Continuous Delivery allows us to Build, Measure and Learn, but how do you know what to build? Whether you have established products in the market or you simply have an idea of a product to fit a gap that you’ve seen, how do you get started on that journey and how do you know that your customers will love what you make?
That's where Continuous Design practices can drive the evolution of your product. Jason Furnell and I recently presented the ThoughtWorks thinking on Continuous Design at the inaugural Australian ThoughtWorks Live Conference.
We began by painting the familiar picture of traditional design practices that date back hundreds of years through our history of print, architecture and manufacturing. This is a world of big upfront design that assumes that design must be thoroughly specified and tested prior to production. What this has meant for software delivery is large upfront research phases followed by extensive design activities aimed at delivering a high fidelity prototype or documented design specification.
Designers quite like this process, because they are in control of the deliverables, which generally look slick and fabulous. It also may appear a risk free process for businesses because they know the full scope and requirements, budget and timeframe upfront and this helps them secure funding and drives the procurement process.
But the traditional approach to design isn’t as risk free as it looks on a project plan. The problems are well understood by companies that have embraced a more agile approach:
· Upfront design can take a very long time – ruling out speed to market
· Upfront design is not focused upon the minimal viable product, quite the opposite – all the activities are geared towards an exhaustively over-engineered product of which a large part of the functionality may be of little value to customers
· Big upfront design projects are more expensive than the comparable integrated design activities that can be run in parallel with the build
· Products designed with front-loaded design often miss the mark with customers once the product is finally launched.
What’s is surprising is that even with the uptake of agile methodologies, big up front design practices are still alive and well.
At the conference we presented the Continuous Design approach as an alternative to traditional design practices. Core to this approach are the five thinking modes of:
1. Empathy - really feeling customer needs, motivations, fears and goals. This requires a continuous stream of activity focused on learning more about your customers.
2. Creativity – a structured and facilitated process for inclusive group ideation methods for rapidly harnessing the creative powers of multidisciplinary teams.
3. Rationality - Guiding the team on a design journey, focusing on prioritisation and creating a shared understanding of the objectives through breaking the problem down into parts and ensuring a rigorous and structured project approach to execution.
4. Agility – being adaptive to new customer insights and iteratively crafting the envisioned product into customer-validated experiences.
5. Measurability - fine-tuning and responding to real world data; scanning for patterns and human footprints. Measurement allows us to drive continuous improvement and assess the success of new product features.
What do organisations need in order to adopt continuous design practices? Balanced teams and an ownership of the design of both their products and their customer experience.
Key to success of Continuous Design and Delivery is the notion of ‘balanced teams’. These teams need to comprise of product owners, researchers, designers, developers and testers. It is through the daily collaboration and feedback of this team, that design decisions can be made based upon up-to-date information from their customers, the business and the technologists. These teams function through their ability to measure and learn, not just build. Building balanced "business teams", rather than single focus "delivery teams" is key to creating an environment where continuous design can take hold and thrive.
Ownership of the design
Increasingly businesses are realizing that they need to foster a practice of organization wide ‘design thinking’ in order to solve complex problems in new and innovative ways. Channeling the raw ideas within the business and the needs and requests of their customers into a pipeline of innovation can provide the raw fuel for continuous design. If businesses completely outsource the design of their products to external agencies then they are less likely to take full ownership of their customer experience. Because Continuous Design practices are evolutionary in nature, as opposed to a point in time project, they need to find a home within the business. Product teams must not divest themselves of the responsibility of design and continuous improvement if they want their products to evolve and continuously outperform in the market.
Core to the principles of Agile and Continuous Delivery is the idea of the minimal viable product. Continuous design and delivery practices ensure that this minimal viable product will continue to evolve and improve based upon the regular feedback and measurement of the customer experience.