Anyone responsible for managing business results is also keen to enhance those results by improving their business performance. Regardless of what strategies they use, managers are expected to regularly review and improve business processes. Not only to grow sales or expand margins, but as a condition of continuous business survival.
At the same time, companies must respect what their customers want from their business, or they won’t succeed. From this perspective, changing the way you run your business shouldn’t contradict customer expectations. For example, customers want to pay less for your products, but not at the expense of switching to cheaper production processes that might be bad for the environment.
It’s simpler when dealing with commodities
By their very nature, physical commodities are simpler to deal with when balancing improvements to business processes against customer expectations. When you manufacture a standard product that is a perfect fit for most customers, you can find improvements to business processes through productivity gains.
However, if you try and move away from producing one-size-fits-all solutions to accommodate the needs of different clients, you lose the economies of scale that make commodity production simpler to manage, monitor, and improve.
This problem is especially true when looking at the digital world. When delivering online services, software, and apps, there is plenty of room to innovate and provide flexible solutions to your customers. But you can only achieve the same levels of productivity improvements as physical commodities if your digital business processes are flexible enough to adapt to customer requirements. And that flexibility can only occur if your business processes have the agility to adapt to your customer needs.
The very nature of software development methods makes traditional high-scale production processes unsuitable for the digital world. At some point and some level, software development drives you to experimentation while constantly assessing your customer’s needs and adapting your products accordingly.
The challenges of the digital world
Today, software companies understand that economies of scale no longer apply and have moved away from traditional predictive management approaches to, instead, focus on the needs of customers. They recognize that awareness and agility is now the mandatory rule of survival.
When dealing with customer needs that change frenetically, you must take a different approach to improve your production processing while, at the same time, providing value-added flavors to differentiate your products from your competition. This perspective is what most people call the innovation process: a customer-oriented feedback loop where you gather information, extract insights, create, deliver and realize value, get further feedback, and iterate as many times as possible. That is what we call the product lifecycle.
The challenge then is to define how fast you iterate through this process and how efficiently you can shape your business on its agility. And time-to-market is intrinsically related to the mechanics of this feedback loop. This is what is called the scrum, as defined in agile sprint methodology.
As an agile business, your goal should be about collecting feedback, not just deploying and adding value. Feedback collection is key to adapting to customer needs and moving forward. Your feedback loop’s consistency and frequency is not only good practice, but allows you to fine-tune the process, creating time boundaries that enable you to quickly adapt to new customer requirements.
The importance of time-box and time-to-market
These boundaries, such as maximum time limits, is what we call time-box. In general, the smaller your time-box, the better. Scrum methodology includes lots of opportunities to inspect and adapt, and time-box is crucial to keeping your goals on-track so you can continuously adapt to the current customer needs. Everything has a maximum time to fail, and if you do fail, you have plenty of opportunities to change direction and redirect your efforts. This is why time-to-market relies on time-box.
A sprint is a container that should recognize the feedback’s objectives from a high-view perspective, enabling frequent, transparent, better aligned, and adaptable deliveries to the customer. By recognizing this, businesses can hopefully avoid the mistake of saying that with scrum methodology, you should only deliver updates when a sprint is done.
Associating a sprint with delivery is fair but frequently misunderstood. A sprint is better associated with collecting feedback to expand the delivery frequency from only once per sprint to at least once per sprint. Understanding this difference will open another perspective that is more natural and frictionless: you can deploy many times during a sprint.
The importance of flow to your time-box
If you need to, you can deploy updates every single day to meet your customer’s needs. If you can’t, the question should be: what is stopping you from moving in this direction? This problem is about flow and how to achieve a smoother flow, and how your flow can be optimized to be more productive based on addressing any bottlenecks you might have.
Your time-box is also a placeholder used to set a limit to the amount of time you have to produce some increment of value, inspect it, and adapt. Specifically, for a sprint, it also creates the opportunity to hear your stakeholder’s voice and improve the value of each delivery, not only in terms of flow but also about prioritizing what brings the most value.
The concepts explored in this post are exactly what we’ve experienced day after day for more than thirty years experiences and enabling clients to see their products through their customer’s eyes. And time-box is the crucial element to continuously optimizing the flow, especially where shorter time-to-market is the goal.
At that point, you will see the benefits of agile scrum methodology by interactively and collaboratively creating a customer-oriented mindset and establishing proper conditions for business agility.