Creating a product is a really fun process. You get to make something out of nothing, and that’s incredibly exciting. However, it can become stressful and frustrating without the correct processes in place. We all have heaps of work to do, so a simple checklist doesn’t usually do the trick. It’s time to bring out the big guns and ensure you’re maximizing your potential — but this doesn’t have to be daunting. Even simple, incremental improvements can have a gigantic impact on how you work.
1. Start with a workflow
You may think you already have one, but the truth is, a lot of companies haven’t taken the time to assess and codify their workflows. According to IBM, “a workflow is a system for managing repetitive processes and tasks which occur in a particular order.” In simpler terms, it’s the mechanics of achieving your goals.
Do you use a simple to-do list? A Kanban board? Or maybe a Gantt chart is the best option for your project? Whatever it is, ensure you have the right tools for this, and that every single stakeholder is on board, knowing how and where to track their progress — otherwise you’re going to create bottlenecks.
A perfect workflow doesn’t exist, though, so the practice of creating the correct one should be reiterative with every new project. The workflow that functioned well for you before might not do so well on another product, so make sure you’re putting some well-deserved thought into this.
2. Automate your processes
Once you have a functional workflow, it’s time to make it really work for you. 74% of business leaders and employees believe that at least part of their jobs could be automated, so it’s not surprising that many product developers embrace this to render their job easier. By automating some of your processes, you can speed up task management, cut down on the time it takes to complete your project, reduce errors, and streamline your workflow.
But the idea may be daunting. Not all of us are software engineers who can quickly set up a program. However, nowadays, many low-code application options exist, allowing you to automate without the hassle.
In fact, in some cases, using an alternative like this might even widen the scope of the people who can use your process: EASA, for example, explains that using their automated workflow, “design engineers with nominal analysis experience were able to effectively leverage these tools, greatly increasing productivity” by “eliminating the need for the design engineer to learn and interact with many different programs.”
3. Make your progress visible
There isn’t anything that causes bottlenecks quite like lack of transparency. Not only does it mean that the rest of your team might not know what’s ready and what needs to be worked on further, but it also creates other hindrances such as stakeholders — whether it be upper management, eager salespeople or even your customers themselves — constantly asking for status updates.
The solution: make sure everyone, within and outside of your team, knows where you’re at. The most efficient way to do this is through visualisation. It can be displayed on a big monitor in your office, through a neat link that everyone can see, or via a spreadsheet. Whichever way you choose, this will allow everyone to see what’s available, which elements are soon to be ready, and when your products will be released.
4. Define ‘done’
It sounds pretty self-explanatory, but your team members may have different definitions of what’s done. Is it when the product is completed? When a feature is implemented? When it’s passed along to QA? There are so many varying ways to determine what you consider complete that if a conscious unified approach isn’t reached at the start of a project, it can cause chaos among stakeholders.
You may have heard the acronym DoD, which stands for Definition of Done. At the end of the day, it’s one of the most important parts of any project. No more ambiguity. Set out a list of criteria of what needs to be ticked off for your product, or any task within the project, to be considered accomplished. This will allow you to decipher what you find valuable and what you are attempting to achieve, too, which isn’t a minor thing.
5. Hunt for bottlenecks
When all is said and done, no matter how much effort and energy you put into your product and the planning of it, you’re still going to encounter obstacles. In order to combat them, though, you should actively look for problems before they appear. This way you can fix them without wasting precious time. Your workflow should help you with that — what’s past its deadline? What’s not progressing as quickly as it should? And what’s completely blocked, either by someone’s inaction or elements beyond your control?
One of the main bottlenecks you should look out for is your backlog. We’ve all been there — busy day-to-day work sends certain tasks to the bottom of the priority list, only to be discovered when it piles up to mountainous dimensions. By then, not only is it going to be very difficult to reduce, but it will also create a sense of panic that could undermine productivity altogether.
Try to create a system for these tasks. What do you commit to complete in the near future, say, the next week or month? What are your more medium-term goals? And what are you realistically not going to get to for a while? Make sure everyone involved is aware of your prioritisation, so you don’t create bottlenecks for other people, either. By being organized and systematic, you can prevent long waiting times and maintain a streamlined product development process.