Agile & Additive, How Technical Partnerships Should Work
Technical partnerships should accelerate learning, reduce uncertainty, and ensure that you’re serving your customers well with features and a UI that solves problems. The team who provides that guidance and makes product development possible should be ready to do all of this. It’s an additive role that requires a mix of technical skill and organization.
We have lots of opinions, and a fair few experiences that inform those takes on how we approach projects. We’ll hit the highlights about our particular type of Agile and how it applies to complex products in healthcare and beyond.
All Agile, All the Time
We’re an all-agile shop because it produces products faster, with better outcomes for everyone in the clinic, with device integration, medical devices, consumer apps, and research products - or any other setting, really. Rather than depend on assumptions about what to build, we look to users and stakeholders for requirements and incrementally build products to solve them.
Our goal is to draft a complete product vision that identifies all business and end user stakeholders and explains what problems the project would solve for each. We evaluate fit between user problems and solutions to ground billable hours in measurable progress. That level of dedication maxes out the value of a development budget to maximize the effectiveness of what’s built.
Bringing in the right stakeholders is key to effective product design and implementation, and our use of Agile allows us to ensure that the right people are involved. We use a flavor of Agile called Scrum that teases out roles for key stakeholders inside and outside their regular team. That structure includes someone who articulates the business case for the product and connects them with user needs (Product Owner), someone driving priorities day to day (Scrum Master), developers, designers, and users.
Start from the Beginning with Good Product Management
About those users, for healthcare products, part of setting everyone up for success is generating a use-case analysis that maps outcomes & business requirements to stakeholders who are represented in the process. Product vision and roadmap development are essential at the outset. We can begin at any point in a project, from discovery to versions beyond 1.0 with this flexible framework
A long term partner will insist on getting these foundations right because they are the beginning of months of 1.0 development and an ongoing trajectory of collaborative work.
Regardless of the stage, the product ownership role is a critical step to setting up success of the final product, whether that’s someone inside a client team, or someone at Little Green. Product managers steward business value to set priorities, formulate requirements, contain scope, and ensure a functional, beautiful user experience.
What does that look like in practice with an outside development partner? In a word, collaborative. Product management involves a creative director or project manager as a liaison with the full client team, with adjustments based on that team’s particular strengths.
When a client has strong product management on their team, we act mainly as the glue that holds their in-house expertise together with our technical execution. We help prioritize the features they want built and make sure that the timeline and budget stay on track with guidance from them on how to define those features and the value they’re going to provide the end user.
When all the stakeholders are there, and LGS handles the product management, we help guide the stakeholders to see the value in all of their different ideas, and then narrow them down to a minimum viable product (MVP). This ensures that we’re building the right product for the client, while at the same time tracking timeline and budget progress.
Using Our Words
We like to set up a process that’s predictable and clear, with end users at the center. The Scrum structure makes communication and expectations clear, creating a rhythm of meetings and rituals that foster project success and minimize unpleasant surprises.
That process begins with a kickoff meeting scheduled after the contract is signed. We review all of the requirements/scope as it exists, both to educate our team and to begin setting a project-level scope of work. This way, we ensure that we understand everything about what the client wants to build. We get into the nitty gritty to flesh out user stories, the purpose behind features, and gather as much detail on functionality as possible. All the stakeholders are introduced to each member of our LGS team who will be on the project.
As sprints (2 week chunks of development) begin, we schedule weekly or bi-weekly calls to demo the latest development work, talk through open questions, clarify requirements, and review features. This allows us to gather feedback in real time from the client, which ensures that we’re building them the best product possible. We regularly fill up white boards at our office with all these details, and share our institutional memory in Jira, Google Drive, and email.
These meetings are where a technical partner shines on prioritization and execution. When the client is always in the loop through our regular status reports that wrap up technical, budget, and timeline data, they can continuously make sure that we’re delivering what is expected. Because the client is the most in tune with the end user, they are our most important asset when it comes to collaborating - even during the development process. Being transparent is key to keeping projects on schedule (both from a timeline and budget perspective).
Once a project launches, our stance shifts to help clients meet user needs as they arise, whether through user testing or market feedback. That support takes many forms, but always continues to apply structure and transparency to make the most of our clients’ opportunity to improve.
Imperfection & Celebration
We know that product development isn’t ever perfect, and we build our workflows and meetings to ensure that problems rise to the surface, rather than explode. Anything that directly impacts the performance of the product is addressed immediately. According to time and budget, all other issues or bugs are prioritized against current and remaining work. This way we can continue to make sure that we’re building the most important features in the optimal order possible.
But we also know there’s reason to celebrate. Internally, we have a “Wins” board, where we post small and large accomplishments - whether it be a product launch, a grant approval, or reaching a large development milestone. On a big launch day, our whole team rallies around extra coffee and our favorite pastries to see our latest collaboration off into the world. We share that kind of final and incremental happiness with our clients.
Partnerships work when the project is grounded in shared goals based in the user’s life, supported by structures that reduce uncertainty and boost collaboration. We’ve been at this for 9 years and counting, and we’re in it for the long haul with our healthcare clients.