Making Iteration Part of the Culture

Fellow blogger Joel Bancroft-Connors recently posted about his dismay at seeing the negative reaction to the latest Firefox iteration by – wait for it – certain thought leaders in the Agile / Lean community.  As he put it,

“Firefox is following some of the key tenets of agile, release often, always seek to improve. I don’t know if they are an agile shop and sure, they could be a little better on communication. But really? Does anything who believes in agile, lean, XP, kanban or Stoos have any place complaining that a company is trying to make their product better? Just because it’s an annoyance to us?”

Perhaps it’s an annoyance because the upgrade hasn’t been adequately positioned in the mind of the user community.  While the developer community has embraced the value of “seeking to improve their product,” they haven’t taken the time to instill that value in the rest of us.  Perhaps because they feel it should be obvious; perhaps because, as Joel points out, the disruption has been deliberately minimized.  But I would argue that they are pursuing perfection without an audience.  Or audience participation.

Last weekend, Workday converted all of their implementation tenants to Release 17.  They roll out a new release every four months, and every implementation project team and client knew it was coming.  As part of their deployment, every customer goes through a series of presentations by the Customer Success organization, explaining the process.  The schedule has been posted on the Workday Community portal for over four months, and they’ve already got us planning for Release 18.  Shortly, the production Sandbox tenants will be converted to Release 17, and customers will have the opportunity to look at what’s changed, and decide what new features to turn on.  Then, Workday will convert the customers in production in three waves, over the first three weekends in August.  It’s all very orderly, planned and utterly predictable.  And more important, it’s highly valued by the customer base.

One of the key selling points for Workday is that they update three times a year, and you’re always on the current release.  They continuously develop new features, crowd-sourced from the users on Community.  Users propose new features, and the other users get to vote on them; the ideas are called Brainstorms.  Most new features originated as Brainstorms.  Activist users (and implementation partners) frequently contact other users in Community to advocate for their favored Brainstorms.  It’s a “pull” system, designed to maximize the participation of the customer.  From generating ideas to the “automagic” conversion of the tenants over a weekend, it’s a highly-anticipated, positive user experience.  And it’s a value inculcated by the Customer Success indoctrinations, as well as the sales cycle.  They’ve made iteration part of the culture.

Now, I’m sure the Firefox development team gets a lot of ideas from their user community, but I suspect most of their hundreds of millions of users wouldn’t know how to submit an idea if they wanted to.  It isn’t part of the culture.  Because the Firefox developers haven’t worked at making it a valued part of the user experience; indeed, they’ve worked at making it nearly automatic.  Consequently, a number of their customers complain about the (relatively painless) transition to a more valuable product, including some customers who agree with their values.  Because they haven’t made those values a part of their shared culture.

2 thoughts on “Making Iteration Part of the Culture

  1. Dave,

    Great points! It is certainly more cut and dried than just releasing new releases in a vacuum. You cite a great example in your post.

    I guess I would say my key point is we, as agilists, should focus on how to make the process better as opposed to just firing off a 140 character complaint.

    Thanks again,

  2. Agreed. We need to congratulate other Agile development teams for their successes. The folks who make it work at the level of hundreds of millions of users are the ones the rest of us should learn from.

    Side note: there’s no way to leave a comment on your new site without logging in, and no obvious way to establish a log in. Is that by design?

Comments are closed.