysts
Problem domain: Users require the capability to develop and manage sophisticated and intricate pricing regulations that will automatically alter price in accordance with precise criteria. The most essential rule conditions are competitive pricing, delivery urgency, order total, available stock, and premium client discount.
Insights Rules should be implemented with a customised priority system, so that analysts can quickly and easily review which rules are applicable to a particular product at any given time period. Furthermore, the priority system should be flexible enough that it can be altered as necessary.
Business result desired: Increase user engagement on the platform by 25%, as measured by time spent on the platform.
At the start of every development cycle, team formation is approached with an ad hoc approach that respects the principles of team autonomy and self-organisation. A number of factors play a role in determining the composition of each team, including the complexity of the task, the technical and design capabilities of the developers, shared interests and activities, and the rapport among team members.
Agile Coaches are essential to the team building process. Before any decisions are made, they will ask each individual worker what they would like to accomplish over the next six weeks. Depending on their experience, knowledge and abilities, teams will then be formed to guarantee that they have the necessary skills and understanding to carry out the task successfully.
Agile coaches are responsible for providing guidance and support to multiple teams throughout the development process, helping them identify challenges and dependencies. When there is a larger team of Agile coaches, they will provide regular updates to the Head of Agile, who is responsible for overseeing the formation of teams, monitoring progress, and ensuring the successful delivery of Agile products.
An optimal team size is between two and four members, with one designer and one or two developers depending upon the complexity of the project. A Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer is a valuable contributor who assists one or more teams to meet the necessary quality standards.
Despite the potential for a high-performing squad to work together for several cycles, it is often beneficial to swap squads after a cycle in order to facilitate collaboration between different people, share expertise, and work on a broad range of product features. This approach can help to promote a more inclusive working environment and ensure that all team members are given the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and skills.
People with UI design, data processing, and data visualisation skills should be considered for the example squad.
Observing and Making Changes Within the Cycle
Agile coaches should consistently support transparency, examination, and adaptability using conventional Agile methods.
Every week, short meetings are organised to plan work and identify any potential obstacles or dependencies. If necessary, grooming sessions are conducted to ensure that all team members fully comprehend the goal and user stories. Additionally, short retrospectives are held to identify areas for improvement and to implement any changes that have been agreed upon.
Through the entire lifecycle, it is important to adhere to continuous delivery practices. A 6-week timebox cycle is a useful approach to setting parameters while helping the team to stay on track, thus enabling the successful completion of the mission in a timely manner.
At the end of the fourth week, holding a demonstration based on the predetermined milestone between teams and product managers is an effective way to boost transparency. The main goal of these demonstrations is to adjust the scope of the project, whether by decreasing or increasing it, as necessary.
A release plan in four separate releases has been agreed upon between the squad and the product manager for the sample mission:
- Release 1:
- UI for new rule feature
- Price regulations for competitors
- Release 2:
- Rule of shipping urgency
- Total order rule
- Setting priorities by rules
- Release 3:
- Availability of inventory rule
- The rule of visualisation application
- Release 4:
- Premium customers get a discount
It has been determined that Release 3 shall be the demonstration for the fourth week. As there have been numerous releases implemented throughout the development process, it is essential to track the targeted business goal (in this case, user engagement) from the commencement of the development cycle.
Incorporating a buffer period of one or two weeks is a common practice in Mission Driven Development implementations and other scaling frameworks, such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). This technique is used to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved and that any potential issues are resolved in a timely manner.
At every stage of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) lifecycle, an innovation and planning iteration is included. This iteration serves as an important context changer that enables the implementation of processes and activities that are typically excluded in frameworks that prioritise delivery. During this buffer week, a variety of activities may take place, such as exploration, invention, and more.
- At the end of the six-week cycle, it is essential to ensure proper integration, verification, documentation, and validation of the solution. Allocating dedicated time to this endeavour can help ensure a smooth and successful integration of the new solution into existing products.
- Prioritising and mission planning is an important process in order to ensure the success of the development cycle. To facilitate this process, many organisations utilise pitch days, where the team is presented with the highest priority missions and then collaboratively decide which will be implemented during the upcoming development cycle. This helps to ensure that the most important tasks are given the attention they deserve.
- Hackathons have become increasingly popular among startups and businesses as they provide an opportunity to promote creative thinking, build a sense of community, and acquire new knowledge and skills in a fun and collaborative environment. The results of these hackathons are then shared with others and are often added to the Mission Backlog as potential projects.
