Monday, November 18, 2013

Agile Product Owner, What Does the Data Tell You?

Agile Product Development Leveraging Data
The number one question that I ask agile product owners these days is simple, "What does the data tell you?"

To develop excellent web 2.0 products, it may have been sufficient for product owners to understand workflow needs or to define user pain points that need addressing. A reasonable recipe for product owners often includes identifying core users, developing an application that simplifies workflow for them, designing an intuitive, easy to understand user experience, and ideally introducing content or collaboration capabilities to improve "stickiness". Diving down into agile user stories, these artifacts usually prescribe what the user wants to do and the acceptance criteria and parameters acceptable to the transaction. 

As I recently explained in an interview for PWC's Technology Forecast, today's applications need to adjust to the user, one can no longer develop a single workflow or user interface that is applicable to all user segments. Mobile interfaces need to adjust to context including location, screen size, social network, bandwidth, and what users must do quickly and easily. Collaboration has a lot more significance in today's applications when multiple parties can interact in context and perform transactions.

With so many technology options today, if you're not leveraging data to define and manage the product, you might find that you've developed an interesting but not useful product. Users may download the app from the App Store, but not use it beyond month one. An enterprise might buy a hundred seats to the tool, but only a small percentage of them are using it on a regular basis.

Leveraging Data to Define the Product

So where is the use of data in this articulation of priority, requirement, or acceptance criteria when the product owner is working with his or her development team?

In my experience, the answer varies considerably depending on the product owner's beliefs and skills in leveraging data and values in working with his or her team. If the product owner is proficient working with data and is highly collaborative working with the technology team, it is more likely he or she will present and leverage data in defining user stories. That alone isn't sufficient because to be successful, the technology team needs to partner in understanding the data, developing additional analysis, and leveraging the findings in developing great products. If the overall team is weak in leveraging data, then management should come in to influence the culture.

Teams can start this change with one simple question, "What data do we have?"

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