A common challenge in product development is a lack of visibility across teams, departments and the organization. As companies grow and scale, it becomes harder to maintain alignment on what value different teams are delivering. There are various ways to do this, but the most successful experiment that I was part of was called the Product Feature Showcase. Since the question comes up often, I decided to write a blog post about it.
The Challenge of Cross-Team Visibility
As an Agile Coach, I worked at a fast-growing startup. In fact, at the time, it was the fastest-growing startup in US history and was also named the hottest startup by Forbes magazine in 2015. To illustrate the point, when I joined the company there were about 70 people. A year and a half later, they had grown to 850 people. Due to its growth, an issue that we ran into was providing visibility into what different teams were working on across the organization.
Traditional Methods Fall Short
When I think of providing visibility, I naturally think of the Sprint Review. Teams were using different frameworks and were having their review cadence with smaller, more focused groups of stakeholders. However, for various reasons, that was not the right forum for org wide visibility. With so many teams, it was impossible for people to accommodate those reviews into their schedules. Also, when you get too many cooks in the kitchen, Sprint Reviews can become noisy and the value decreases.
Multiple ideas to provide visibility had been attempted, but each ran into challenges. Here are just a few of those challenges:
- The time boxes were either non-existent or too long.
- Teams were going into too much detail and lost people’s attention.
- Teams didn’t always have a lot to show.
- Many people would just watch one team and then leave.
- Distractions and technical difficulties using Zoom for remote attendees.
- Lack of org wide attendance. For example, we were missing Sales, Customer Support, Data Science, other business verticals and Leadership.
- Lack of focus and engagement. More than half of the attendees were on their laptops or phones.
Stepping into a Leadership Role
When I was promoted into the role of Manager of Agile Practices, I was asked to create a structure that provided the visibility that was lacking. My goal was to design a focused and engaging demo format where everyone in the organization could learn what value product development teams were delivering. While feedback and questions were welcomed and helpful, the intent for this new structure was to be informative. The visibility would help everyone contribute to the success of the company.
I started by discussing with some Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters. Next I spoke with other interested groups, such as Engineering Managers, the Product team, Sales and Customer Support.
Constructing the Product Feature Showcase
After taking in all of the information, I again met with Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters. We discussed and came up with various options and then discussed the pros and cons of each. In the end, we came up with what we called the Product Feature Showcase (PFS), and here is what it looked like.
- Monthly cadence
- 60 minutes total (people check out after 45-60 minutes so we want to keep it short and focused)
- 6 teams max
- 5ish mins for demo / 2ish mins for questions / 2ish mins presenter/team change
- Teams volunteer to demo when they’ve got something of user value to show.
- Show working software (no slides)
- No Zoom. In-person only. Keep it simple.
- Check-in table for electronics outside the room to help people focus and respect the time/effort the teams have put in
- Questions limited to a very high level (and try to redirect them outside of this meeting if more detailed)
We started the Product Feature Showcase by announcing it in an all-hands, in the company newsletter, an email from me and we created a Slack channel to support the conversation. Teams opted in to present by adding their team name and topic to the Product Feature Showcase sign-up board, located in a high-traffic area (as seen below).
Launching the First Showcase: Triumphs and Takeaways
Before the event, the Agile Practices team prepared the room. The audio/video team set up the microphones for the speakers. We put post-it notes and Sharpies on every seat, and encouraged people to jot down feedback and leave it on a whiteboard by the doors as they left. We set up the electronics check-in table outside the room, and of course, had to explain to people that “yes, we are serious. You really can’t bring your laptops or phone into the room.”
The first Product Feature Showcase was a success, with about seventy people in attendance. We received helpful feedback and kudos from those in attendance as well as the executive team that requested the visibility.
Continuous Improvement and Adaptations
Each month we made improvements based on the feedback. The number of teams wanting to demo increased and we started getting a waitlist. We created a second Product Feature Showcase sign-up board to increase visibility and encourage more people to attend. When the second PFS rolled around, we added additional microphones around the room so attendees' questions could be heard.
For the second Product Feature Showcase, there was not enough space in the room. What an awesome problem to have! So we had to move to a larger room for the third month. Even after moving to a larger room, the PFS had become so popular that people were sitting and standing in the hallways watching the event be broadcast on TVs.
We started adding additional improvements such as a visible timer for the presenter and one Agile Coach even began playing “walk-off music” when the time was up. Think of the Oscars when someone’s speech is going too long and the music starts to play, giving that person the cue that it’s time to exit stage left.
Eventually, we had over two hundred people attending the Product Feature Showcase. At one point, the Brand team approached me about creating branded materials and a professional-looking sign-up board.
The Cultural Impact of the Product Feature Showcase
Not only had we created a structure to provide visibility into the value being delivered across the organization, we created an event that engaged the audience and provided a shared experience for all.
What can you do in your organization to increase visibility and awareness? Add your comments below.