Digital Content Initiatives and the Agile Model
In the old days of product development customers didn't see a new product until it was finished. Everything was polished and the bugs were (mostly) worked out. Sometimes the finished product wasn't really what the customer had in mind though, which exposed some painful flaws in this model.
Product development today requires a much more nimble approach, one where customers not only see but also provide detailed feedback long before the product is considered final. In fact, products often need to change so rapidly, based on customer demand, that there never really is a "final" stage.
This newer, better approach I'm describing is called the "agile model." If you Google that phrase you'll find all sorts of definitions, mostly intended for software developers. The fundamental concepts that define the agile approach aren't limited to software development though.
Purists may scoff at this, but the key elements of the agile model can be summarized as follows:
- Minimum viable product - Also known as the MVP, this is the smallest, simplest version of your product you feel comfortable putting in front of prospective customers. The key here is to focus on both "minimum" and "viable." Think about the core of long-term product vision and be sure to strip away all the nice-to-have bells and whistles. This version should give customers a sense of that long-term vision without being weighed down with too many features and options. Keep it simple and get it in front of customers quickly.
- Customer feedback - In order to make the agile model work you must get the MVP into the hands of your customers and ask for as much feedback as possible. Communication is key here as you'll need to make sure your customers know this isn't the fully-featured version, but rather an early-stage model you want their input on. Let them know you value that input and that's why you've selected them for this early access, but push to get detailed feedback from as many customers as is practical. Make sure these customers also know the plan outlined in the next bullet and how they're going to see rapid-fire updates that you're looking for additional feedback on.
- Iterative product development - Now it's time to act on that MVP and early customer feedback. What did they like/dislike? Was the feedback consistent across customers? The answer to that second question will help you separate the legitimate product changes required from one-off customization requests. You've just entered the iterative stage of agile. You need to take that feedback, implement the changes requested and get the next version back in front of those same customers as soon as you can. We're talking about frequent, small product updates. As it says on the shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, repeat. Keep the iterations tight, as you don't want to pile everything into one and then ask your customers to provide feedback on too many new elements in the next version.
There's plenty of product development happening in the digital content world these days, and that's terrific. What worries me though is how much of this is being done with the old model, in a vacuum, where huge investments are often made before a customer even has a chance to weigh in. The agile model helps you avoid going too far down a blind alley.
If you're working on a new digital content initiative are you creating an MVP, getting customer feedback, and iterating on that feedback? If not you're probably wasting a lot of valuable time and resources.
Related story: Sourcebooks Launches Agile Publishing Model
Joe Wikert is Publishing President at Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com). Before joining OSV Joe was Director of Strategy and Business Development at Olive Software. Prior to Olive Software he was General Manager, Publisher, & Chair of the Tools of Change (TOC) conference at O’Reilly Media, Inc., where he managed each of the editorial groups at O’Reilly as well as the Microsoft Press team and the retail sales organization. Before joining O’Reilly Joe was Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in their P/T division.