• Saugata Das

Beginner's Guide to Scaling Agility Using Product Canvas

Traditionally Product Canvas has been used as a planning tool which allows an organization to map out the various aspects of a product with a sharp focus on building features to support the product. It allows Agile principles to be intertwined with UX best practices.

The same product canvas, with a few modifications, can be used as a highly effective tool to drive strategic initiatives in a scaled agile environment. In this article I will articulate the steps required to successfully accomplish this.


The Product Canvas


Modified Product Canvas

You can learn the details about product canvas from Roman Pichler's article. I will delve deeper into the details that can enable us to reach our goal of carving out goals/key results/metrics.

As an example we will take the case of an organization called Z Inc. Z sells bikes on its digital channel. It allows multiple bids on every bike in its inventory and sells to the highest bidder. Z has decided to scale up its operations and use a scaled agile environment. As part of that Z is creating a mechanism to track its goals/milestones and key results so that it can achieve its strategic initiatives or pivot based on market feedback.

Let us look at each section in detail -

I. Name -

The name of your product. This should be a banner for all teams working for this product.

Z has decided to name this as Bid & Buy to make a simple and direct statement about the product. It uses the product name to identify any aspect related to product discussion.

II. Vision -

This section should define a summary of the long term goals. It may contain BAG (Bold Audacious Goal) as well. This will give direction to the teams and strategic initiatives whenever there is any confusion.

Z Inc has decided to strategically focus on two aspects - Sales and User Experience. It wants to increase not only volume but vibrancy, i.e, number of bids per inventory. It also wants to enable a user to have an experience which is equivalent to how a user would feel bidding on an item in the physical world.

III. Big Picture

This section should define the initiatives and the milestones and expected outcomes in detail. The initiatives should be derived from the vision and help the organization prioritize and synchronize activities, goals and metrics. The milestones and outcomes should be defined at a granular level. The process to finalize the milestones and outcomes should include discussion between representatives of complete organizational setup. The representatives should ensure the milestones and outcomes are achievable yet be stretch goals. Setting expected outcomes too low does not boost morale, it inadvertently reduces productivity and brings in complacency.

Z Inc ensures all groups within its organizational setup participates in these discussions with the ownership for the plan residing at the director level. The team starts by deriving the strategic initiatives from the vision statement. As Z already has a loyal albeit small customer base, the first initiative is not to lose any current market share. Simply put any feature which reduces churn of current users and/or increases loyalty among current users should be prioritized.
The next initiative is to broaden the reach of its digital platform. Z wants to not only cater to a niche market space but appeal to a much larger customer segment. Their research has shown that they can reach both a broader age group as well as create traction among different pricing segment. This can be done by releasing specific features and advertising the value addition through digital marketing simultaneously.
The last initiative that the team draws up is to increase vibrancy, which is the number of bids per sale item. The team has come to the conclusion looking at the market survey, that by increasing vibrancy they have a better chance of increasing volume but more importantly create a larger loyal customer base. Again, this can be achieved through focused delivery of specific features targeting situational loyals or active disloyals.
Z Inc then goes on to identify broad milestones for the whole year. These are overarching milestones, including all sections of the organization. As an example, VR capability to view sale items will be added for all users by end of year 2022.
These milestones are then broken into quarterly milestones. E.g, Capability to view sale items in 360 degree will be added in Q1. MVP with VR capability to be launched darkly for a small section of customers by Q3. Note that the milestones will not only include delivery, deployment but also involvement of marketing, sales, legal etc teams.
Similarly, outcomes are initially identified on a yearly basis. These are then drilled down to quarterly outcomes. E.g, 20% CAGR y-o-y to be achieved. This can be broken down into Q1 goal of release AI feedback loop, with Q2 goal of 10% increase in performance per sale. These outcome gaols or key results then go on to drive key results of individual teams of the organization.

IV. Solution

This section describes the business solution to reach the goals and achieve strategic objectives et earlier. Along with the business solution some details of technical solution can also be offered. However, the primary objective of this section is to outline the business solution which will enable the organization to achieve the strategic goals it has set out for itself.

Z Inc has decided that the way to achieve its goals is through enabling its sellers the ability to sell inventory as and when its available instead of waiting for a fixed time period. This solution will then be inherited by teams (technical, marketing, sales etc) to ensure that all work towards ensuring this solution reaches the market as per the milestones prescribed in Section III.