- At our organisation, we encourage our engineers and designers to take the initiative to develop experimental prototypes or side projects as part of their job. This practice allows them to explore their creativity and broaden their skillset, which ultimately benefits the company. We expect that upon completion of the designated buffer period, these professionals will be able to demonstrate their completed work.
- Working in the field of engineering can involve a variety of tasks and responsibilities. Infrastructure development, test automation, technical debt reduction and system migrations are typical examples of activities that are purely engineering-related.
- In order to ensure that developers remain up-to-date with the latest advancements in technology, it is essential that they acquire new skills and information on a regular basis. To facilitate this process, organisations should provide their developers with ample opportunities for on-site training, joining communities of practice, and attending technology workshops. This will help to ensure that developers remain at the forefront of the ever-evolving global technological landscape.
Buffer intervals should be based on recognised knowledge gaps, innovation goals, and next cycle demands.
According to Basecamp Co-founder Jason Fried, a common practice for selecting objectives for the subsequent development phase is to differentiate between small and large batches. Small batches refer to minor changes or tasks, while large batches signify major product features or functions. As an example, the proposed mission for a new feature could be considered a large batch.
It is imperative to have a balanced approach when planning projects; this should involve having a combination of both short and long-term goals. Short-term goals should typically take between three to four weeks to complete, while larger and more complex goals may take up to six weeks or more. This balanced approach will ensure that projects are completed in a timely and efficient manner.
If the small-batch team is able to meet the deadline and complete its task by either week 3 or 4, they will be given the opportunity to decide whether they should continue refining their existing solution, provide assistance to another squad, accept a new small-batch assignment, or take on any additional unplanned work.
Ensuring a balanced ratio of large and small batches enables employees to work at an optimal capacity, allowing them to adapt and respond to any unforeseen tasks that may arise. Both large and small batch teams should be given adequate attention throughout the cycle, with particular emphasis on the latter in order to accommodate any sudden changes in the workload.
By combining small and large batches, organisations can minimise risk while still achieving their desired outcomes. Introducing too many new features at once can have a negative impact on user experience, so effective change management should be incorporated to ensure a successful transition. Furthermore, having smaller batches allows teams to be more agile in the event of unanticipated work, as there will be more capacity available to accommodate changes. Finally, having a balance of large and small batches reduces the risk of failure, as the organisation can avoid demoralising the teams should the iteration not end in success.
The Dangers of Mission-Driven Development
There are several advantages to adopting Mission Driven Development, but like with any prescriptive framework, there are certain hazards to consider.
Mission objectives should be achievable, taking into consideration the skill sets and capabilities of the squad. If the tasks are overly difficult, or not in line with the squad’s abilities, it can have a detrimental effect on the success of the mission.
Excessively ambitious missions can lead to feelings of irritation and anxiety, which can negatively impact team performance. Conversely, an uninspiring task can lead to a lack of motivation and boredom among team members. To ensure maximum productivity, it is important to maintain a Minimum Viable Product attitude when it comes to the structure of the project.
The Purpose of a Mission
A comprehensive explanation of the issue area and how it aligns with the corporate vision should be a part of any strong business mission. Without a clear connection between the two, potentially valuable insights may be overlooked due to a lack of understanding of the impact of issue resolution on corporate goals.
Over the course of the six-week development cycle, it is common for teams to adopt a waterfall model. This is primarily due to the pressure to deploy quickly at the end of the cycle, as well as the desire to include as much scope as possible in the mission. These tendencies can be mitigated by encouraging continuous delivery approaches, which will enable Agile releases throughout the cycle and reduce the risk of slipping into a waterfall-style development process.
Product operations duties, such as maintaining infrastructure, providing services, and monitoring components, should not be the responsibility of squads as it could have an adverse effect on the velocity of their work. Adopting development standards and methods, such as atomic design, can help to streamline development efforts and promote scalability. An alternative approach is to have a central operations team dedicated to managing both product operations and infrastructure, as well as monitoring.
Six-Week Cycle as a Myopic Structure
In some cases, the framework may be inadequate for the task at hand, particularly when dealing with complex and extensive systems that could have a major impact on customer satisfaction, such as research and development projects or critical system migrations.
A Simple Method for Scaling Agile
As businesses continue to grow, they are increasingly facing the challenge of scaling Agile to keep up with product development and corporate expansion. To address this issue, the Mission Driven Development (MDD) framework has been established as an alternate Agile technique. This framework is gaining popularity due to its easy implementation and execution. MDD allows organisations to initiate a comprehensive, cross-functional product innovation process, from discovery to delivery, thus filling in the gaps left by standard Agile frameworks. Consequently, Mission Driven Development has the potential to supersede Scrum in businesses that are expanding.