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Product innovation means knowing when agile may get in the way of progress

Product innovation means knowing when agile may get in the way of progress

As an agile trained Product Manager working with large corporations on emerging technology programs, I have certainly run into challenges.  That’s to be expected, and jumping into a new organization isn’t easy, especially when existing culture has been trained to avoid taking too much risk.  In industries like healthcare, finance and transportation that risk is justified since people can get hurt and fortunes can be lost if you screw up. Even if your product is the next best thing since a Tesla Model S, it needs to fit into the company’s workflow and security protocols, or it will be useless. For that reason, the home stretch of successful product management in these cases is the plan for integration and implementation. 

Here are a few tips that will help you succeed in your integration and ultimately launch a valuable product.

You don’t know it all.

As a Product person, you won’t be the expert in a system integration. The IT team lives and breathes in their existing systems. Use your resources, build relationships with the staff, and don’t try to do it all yourself. You have stakeholders and subject matter experts that are more knowledgeable than you on this topic. Ask them questions and get the information you need to be successful.

Don’t let the agile process get in the way.

As a Product Manager, you naturally want every process to be agile. Personally, I am all on board for bringing agile into non-product development tasks / groups. However, this is not one of those times. By being an agent of change and showing the team what agile can do for their business, you side track your goal, which is to launch your product. After all, agile development favors real progress over documentation. Integration is a necessary step and the fastest way to get from point A to point B; in this case, it is to work within their system.

Accept the IT & security process and work with it. Typically, IT teams have very rigid processes for taking on projects and getting approvals. As much as you may think they are inefficient and not effective, it’s not your battle to pick.

First, you need their buy in. By acting as a disrupter, you will have the IT team working against you, not for you. Second, it takes too long. There are thousands of books on change management and implementing agile into organizations. That takes a lot of skill, time and authority. In order to really change people’s beliefs, you need significant time. Agile is very efficient, but only when there is a sense of unity by all project participants.

Follow up.

Success is all about the follow up. While it seems trivial, the follow up is the most important part of the process. Following up means over communication. Set agendas for meetings, action items and regular check-ins with business stakeholders. Even if you think you’re being annoying, it will most likely help the team in the long run.  

This integration is probably  one of many projects in the grand scheme of the organization. Although you may be juggling many projects (which most of us do), make sure to treat this like your number one priority.

Someone needs to be the person consistently following up and moving the process along or it will take double the time it should.

Be that person.

Speak everyone’s language.

IT integration can get very technical and you could easily get bogged down in the details. Typically, your business stakeholders are non-technical people and don’t care about how one data field maps to another. They care about results.

As a manager of the process, it’s your job to convert the highly technical detailed language into updates and action items that business stakeholders can understand.

The IT team may know the legacy system like the back of their hand, but you know the system you built better than anyone else. Continuously thinking about edge cases to circumvent potential errors will be invaluable.

It’s not over just yet.

Lastly, the integration isn’t complete with the last user acceptance sign off. Once it goes live, there will always be outlier use cases that no one is prepared for. It is your responsibility to get the team back together to fix those issues. This is why it is very important to have built a strong team culture  during the integration.

Finally, write down your learnings. Integrations are unpredictable but each time you complete a systemwide integration, you learn a lot. You will always improve your ability to identify potential project derailments. Don’t let those learnings go to waste. Bring the team together once more for a retrospective.