If you find that your in-house development team is regularly missing deadlines, or projects aren’t moving forward as quickly or efficiently as you’d like, it can be difficult to know how to tackle the issue. Outsourcing your product development may seem like the only option, yet this is an extreme solution that will bring with it high levels of disruption and some very tricky conversations.
However, there are things you can do to ramp up delivery without requiring wholesale team changes, as the issues you’re experiencing are probably not down to the efforts being made by your developers. Instead, they’re probably dealing with multiple disparate requests that make sustained feature development challenging, and additionally may not have access to the tools they need to work most effectively.
In these situations calling on a Product Acceleration Team can give you valuable additional support where it’s most needed, while also enabling you to upskill your team so they’re better equipped to manage their workload in the long-term. In this article I’ll be exploring how a product acceleration service works in practice, along with some examples of the benefits that can be realised if you get your setup right, to help you move forward in the right direction.
At its heart, a product acceleration model augments your existing capacity with individuals from an outside source (typically an agency), working as an embedded part of your team to provide support in meeting delivery deadlines and managing heavy workloads. A key selling point of this approach is its flexibility, as you can bring in a range of different roles for a temporary (or extended) period of time until issues have been resolved and goals met.
Examples of the roles and services that can be served by a product acceleration team include:
If your team is overstretched, bringing in experienced outside support is an obvious way to boost development velocity. Engaging a product acceleration team also allows you to target your efforts more effectively; for example, if a previous lack of capacity has led to the build-up of harmful technical debt you may want an external developer who can focus solely on bug fixes. This both allows your team to get on with feature development and ensures you’re building on a robust foundation (and is in fact an approach we use at Box UK as part of our ‘sprint doctor’ model).
It’s not just a lack of development capacity that can cause your projects to go off-track. If there’s no one to guide the direction of your product you may find yourself working on features and functionality that don’t deliver value or align with your wider business strategy. Here an external product owner and/or project manager can be a valuable addition to your team, increasing delivery speed, quality and impact for minimal overhead.
If delivery speed isn’t a problem, but the quality is, consider bringing in outside testing support to help address the issue. Not only will this provide you with immediate validation as to what is and isn’t working, and the feedback you need to make improvements, a qualified testing team can also put in place repeatable frameworks and processes that will enable your own team to take on this responsibility in time.
There’s an enormous incentive to create a great user experience, as the better your users are able to navigate and interact with your products and services, the more popular and profitable they become. Yet many organisations lack the internal skills needed to deliver this, so may wish to bring in external expertise to deliver the insight and outputs required; from initial research and prototyping through to iterative, feedback-led design, or reviews of existing products.
Due to the flexibility and variety inherent in the product acceleration model, it has the potential to positively impact projects and teams of all shapes and sizes. There are, however, some useful indicators of where investment could be particularly beneficial, including:
An obvious sign that something’s wrong, these symptoms are often accepted as an inherent part of software development. However, these delays are typically caused by a combination of overstretched internal developers and processes that haven’t been optimised for maximum efficiency (often, ironically, because there isn’t time to focus on making these kinds of improvements).
A product acceleration function can help you address both these issues, giving you capacity to meet immediate deadlines while also introducing processes that will enable you to work more efficiently (and estimate more effectively!) in future.
When you’re under pressure to deliver it’s easy to get focused on checking off features and meeting agreed deadlines, but if your software product doesn’t support and further your business aims, is it truly a success?
Often, identifying that this is an issue requires a shift in mindset so that your development efforts can be tied to clearly-identified business metrics, tracked over time to measure success and highlight further areas for improvement. Taking the time to do this though can definitely have an impact on your effectiveness, and it’s this breathing space that product acceleration can give, along with guidance on moving to a more value-focused approach.
This typically goes hand-in-hand with software that doesn’t perform against business goals, as if your product isn’t useful or enjoyable users aren’t going to want to return to it. Creating a great experience, conversely, can generate a large, engaged and valuable audience that translates to increased usage, subscriptions and purchases for your business.
Delivering this however requires that user insight and feedback be baked into every stage of your development process; again, something that’s often deprioritised in the rush to deliver features.
Again, this is usually the result of teams struggling to meet challenging (and possibly unrealistic deadlines), and subsequently not taking the time to put in place robust testing or deployment processes, as the value of these can’t be quantified or illustrated as easily as feature delivery.
A dedicated product acceleration team can help you set up these processes, ultimately giving you regular, confident deliveries and speeding up development over the long-term.
Want an easy way to find out how smooth your development process actually is, and how it could be improved? Ask your team! With a front-line perspective of your products and projects, they’re sure to be able to offer valuable insight into the issues being experienced and their root causes.
Your development team will also be among the first to feel the strain of a heavy or disruptive workload, and with obvious benefits to be had from investing in employee wellbeing, bringing in external help can make a big difference to your business at multiple levels.
If you’re suffering from any of the above problems, it’s worth looking into ways that product acceleration can work for you. However, while the flexibility of the approach provides a great deal of its value, it can also make it difficult to know where to begin. There are a number of steps you can take though to guide your efforts…
First, start by identifying the gaps in your current team, so that you can bring in the right roles to make the biggest impact with the smallest overhead. As mentioned, talking to your developers will help reveal where these gaps are, but you should also look at pulling together any empirical data you have available. Information from project burndown charts, team timesheets and development roadmaps, for example, can show you where capacity is stretched, along with other trends such as development cadence or seasonal changes that can further help inform where and when you may need to bring additional people in.
You should also use any data at your disposal to investigate where your processes could be improved. Tracking how long tasks spend in each stage of the delivery process will enable you to identify common bottlenecks or broken processes, and subsequently help guide how your external team can support you over the long-term. This may include:
Once you’re ready to bring in your external team, it’s vital that you take the time to onboard them effectively so they can start delivering without delay. If you’re working with an experienced product acceleration team they should be able to help you scope and shape these onboarding activities, but it may well include: sharing any project or process documentation; setting aside time to interview or shadow internal team members; and providing access to analytics and other data.
As an aside, it’s important to clearly communicate whether any particular accreditations are required (for example specific security clearance). This will ensure that you select an external partner that’s right for you, or give your supplier time to put the necessary actions in place before work begins.
Finally, plan for how you might decrease your reliance on your product acceleration support as your workload is brought back under control. Obviously, it’s unlikely that you’ll know for sure how long you’ll need your team for at the outset, but it’s useful to start thinking early about the key milestones you want to achieve and measure progress toward these. You might also be able to plan for gradually handing over responsibilities to internal team members as they’re upskilled in new techniques and processes, in conjunction with the introduction of more streamlined and automated ways of working.
When you’re not delivering software as quickly or successfully as you need to it can feel like there’s no way to break your current cycle, particularly with the global uncertainty making it difficult to plan for future growth. However, in this climate it’s also crucial to maintain momentum in your software delivery – using a flexible yet targeted product acceleration team is a highly appealing option to explore further.