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Why agile planning needs to focus on the journey as much as the destination

agile planning
Guest post by David Landry

Former Elabor8er, David Landry has been leading significant technology and business change projects for over 30 years.

As much of a paradox as it sounds, sometimes the best ideas just don’t work. In an eagerness to get to market quickly, effort is often focused on what is believed to be the end goal without a full understanding of the broader context — and the wrong solution is delivered. In other cases, the need to account for learnings through the process is overlooked in the name of agility, leaving a market that’s unready for the solution you’ve delivered, even if it is right.

Sound agile planning isn’t about focusing on how to get to the end state quicker; it’s about informing each step of the process along the way to help you identify and deal with complexity. Agile planning allows you to develop a deep understanding of the ecosystem and the behavioural change that will be required in order for your solution to reach the true end state.

The journey matters as much as the destination

The introduction of Myki in the Victorian Public Transport system is a case in point. In 2009, the introduction of a smart, paperless ticketing system was heralded as the rival of world leading-solutions like London’s Oyster Card and yet the product development and implementation were fraught with issues. In the race to get to market quickly, the development and implementation process failed to identify and respond to essential aspects about how customers would want to use Myki.

For instance, commuters were unable to purchase or top-up Myki cards on trams and buses, even though this is one of the primary locations they would discover they did not have enough credit.

While the Melbourne CBD was populated with many top-up kiosks, their availability in the sprawling suburbs of Melbourne were sparse — where many commuters would begin their daily journey. And long queues at top-up kiosks meant many commuters missed their ride. Those commuters who prepared in advance and went online to top-up their card were rewarded with a 24-hour wait before their balance was updated.

Each of these issues frustrated users and discouraged people from using their Myki and the public transport system. While the idea of paperless tickets was appealing, from the moment the tender documents were being drafted, the execution failed to take into account how and when customers would use the system and the infrastructure that would be required to encourage adoption. While the end goal of introducing paperless ticketing was achieved, the planning didn’t consider what was essential to make it a success.

It pays to consider your customers’ context

A company that understands the importance of looking beyond the destination when designing its product is Afterpay. Targeted at millennials, Afterpay is a financial solution that lets customers buy now and pay later for everyday items from clothing to kids toys. The product has had remarkable success with over 1.5 million users acquired with a marketing spend of less than $100,000.

The company focused on consumer behaviour when planning their product, leveraging their knowledge of cognitive biases which has been key to their success. By delaying the pain of payment, breaking the total purchase price down into four smaller, more manageable payments, and aligning it with a great in-store experience, Afterpay has removed many barriers for customers considering a purchase.

By integrating their understanding of consumer behaviour into their planning process, Afterpay didn’t trade in agility to achieve their end-goal. Instead, it became an integral part of their agile planning process. For example, they understood that consumers would be less likely to abandon a purchase if they remained within the retail experience, so the product was integrated into existing retail systems rather than directing customers to another website or process.

Another aspect of Afterpay’s appeal is its customer-centricity. Recognising that most people are paid fortnightly Afterpay allows customers to pay for their goods in fortnightly instalments. This direct alignment adds to its simplicity – it feels effortless for customers to use their product. To achieve this, Afterpay incorporated retail infrastructure, processes and consumer preferences into their product design.

Afterpay also considered the broader market context in structuring their business model, designing their product outside the highly regulated Australian Credit Licensing framework. Rather than being required to charge interest, like other similar lay-by products, Afterpay does not need to hold an Australian Credit Licence or support the complex and costly infrastructure that this requires. Instead, retailers are charted a fee for using their service rather than the purchaser, further cementing their customer-centric approach.

Agile planning helps you deal with complexity

Agile planning isn’t about speed; it’s about getting you closer to your endpoint successfully. This involves looking at the entire ecosystem that technology operates in and ensuring it solves your customer’s pain points without creating new ones. To achieve this your technology or process cannot be looked at in isolation.

Key to achieving this is to include customer insights from the very beginning of the agile planning process. Research has found that involving potential customers early on in the design phase can increase their satisfaction and potentially help you create a receptive audience when you’re ready to launch. Rather than waiting until you have a minimum viable product, let customers show you how they might use your product and what will be required for them to adopt it quickly.

If customers are resistant in the early stages of development, it is much more cost-effective and quicker to address these issues before they become integrated into the product. How early on in the process you can engage customers will depend on your product and the type of feedback that they provide. For example, if a customer engagement phase had occurred before the tender stage in the Myki implementation it would have made it effortless to identify critical requirements such as the ideal timing and location for top-ups.

While it’s been traditional for development and implementation to be two separate processes, ideally they should be integrated. Successful technology launches are just as much about connectivity as they are about great software. Connecting developers with the execution process ensures they understand the ecosystem that the product exists in and how it will be used so that friction can be removed from the user experience and essential factors incorporated into the agile planning process. Even simple things like confusing user training manuals can derail the best products before they’ve had a chance to get off the ground.

Key to any agile planning process is to keep your eye on the prize. That prize is a successful product, which often requires more than just having a great idea and clever code. It’s about understanding that the product must make your customer’s life better to be successful. This is where agile planning can make a real difference. It doesn’t involve rushing towards the end state, it’s about getting closer to the customer and the environment in which they live so you can deal with the complexities that come with creating a product that is desirable to them.

Being able to spot an opportunity is one thing; being ready to capture it is another. That’s why we work from within to unlock the promise of agility. Through advisory, coaching and training, we create an environment that frees people to respond to opportunities for innovation. Get traction, and quickly.

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