There is no doubt that COVID-19 has brought about a unique set of challenges for those involved in product development. From the tools we use to communicate and collaborate, to the decisions we make that impact the product roadmap and end users, we have seen our core ways of working fundamentally changing. 

In the past 6 months, we have found ourselves asking lots of questions: 

  • How can I run a virtual prioritisation workshop with a diverse group of stakeholders and make it interactive? 
  • Should I radically reshape the product roadmap as demand has quickly risen and capacity is constrained? 
  • How do I judge morale and motivation levels across my team when all our interactions are virtual and more transactional?

In our 4th virtual Let’s Talk Product event, ‘Product through a pandemic’ we heard from experienced practitioners sharing stories of the challenges they’ve faced, what they did to overcome them, and lessons learned.

Everyone is remote – psychology and practices for an effective product team – by Barri Costello 

In our first talk, Barri Costello, a product lead here at Kainos, spoke about the importance of co-location to effective team communication and how to try and recreate that in a virtual environment.

The general intention for Agile teams is that they are working together in the same physical location. The Agile Manifesto speaks about Individual and interactions. And calls out open and easy communication as a large factor in success. Trust, psychological safety, and osmotic communication are 3 areas that have been identified for making co-located communication more effective.

There are a number of tools, for both the PM and the team, to promote effective communication in a remote environment:

  • Move away from email – email is the least effective form of team communication – only use it if absolutely necessary.
  • Use a single general chat channel for everything – specialist chat channels are like having “behind closed doors: meetings.
  • Cameras and mics on. As soon as they’re off people drift.
  • Meet multiple time a day and keep meetings short and focused on a single thing. 

The challenges of providing a passport service in a pandemic – by Chirag Agarwal & Elaine Salveta

Next up were Chirag Agarwal – a product principal from Kainos, and Elaine Salveta – a Digital Service Manager from the Home Office, who are responsible for the UK’s online passport application service. The pandemic has brought about a unique set of challenges for their operations and digital products.

Their talk explored some interesting design patterns and discussed how they applied creative product thinking to tackle challenges like:

  • How do we manage demand and increase capacity?
  • How do we prepare to deal with pent-up demand/surges? Can we give ourselves options?
  • How do we make sure responding to Covid-19 doesn’t completely take our focus away from our transformational ambitions?

SAFe PI Planning in a pandemic era – by Andrzej Grabowski

In our last talk, Andrzej Grabowski – a product lead here at Kainos – spoke about the world of fully distributed, fully online, real-time PI Planning for a multiple-team/vendor environment.

This session explored how COVID-19 meant moving one of the biggest and most important face-to-face events in SAFe, to a virtual world. Andrzej discussed how they did it, what they learned, how they improved from one planning iteration to the next, and they are right now.

The key highlights from Andrzej were:

  • Don’t be afraid of change – it is the only constant in our times
  • Listening to the users is the key to future success – especially when they are your team members.
  • Learn, iterate and adapt.
  • There is always a room for improvement. 

There are more Let’s Talk Product virtual events on the way.

The new virtual format for Let’s Talk Product has been very successful and we’ve been delighted to be able to share experiences and learning with so many of you.

We have started ramping back up again and have some exciting events planned. We will announce further details in due time.

If you would like to share a talk at any of our future Let’s Talk Product events contact us at LetsTalkProduct@kainos.com.

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