V. Metrics

The last section charts out the metrics which the organization will follow to check if its achieving its goals or should it pivot. These metrics are aligned to the milestones and outcomes finalized in section III. These need to be reviewed in a regular cadence to ensure that checkpoints are not missed to align the organization and take remedial steps where and when needed.

Z Inc decides to use delivery metrics of completed versus committed per quarter as well as lead times to check productivity. For business goals the metrics to be followed are sales volume and sale vibrancy.
Combined together this will help inform the organization any issues arising in delivery or business outcomes.

 

Enabling scaled agility through scope hierarchy


Once the product canvas has been established, we can start creating a plan based on information available. The delivery plan should be in detail for the immediate quarter and in high level terms for upcoming quarters.


Initiative

Differentiate business objectives for an organization and acts as a conduit connecting delivery goals to strategy of the organization. They provide business context for decision-making. An initiative/theme should be taken as a binding long term strategic goal and should be identified for a minimum of 1 year.


Features

A Feature is a service that fulfills a stakeholder need. It is a partial product which adds specific value for the end user. A feature can be directly associated with a strategic initiative and when created in this manner should inherit the goals and business context of the initiative. A feature also takes a long term view of both delivery and business goals.

Z Inc creates a feature which enables users to view full price of any item to be charged on delivery. This allows users to assess actual cost of items and enables transparency. In the long run, Z believes this increases loyalty and ensures broader reach of its digital platform conforming to its second strategic initiative.

Having decided on this feature, the organization is now able to enable its teams to work towards delivering its business goals. Every team and its members are aware of not only the strategic initiative but its milestones, metrics and key results. They can therefore, work towards organizing around the delivery goals. The teams start decomposing the feature into logical pieces of activity which describes the context of the solution they are building. As an example, the complete list of taxes on sale of an item needs to be updated to the user before the sale is complete. These pieces provide information about the solution (WHAT) which needs to be built and give fodder for engineering, architecture, infrastructure etc personnel to come together to brainstorm the solution (HOW). The teams if not yet formed, can self-organize around the solution thus, found. Once teams have understood the solution to be built, the items are decomposed into smaller chunks of activity which provide smaller business goals and enable short delivery cycles matched to sprints. These are the smallest items to be delivered which form stories in agile framework.


Stories

Teams are now set to start delivering towards their goal within the prescribed sprint (2-4 weeks). Depending on how the organization has decided to scale agility, at prescribed cadence, it can review the achievements of its teams through the metrics mentioned both in terms of delivery and business goals. This gives the organization a chance to pivot in its delivery at regular cadence. It also gives the organization a chance to pivot its strategy every quarter in case it finds a disconnect between its vision and market realities.


 

Enabling scaled agility through organizational setup


Teams can be setup in multiple ways in order to provide the business solutions mentioned in earlier sections. Two of the mechanism are mentioned below:

I) Scaling based on Programs


A setup which is directed towards a particular program which includes multiple teams working towards a common business goal. Regardless of the scaling framework being used, the program is used as an instrument to ensure that teams working towards specific initiatives delivering specified business solution work together and are dedicated without any distractions. The program manager will lead the activities and inform the milestones and key results to the larger audience. The teams work together through the program lifetime. They disperse once the business goals are achieved or program is drawn to a close.


II) Scaling based on Portfolio


Investment and outcomes are directly linked to the strategic initiatives within the portfolio. Teams are setup in order to be able to work together towards the strategic goals of the portfolio. Based on review of key results, teams might be assigned to different initiatives. The assignment is part of prioritization which is done on a regular cadence with all members of the portfolio. The portfolio members work towards initiatives through long time periods during which the initiatives themselves are reviewed and can change based on business realities. Teams do not disperse throughout the process but are apt to be restructured based on revised goals.


 

Conclusion

These are some of the ways in which a data driven strategic initiative based direction can help organizations scale their agile teams and activities.


About Me : A passionate Agile leader having 16+ years of experience in software industry, I have handled Agile projects of various complexities. Having successfully handled Agile transition for multiple organizations, I write about my experiences, challenges and some solutions. Read more about the solution I have provided


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