The agile evolution of a digital product

I’m sure many of us have fantasized about what it would be like if we took today’s tech back in time to see people’s reaction. Showing Grand Theft Auto 5 to the inventor of Space Invaders… or a tablet device to someone who’s just getting their head around a new wireless radio they’ve managed to buy. And we can all see the response… Mind blown.

When discussing product evolution, I usually use Facebook as an example: Imagine being presented with someone’s three year old Facebook homepage having never seen Facebook before. You probably wouldn’t know what you were meant to do, or look at… and even iconography and colloquial terminology might seem confusing.

We’ve all watched Facebook grow up, and we’ve grown to understand it. Grown with it, if you will. In fact you only have to witness a redesign, function addition or new platform release to witness the swarm of confusion and dismay roll-out on twitter.

I was at a development seminar recently when an observation from an audience member (pretending to have a question) described development engineering as pretty much any other kind of engineering. I feel this chap was considering the analogy of a car factory or something. But unlike a factory, our interactive services and digital products don’t just roll off into the sunset. They are, in most cases always connected through some digital umbilical, growing and developing – Right up to the point they become redundant.

Google’s Wave project was a great example of a brilliant product that the world just wasn’t ready for. In my opinion, it was too completely conceived, and instead it would seem, Google chose to pull it back, but drip-feed many of those functions out in other ways through other products.

User-culture aside, the confident days of full product specification have been costed out. Agile (when used correctly) has taken over as the investor’s friend, promoting iterative, phased AND TESTED releases and re-releases as products carefully pigeon-step their way out, into the light of social acceptance and adoption. Its simply too much of a gamble to produce something as substantial as the likes of Facebook or Wave from a one-off word doc and some diagrams with no user feedback in-between.

So a good product roadmap should not be a straight line of delivery… it needs to incorporate strategy. Alternate routes and plan B’s, or at least decision points where information comes back in to be reviewed before moving forward… if the decision is made to continue at all.

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