As a Product Manager who also wears the UX Designer hat within my organisation, it is my responsibility to ensure that we provide value for both the user through a good experience and our business by delivering bug-free software that is built in a cost-effective manner.
At Basis Technologies we create software for SAP that enables the use of Agile and DevOps practices. We employ those practices in our own teams wherever possible, and as a result, I understand where DevOps can add value for both our business and our end users who are running SAP.
DevOps for SAP has the potential to transform a large, slow-moving organisation into one able to respond to the needs of its customers more quickly through faster, less risky delivery of change. DevOps also causes teams to use new tools which can help organisations build better quality software. So, as a Product Manager and UX Designer how does DevOps affect me in the creation of value for both our users and our business?
I’m still in the early stages of my career as a Product Manager, but I have already learned many a mantra, and none stronger than ‘validate your assumptions’.
One of the key aspects of my role is to create value for the business by removing as much risk as possible when building a new product or feature. This is done by validating hypotheses through interviews, research, prototyping and usability testing before a line of code is written.
Once a new feature has been delivered as part of our product, the next step for me is to continue adding value for the user by continually iterating and improving that feature. DevOps aids this process because quicker delivery leads to faster feedback from users — who are key in indicating whether what we have made will be successful. Obviously, it is very important that any prototypes are tested and validated first, but once a new feature has been delivered, the insight we can gain will indicate how good it really is. The feedback will also reflect how robust our product management and DevOps processes are.
DevOps also encourages experimentation through faster deployment. Running more experiments means I am able to rapidly validate the correctness of every change so that the product can be further developed based on real use cases. It also means that I can focus on how changes are affecting the user experience. By improving the user experience, we’ll be more likely to deliver good results, as measured by our KPI’s.
Better Organisational Performance
I am a big believer in the value of company culture as a driver of a positive and successful workforce. The way that we lead our teams, communicate and treat each other has a big impact on how motivated we are to work hard for and with each other. It is fitting then, that a primary characteristic of DevOps is increased collaboration between departments.
In order to facilitate collaboration I need to understand different roles within the business, including (but not limited to) design, marketing, sales and, in particular, development. I need to help the development team become more robust and responsive by encouraging them to break down silos so that the speed with which ideas are communicated and problems are solved increases.
As a business, the performance of the development team is one of the foundations upon which we can build success, in particular by being more responsive to customer needs. In their 2015 paper ‘The Role of Continuous Delivery in IT and Organisational Performance’ Jez Humble and Nicole Forsgren state that “IT performance positively affects overall organizational performance”. This highlights the need to defend the tech workforce from burnout, which could lead to increases in error rates, cycle times and rework; All of which can have a negative impact on the company bottom line. The benefit of DevOps is that these scenarios can be avoided. By making space for my developers to share knowledge, bottlenecks can be prevented and value delivered to the customer more rapidly.
In a DevOps environment, team members must converse constantly to solve problems quickly and fix issues as they occur. In order to breed better lines of communication, I believe that there must be opportunities within an organisation for a social culture to flourish where the development team can deepen their personal connections. It is through these deeper connections that team members will better understand the nuances of what motivates their colleagues. As a Product Manager, I can help the organisation to build better teams and enhance their performance by facilitating increased collaboration and working to create a stronger social culture.
Reduce Waste and Risk
DevOps encourages the use of development process analytics in order to measure performance. This is important because what can be measured, can be more easily improved. Measuring velocity, cycle times, rework and waste allows me to identify what areas of our development process need attention. With this insight and knowledge, I can work in conjunction with my development team to refine our delivery process and reduce wasted time. Automated unit testing and continuous deployment of smaller changes also mean that the business can deliver value to the customer more quickly and with less waste.
As a Product Manager, I must always ensure that what we are building is either creating or maintaining value for our user and our business. Part of this value creation means identifying areas of risk from the market, our competitors, or lack of technical expertise and working to overcome them when creating a new product or feature. In the context of delivering change in SAP, there are a lot of different activities that need to be coordinated in making changes to a system.
By using DevOps practices, small chunks of value can be delivered bit-by-bit on a continuous basis, so the business is offered more agility and we can avoid building something that might not even be needed. It is vital that we are using the correct tools so that every change is not only proven to be deployable at any time, but that there is the ability and flexibility to reverse the change, should something go wrong.
The Future of DevOps in Product Management
DevOps makes the life of a Product Manager a lot easier because the speed with which we can get feedback on our changes increases, as well as the fact it has the potential to reduce waste and save costs. With the right tools, this process will allow us to create and deliver better digital products to users in a quicker and more cost-effective way.
I am only at the very beginning of my Product and UX journey, but I can see how DevOps is wound into the DNA of this type of role. I am aware of the challenges that many organisations face in implementing a practice such as DevOps, but I believe that by being open-minded, humble and self-aware Product Managers and UX Designers can be the catalysts to influence better design and development practices.
As product people, we must always be learning, and by fully utilising our empathy and a drive to learn from both users and fellow team members, we can create a culture and environment where DevOps can flourish.