Uniting Agile, Strategy, and Jobs-to-be-Done
There’s a tug-a-war going on across three interrelated topics. Each drives superb product development. Yet the three topics act independently.
The Agile approach is found in every corner of product development. Its first mission was to uncover a new way to develop software successfully. But following its success, it now extends further than its software roots.
Agile’s core principle is to avoid rigid practices and work in sprints and scrums. The flexible approach stresses fast customer feedback and user stories to adjust deliverables. And to do this, teams must build backlogs of work and product features. Agilists then work hard to “groom” their backlog and decide what they should deliver from each sprint and for each project iteration.
Jobs to be Done (JTBD) is much different. It is a practical approach to understanding customer needs. It’s based on the notion that people don’t buy products but instead hire them to do a job. To the JTBD evangelical, the outcome of these jobs matters most. JTBD enables the developer to discover exactly what customers want and to divide markets accordingly. The approach gives a major push to product lines by smartly segmenting markets using desired outcomes
Product line strategist may use JTBD to position products and Agile to develop them. But their objectives go further. A good strategy seeks leverage across products. Plus, it strives for alignment with other work being carried out. Most importantly, it seeks to boost the line’s full impact, now and into the future. And a good strategy has a roadmap to carry out work and guide decisions. The strategist job is to make sure the plan is coherent, coordinated, and impactful.
The three approaches are independent. Yet each can benefit from the others. The key to realizing this gain is a long-established tool called the Innovation Charter. It’s a vehicle to manage and unify the approaches. But before explaining the charter and its use, let’s look at the conflicts across the orientations.
The Agile experts say, I don’t need JTBD discovery research. The job I want done needs people to focus on building software, systems, and products. Why should we invest time and money into something not needed? The outcome of our work can’t be market research. We need to produce a product that customers will buy. And we don’t want to spend time on research. JTBD doesn’t do my job!! Ironic, isn’t it.
The Agilists also shun a fixed strategy. Their rightful concern is to get a product out the door that people will buy. Strategy comes from on-high and means little once a project begins. To them, their work supersedes a strategy. This is especially true for a strategy that’s not flexible.
JTBD experts have a different perspective. They’ll say Agile’s fast feedback from customers gives a narrow perspective on customer needs. And it gives no help in segmenting markets. This, they say, doesn’t help good product innovation and it wastes time and effort. Sure Agile will get a product out the door and someone will probably buy it. But that product won’t have the impact that JTBD delivers. This exposes product offerings to competitors’ moves.
The JTBD guru also declares customer desired outcomes as so important that strategies are weak without them. To them, JTBD is the strategy.
Strategists focus on product lines, not single products. Their goal is to get the most out of the line. They don’t focus on getting a single product out the door. The strategist says that being Agile or using JTBD only matter if they do a better job than otherwise. The main goal is to realize a notable impact from the strategy. Should an organization not embrace the Agile or JTBD approaches, the strategist will push on without them.
Uniting the Approaches
So which approach is right? How important is it to resolve the independent views? And can the three approaches yield better results together than separately? These questions are important. But first, recognize that some experts care little about interests other than their own. Sadly, they discount gains from other approaches. Gaining more by having the approaches work together is a job that falls to practitioners and independent consultants.
In an overarching view, getting products out the door faster and matching market needs better aren’t a business’s only jobs. Business leaders must work many topics concurrently to drive value to their shareholders in the near- and long-term. On the product side of things, leaders will see their job to be getting the best products out the door fast.
The agile promise is to get a product out and then use future generations to make it better. The JTBD promise is to set up targets for feature sets or outcomes. And a strategy’s promise falls short without these execution capabilities. Each needs the others. That’s why a singular, evangelical approach toward one of the approaches may cause enthusiasm. But with time, the situation can get wonky.
The notion of “best products” is important to the grand business job. But it’s not the development and launch of one product at a time. That, unfortunately, is old-school thinking. Today companies must build a continuous stream of products. And the products must work in unison to boost their overall impact. This demands Strategy, Agile, and JTBD to work together across a product line. One approach must complement the others.
The full product line job needs skills and tools like Agile and JTBD to carry out the work. Another tool is the innovation charter. This is a document that helps managers cast a view to the future. They act as targets for new products and services, without defining a concept. Instead, they give focus to efforts like design thinking and creative explorations. The idea is to target innovations and development before forming concepts and starting projects. These targets enable a focus that drives strategy instead of encouraging a random walk through a field of opportunity.
You can expect Agile teams to declare fixed or static charters to be unhelpful once development begins. You’ll see the Agile mindset take hold and root out such documents. But charters that target JTBD outcomes and platform leverage are important to a strategy. They guide projects toward attributes that best match customer needs. They also help coordinate greater impact from the whole line.
An Agile team undermines a project’s role in strategy when they drop charters. And dropping charters across many projects can drive chaos into a product line. The seemingly smart Agile tactic can force product line teams to embrace much fire-fighting to keep their lines competitive.
The solution isn’t to toss innovation charters. Rather, it’s to move them from static use into dynamic documents within a continuous management flow. The flow is a practice called Responsive Roadmapping. It ties project management to strategy moves and resource management. And it does this while keeping a focus on objectives and JTBD outcomes.
The approach works by turning each static charters into a dynamic tool. The dynamic charter helps Agile teams to rank-order and groom their sprint backlogs based on strategy. And they guide product line teams to adjust strategy moves based on Agile backlogs and needed JTBD outcomes. Most importantly, they resolve Agile backlogs, JTBD outcomes, and strategy moves with one approach.
Responsive Roadmapping and innovations charters make strategy moves dynamic, not cast in stone. The approach aids agile projects and keeps focus on JTBD outcomes. And it does this while helping to deliver a greater impact. This is strategy execution at its best.
Figure 1 below displays how Responsive Roadmapping with Dynamic Charters boosts the impact of Agile work and JTBD influences. The approach focuses on a full product line, not just one product at a time.
JTBD, Agile and Product Line Strategy have much to offer a company. Yet not one of these topics will produce success repeatedly without the other two. Great product development must go further.
There’s much to learn about Innovation Charters and Responsive Roadmapping. And there’s much to learn about other topics like creating roadmaps, blending Stage and Gate development, and using design-thinking and systems analyses. You should learn these from experts in each. But make sure your expert sees where you’re going and can help your organization get there. That’s every manager’s and every expert’s job.
To learn more about uniting Agile, JTBD and Product Line Strategies, please consider several Adept Group venues.
Consider purchasing and reading my book, The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategy. Or consider my in-depth Masterclass. This 1-day class enables deep discussion specific to different product lines and organizations. You may also find our customized Seminar, held on-site at your offices, a perfect fit to your needs and your product lines.
Whitepaper– Good Product Line Strategy Matters.