A/B Testing, Conversion Optimization, Personalization

How Continuous Development Turns Product Managers into Experimenters

by Jean-Yves Simon
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20 years ago, tech companies were hit with the ‘Agile Revolution’. The idea? Shipping working software every week or two would help teams deliver better products, even if this method implied more risk. In other words, the ‘move fast and break things’ mentality reigned.

But that was two decades ago. Today, agile is mainstream, and new philosophies, building on the agile movement, have come to the fore; namely, Continuous Integration, Delivery and Deployment, largely geared towards DevOps teams. Their big draw is that these processes and tools automate quality assessment, assuring that when code is merged in piecemeal fashion – and not on one big bang release day – it works. Even better, software can be deployed to the product environment at any time, by anyone. Now, your product manager can take the reins.

Today, the market is ready to go a step further. From Agile to Continuous Integration, Delivery and Deployment comes a thirst for Continuous Development. Continuous Development – we could even call it Continuous Activation – encompasses all of these ideas, but takes the logical next step. It puts even more control and autonomy in the hands of Product Managers. It allows them to not only deploy software themselves, (with mitigated risk), but also to pick and choose according to their own prerogatives which audiences are exposed to a given feature. In other words, they can run experiments, personalize the user experience, and exercise complete rollback control based on real-time data.

Continuous Development platforms and processes transform the Product Manager into a Chief Experimentation Officer, and there are many reasons to embrace this new paradigm shift:

Move Fast, Risk Less

‘Move fast and break things’ only works if you’re willing to accept the consequences of what you’ve broken. Most software developers would still like to move fast, but without the risk. 

Continuous Development and the tools that support it factor in risk assessment. By avoiding code merges on one big release day, and by enabling progressive rollout techniques (canary testing, ring deployments), developers can avoid putting all of their metaphorical eggs in one basket. If your system has a feature flagging or rollback KPI embedded in the platform, switching off a defective or negative feature can be done instantaneously and painlessly.

Your Customers, Not Your HIPPOs, Decide

How do decisions get made in your tech company? Chances are, HIPPOs, new bosses, vocal salespeople, consulting groups or the noisiest Product Manager in the room dominate that discussion, letting their personal experience, gut feeling or intuition determine the road map. 

With Continuous Development platforms, the focus shifts from subjective ideas to customer feedback and data. Early adopter programs, beta testing, progressive deployment, A/B tests…all of these methods, enabled by feature flagging, toggling, and other Continuous Development techniques, make your main measurement of success the behavior and opinions of your customers. 

In a B2B context, this might look like extensive interviews with early adopters. In B2C, it’s likely your support teams or community manager who will pick up on positive or negative feedback around a new feature launch. Either way, Product Managers get direct access to the Voice of the Customer and can form data-driven arguments for why to rollback, stick with or modify a new feature.

Get off the Ford Line

If your team is project-driven, chances are your Product Managers and developers feel they need to keep their heads down and noses to the grindstone, working on their piece of the software production puzzle. They might be productive, they might be agile, but they might also not really feel the business impact of what they’re working on 40+ hours of the week.

When you can experiment with and test the features you’re developing; when you can get direct user feedback and adjust your work accordingly; when you have clear, measurable KPIs that determine success, your work all of a sudden feels a lot more meaningful. This keeps teams motivated, fresh and loyal.

Marketing and Product Manager Alignment

When you give your Product Managers more control, it’s easier for them to align with the teams around them, especially the Marketing and Communication departments. A new feature release, especially depending on the size and importance of your company, can mean a big web of marketing and communications campaigns. Emailings, press releases, articles, social network posting, corporate website updates…retroplannings and shifting deadlines are much easier to manage when your Product Managers are in the driver’s seat and not beholden to developer teams that have other priorities and are even more far removed from your marketing and communications personnel.

Developers Focus on Core Business Objectives

If you have a robust developer team, there’s a chance you could set up these types of feature management systems in-house, without the need for a dedicated platform. But this is time-consuming, and one could argue that it diverts skills and resources away from your core business objectives. 

I believe that the time is now for Continuous Development. By turning our Product Managers into Experimenters, we’re able to build a better product and bring it to market faster, with less risk; we continue in the vein of ‘customer obsession’; we keep our teams creative and motivated; and we generally build up what, at AB Tasty, we’ve been advocating for since our founding – a test and learn, experimentation culture.

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