How to go to market faster

A few years ago, I was in charge of the flagship website for a Global 1000 company. The biggest challenge? The sheer number and diversity of stakeholders. Six-plus teams in North America alone, and more than that in other regions, updating content and asking for new or updated features and pages.

Development was the job of a website support team in IT. They’d been reduced in both staff and funding, falling way behind on launching updates. Eventually they just pushed the work of development to my team, sending us a single developer to manage. We were a marketing, content, and strategy team, completely ill-equipped to run technical projects.

In just a couple weeks, we got years of work piled on us and multiple departments angry about delays.

Plus, we still had to go through this overwhelmed IT team to get anything into production, competing with other teams around the company for attention.

Chaos

It was chaos. To be fair, it had been chaos for a while. I’d been spending hours every week on the phone with IT, trying to get priority for whatever update I needed most, giving feedback on the work, dealing with whatever had changed the day before.

I knew that if IT couldn’t handle all of this chaos, there was no way my team – with plenty of our own existing work, only one developer, and still reliant on an understaffed team for deployments – could get above water. Let alone start to do new, exciting work. We needed something to change.

How to go to market faster: be way more intentional

The first step was to structure an update process and schedule for the website. Instead of a constant whirlwind of undirected and uncertain activity, we’d now have set cycles for beginning tasks, completing them, and moving into production. (Project managers will recognize this as sprints.) I worked with IT to set the schedule so that we had reliable deployment dates and could work towards those dates.

We already had a contract project manager on the team. I shifted her to focus on this new process, confident that she’d be able to pick it up and run with it.

Communication is critical

We baked a number of communications into the process. A page on the intranet where anyone could see work status. Updates to any stakeholder with a request currently being worked on. And invites to the recurring meetings for anyone who felt the need to attend.

Getting buy-in

Now, the new schedule wasn’t going to solve anything if we were still scrambling around trying to complete everything at once. That meant the key to success was to focus on only one or two things at a time, making sure the developer had tasks he was able to complete on schedule.

So there’s the real challenge: how to get all these stakeholders – each with their own request and need, some of whom have been waiting months or longer for their items to be completed – to agree that their item may not be top priority until a few months from now?

Actually, it was shockingly easy. I sat down with each stakeholder and explained the new process and the reasoning behind it. Just the fact that we now had some structure put a lot of minds at ease.

And here’s the thing: IT may have been working on their request pretty consistently, but never completing it. What I told stakeholders was that we might not work on their item right now, but when we do work on it, we’ll make it the top priority and actually get it done. So instead of constant work for 10 months with little to no progress, we might just drop it for three months and then finish it in two weeks. That transparency and consideration helped bring everyone on board.

We got to market faster

Most of these updates had been languishing on the back burner or in frenzied, on-and-off-again development, for months. Some of them, for years. And new work was nearly an impossibility.

After about a month to spin-up and get used to this new schedule, we started launching updates every two weeks – up to a 90% reduction in time-to-market.

Not only that, but those several hours I used to spend on the phone with IT every week all but vanished. The project manager was able to handle the simplified process on her own, and I spent an hour or two reviewing progress and helping set priorities for each cycle. The IT client manager also got back quite a bit of time – partly from having shifted work to us, but also because she no longer had to spend half the week on the phone explaining why everything was taking so long. Between the two of us, we reduced our time spent on administrative churn by about 75% and focused on adding more strategic value.

We worked on the right things

In the past, IT had tried to prioritize everything – which meant nothing was a priority. They’d worked on updates largely based on who yelled the loudest. 

With this new process, we prioritized during planning meetings and maintained a realistic list of items that could feasibly be completed during the cycle. Each stakeholder who wanted to advocate for their request could attend the planning meeting and make their case to the other stakeholders. And while I had the final decision on what to prioritize, they mostly sorted it out on their own.

This meant that the updates that got prioritized were generally the ones that were the most important, the most valuable to the business and to customers.

But something else happened, too. By and large, this was the first time all those different departments all had to talk to each other about requests and truly recognize all the other work on the table. For a lot of them, that experience was eye-opening. Stakeholders were actually more accommodating once we stopped trying to be a magical black box and opened up about everything going on.

A little structure (and trust) goes a long way

There is no chaos I’ve ever seen that can’t be mitigated with some structure and communication.

Trust was an important factor here. I kept my promise to keep stakeholders updated, and we launched what we said we would. Our project manager was key to keeping those promises; without her, this wouldn’t have worked. And keeping our promises meant the stakeholders grew more comfortable with the process over time.

With a little structure, a lot of communication, and a rockstar coordinator, you too can start getting to market faster.

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